April 5, 2011, - 5:11 pm

Saying Good-bye to Blockbuster

By Debbie Schlussel

It’s weird that it’s now a sign of being old when you say, “I remember when there was a Blockbuster around every corner.”  But pretty soon, most kids won’t know what Blockbuster is . . . or, rather, was.  This week, all of the Blockbuster stores near me are closing.  For the last several weeks, they’ve been holding liquidation sales.  Now, it will be too far for me to drive to rent a movie at the nearest Blockbuster.  And I don’t believe Blockbuster will exist at all, except online, in a few years.  Today, investors, like Carl Icahn, and liquidators are fighting over the remnants of this former market giant.  And I have mixed feelings about it as a now former Blockbuster customer.

At first, I was sad to see the Blockbuster close.  The people who worked at the particular Blockbuster store I frequented made some really good movie recommendations, and I’m not a Netflix kind of person.  I don’t like to have a fixed cost to pay every month for movie rentals, since I go for months not renting a movie, and then rent several in a few days.  I don’t like to watch movies online, and I don’t want to wait–even a day–to have them mailed to me, if I feel like watching a movie now.  I liked the convenience of deciding I wanted to rent a movie, driving to the store to get it for a fixed one-time fee, and watching it within 20 minutes.  But as I thought about it more, I’m not so sad to see Blockbuster go.  And here’s why .  .  .

As I think back on it, there were many movies–especially classic movies–that you could never find at Blockbuster.  Even big hit movies from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s were often something you had to buy online or actually join Netflix to see.  I found myself calling Blockbuster all the time when I wanted to see something, and they just didn’t have it.  Add to that my frustration when my monthly free movie coupon (from the Blockbuster program I paid $20 to join for a  year) repeatedly stopped coming because of this glitch or that glitch and I had to go through mind-numbing, frustrating hours on the phone with Sean a/k/a Srinivasan and Patrick a/k/a Pradeep, who didn’t know how to get me the coupon and couldn’t help despite wanting to from the call center in Mumbai, or was it Chueh Hui a/k/a Charlie in the call center in Shanghai?  After years of renting a lot of videos, when I disputed a large late charge, the manager of my failing and now closing Blockbuster store wasn’t very eager to accommodate a good customer.

Times change, and you have to adjust to changing technologies and trends that become permanent or semi-perm.  While in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Blockbuster was around every corner, it’s more convenient to most Americans to go online to Netflix and never have to worry about a movie being taken out by another customer or being otherwise unavailable because it’s not the current hit or straight-to-video awful Jessica Simpson flick for which wall space has been reserved.  That happened all the time.  I found myself more and more often taking out movies from my local public library, where there is a pretty good selection.  And that’s free, unlike at Blockbuster.

And aside from Netflix and Redbox, some brick and mortar entrepreneurs are filling the void.  Near were I live, at least one small business owner, a Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) woman, opened her own video store.  It’s far cheaper to rent a movie there, and you have a longer grace period.  Or I can buy videos on Ebay and Amazon, if I continue to holdout from Netflix, which as you know, has the best grace period in the world for returning rentals:  there is none.

While I’ll be sad to see the people at my Blockbuster lose their jobs, I can’t imagine working at Blockbuster was a decent paying or career experience.  It was likely a way station to bigger and better things, unless you were a store or district manager, which probably meant semi-liveable wages.  The employee who gave me the best movie recommendations moved on to a better job over a year ago.  Clerks at my local Blockbuster said that back in the ’90s and ’00s, the store was making $5,000 a night on weeknights, $10,000 on weekend nights.  Now, they say, they were lucky to do $5,000 on a weekend night and barely made that in an entire week.  After rent, utilities, and salaries, they say there wasn’t much profit, and the store was just breaking even.  The Netflix model has a much better ratio of profit to fixed and unexpected costs. The same goes for the Redbox kiosks, though they have a much more limited selection of movies. Who knows, though? In ten or twenty years, Netflix might be obsolete with the technology available by that time. The same might be the case for Redbox, too.

When I checked out the going out of business sale at one of my local Blockbuster stores, recently, the manager tried to get me to buy “Be Kind Rewind,” (a movie I hated–read my review).  He said he liked it because he’s in the video rental business.  The movie is about an inner city video store that makes stupid movies to get customers to rent movies to stay in business.  (Okay, so most–not all–of his recommendations were good.)

But now, there is no rewinding.  And there are almost no video rental stores.  And I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.  I’m ready to say good-bye to Blockbuster, even if I don’t have the convenience of local businesses from which to rent.

***

Do you use Netflix?  Were you a Blockbuster customer?  Are you sad to see the company go, or is it, as I say, a necessary sign of the times as technology evolves?  What do you think about the stores closing?

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32 Responses

Satellite TV shows more movies than all of these companies. And with a DVR it doesn’t matter when they are shown. There are also online services like IOffer that have vast selections. Magazines like Films of the Golden Age have all kinds of ads from companies selling a vast variety of films, far more than Netflix. Maltin’s film guides also list lots of companies doing this. I haven’t used Blockbuster, the library, or Netflix for ages.

Little Al on April 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm

We have Netflix that we access through our Wii. We love it! There is a great selection of movies, new and old. We recently watched Hallelujah Trail. We stopped using Blockbuster years ago when I was charged a lot in late fees for movies they said I never returned. I DID return them, and after a lot of back and forth, they agreed. But it left a bad taste in my mouth because I was a good customer. We went to Pay-per-view after that, which is kind of pricey. Now it’s Netflix and we’re very happy with it.

Lilida on April 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Amazon today offfers online viewing… you can see a movie for a low price – no physical media needed.

I like DVDs because I want to watch when I want to watch, for free forever.

That is why subscription based DVDs flopped. People didn’t like being held hostage to a company to watch when you could only watch something on their terms.

NormanF on April 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I have a ROKU box off my wireless Internet router. Works for me…

#1 Vato on April 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I lived in a small town about 15 years ago, and they were the best. It was a small local store and they had things you couldn’t find any where else. You could rent the old miniseries like Chiefs and Rich Man Poor Man, Ragtime, ones that were impossible to find at the big national stores. Guess those days are gone.

Jo on April 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Not so sad to see our local blockbuster close. It had the highest prices compared to other places around us. Now we have Netflix and enjoy it.

Ilan on April 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Blockbuster now has kiosks near my home in Virgina outside 7-11s and Rite-Aid stores. They may have jumped on the kiosk bandwagon too late as Redbox is dominate around here. Interesting marketing strategy or perhaps just a desperate gasp for life as technology continues to zoom ahead.

Bill on April 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I recall the anticipation I felt when notice went up on a storefront not 100m from me about a Blockbusters opening soon. As I had then (it was 1985) a recently purchased SuperBeta VCR (yes, I knew they were on the way out, but they were technically superior), I couldn’t wait. When it finally opened, I asked where they kept the Beta tapes; He said they didn’t carry Beta. D’oh!

By the time that store closed and another Blockbuster opened 3/4 mile away, I had a DVD player. But at $4 per night, it was just an occasional indulgence.

I’ve been with Netflix for several years now, and occasionally use Redbox from next door when I’m between mailings. Just today I was watching via Netflix an episode of Young Indiana Jones Chronicles over broadband. It’s hard to beat that.

Raymond in DC on April 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Netflix. I don’t have truly high-speed internet access (I get a connection via a cell phone), so I don’t do video streaming. No cable. No satellite. Advantage: never, ever see Hussein’s face on video or hear his voice.

skzion on April 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Sad to see them go, as my son works at Blockbuster and will soon be out of a job, most likely. I’ve seen it coming for years and have encouraged him to apply everywhere/elsewhere, but kids don’t listen much to us parents these days. He and his girlfriend live on their own, so I only hope he will find something else along the way so they can continue to do so.

Timothy on April 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm

With all the crap coming out of Hollywood it must be hard for even the movie theatres to make a living. We often use redbox. The last movie I watched The Tourist wasn’t worth the dollar. Anyone rent anything good lately?

Bill on April 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Netflix – all the way. I threw away all my VHS tapes and my VHS deck a few years ago. I have a high-speed cable connection to the internet and a gigabit wireless router. Also a blu ray disc player that came wi-fi ready. So with all the proper gear in place I can watch streaming video in hi-def on my plasma any time I want from my “Instant” queue or play a physical DVD from the mail. For $10/month there is no limit to the number of movies and tv shows I can stream and I have one dvd at a time checked out. I never have to pay postage to send them back. I’m in LA and my Netflix center is in San Jose, say 350 miles away. If I mail a dvd back on Monday in the noon pickup I get an email from Netflix that night that they’ve received my return – the mail is usually time stamped around 2 a.m. Then the next movie in my queue arrives by Wednesday. It’s amazing how fast Netflix moves through the USPS!

That’s a lot of movies for $10. Debbie – you don’t have to watch movies on your computer, but you do need your computer (I’m counting game boxes as computers here) and a hi-speed isp to get streaming content. Others are starting to copy the Netflix model and may leapfrog Netflix in service, but for me I find it quite good. I had to buy some gear to get it all going smoothly, but I’m kind of a techie and so I sort of enjoyed that part of the process anyway. The only downside is that the Instant View selection is not as broad as their DVD selection.

For higher fees, not by much mind you, you can have 2 or 3 discs checked out at once or you can rent blu ray discs.

Richard on April 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm

We enjoy Netflix, although sometimes we go for weeks without renting a film. They do have a great selection of movies and television shows, and it is great to get a download (streaming) movie.

I miss the anticipation and fun on a Saturday Night going to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video (we called it Ho-wood because that is what the neon sign showed, as the “lly” was burnt out); however, I did not like the high cost, the failure to record when that the movie was returned, the skimpy offerings, the limited number of DVD’s, etc.

Get with the times, Deb. Join Netflix.

Jonathan Grant on April 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Debbie, why don’t you check out the streaming movies selection. With a Wii you can connect to Netflix and see streaming movies immediately.

    In addition, the selection of classic films and foreign films on Netflix is quite awesome. They deliver to your mailbox so you don’t have to drive, and you can return it by mail as well, for free.

    Hell if I know if I have a financial interst in Netflix. My genius wife takes care of those details.

    Occam's Tool on April 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I was a member of both Hollywood Video which closed about 2 years ago and Blockbuster. It seems to me they both became glorified bill collectors on par with the IRS because they couldn’t wait for you to become deliquent in your video return so they could harass you for the late charge constantly. Or create fictitious late charges and dare you to duke it out with them over how much you owe. Due to these bad practices I say goodriddance to the both of them. Someone always come out with a better solution, and Blockbuster couldn’t keep up.

Anthony on April 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I used to work for Tower Records and several NYC video stores. I got my chance to gloat about the store going out of business about a decade ago. The hard work I did helping customers that was intimidating to the girl wearing the Che Guevara t-shirt was the reason I was fired. I didn’t work at Blockbuster, but it was the same vibe there. One of my fonder memories at Tower Records was my manager popping out half pregnant and giving me the skanky ass flex… which caused me to whistle… what did she expect me to do? I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t and I lost my job. It made it easier to be sober cuz I had no money. I’m hoping that the market will kill all service oriented industry… and spare the next generation of minimum wage from the hypocrisy. The fact that Blockbuster was part of Hollywood made it different, but the same culture could very well continue at McDonalds.

Noah David Simon on April 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I didn’t like the way they’d TAKE a late fee out of your credit card. It was like stealing. When I’d call about it it was like trying to get out of a traffic ticket by a cop that was going through a divorce.

samurai on April 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Debbie I did my time at Blockbusters. I liked it because they had candy even if all the good movies were gone early on the weekends. The late fees were stressful though.

A1 on April 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm

The business model I always thought they should go with was to have every single movie in the world online and they would burn you the DVD while you were there waiting in the store or order it online and have it burned and waiting for you to pick up.

They could use reburnable DVDs and just keep it going that way.
Too bad I wasn’t in charge of them starting 10 years ago.

Steve on April 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I’m a Netflix subscriber too. And oh by the way in addition to the Wii, you can also watch the streaming on an Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 and i think even the Ipod/Iphone and Ipad. Also coming soon to the Nintendo 3DS!

But yeah, I got no problem with the netflix model, because I can watch DVDs on MY TIME. And I also have some things on the streaming side that catches my interests.

Squirrel3D on April 6, 2011 at 12:48 am

I live in Los Angeles, which has not one, but TWO of the largest library systems in the country, and thus, have not paid to rent a movie in years. Check ‘em out:

http://www.lapl.org/
http://www.colapublib.org/

The only problem is that action oriented and animated DVDs (among other genres) tend to get checked out by lots of irresponsible teens and tweens who aren’t exactly gentle with them, and thus, they often have lots of scratches and frequently either skip or jam.

Strangely, here in L.A. there is still a Blockbuster (the last time I looked) at the corner of Wilshire and La Brea (a major intersection) but I don’t know of any others.

Irving on April 6, 2011 at 1:40 am

Never used my Blockbuster membership. My kids got me hooked up to Netflix. Debbie, you might need a neighborhood kid to help with the technology! Once on the instant view Netflix you can watch movies like ‘I Wake Up Screaming’. I know, it sounds like a cheap exploitation flick, but it is an outstanding example of film noir. (Oddly, although no one in the movie wakes up screaming – the viewer might if they had some of the experiences portrayed therein).

Nir Leiu on April 6, 2011 at 2:07 am

Not to encourage criminality, but my favourite video store is BiTorrent.

I would’ve done Netflix, but I gave up my credit cards when I declared bankruptcy a few years back.

I know. It sucks. But I don’t have to pay for crappy movies.

The Reverend Jacques on April 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

Netflix rules. I have it on my iPod and iPad. And, of course, BlockBuster still has a store in my area. (For how long, I wonder?)

Tanstaafl on April 6, 2011 at 8:50 am

Netflix can be put on hold, very easy to make changes. Most people don’t need to spend more than $15 a month, you’ll always have something at home to watch. High gas prices are a factor too. Good post DS.

Lars on April 6, 2011 at 9:33 am

Netflix and Redbox.

DonkeyDonk on April 6, 2011 at 10:28 am

I love the instant view option on Netflix, although not everything’s available. I also like those nights when all of us in the house are in the mood for completely different things, and we just go to our various rooms, and we can all stream different videos at the same time!

We couldn’t do that with Blockbusters.

We have a really large video collection, for those must-haves. You know, where you see it, you love it and you KNOW you’re going to want to see it again and again. When I want to watch something NOW, having those videos at hand is great for family video night. And then the netflix is great for pre-viewing movies, to see if they’re worth buying for keeps.

I used to go to the movies all the time. Now, with Netflix, I just let my laziness save me money. The movies come to me, once they’re out on video. I can even “save” them in my queue, when they first hit theaters, so I can set it and forget it, and eventually they come right to my mailbox. And if I’m interested enough to not want to wait, I can always bump it up the queue.

It’s a great business model. I just hope that it keeps up with new technology so it doesn’t fade away like Blockbuster is doing, in 20 years or so.

Michelle on April 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I only rented movies because of deleted scenes and extras. But I remember back as far as 2001, Blockbuster was closing stores. They were Wal-mart, pushing out the small independent store that had more obscure titles. The only reason they stayed relevant this long was because of their focus on video games.

colt13 on April 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Netflix hooked up to the Wii is the way to go. I pay maybe $8 a month for tons of movies. I also had a movie for a whole year before returning it (sad, huh?). I live outside of Columbus, OH & there is a Netflix distributing location close by so I usually get my DVD’s in 1 or 2 days. I used to pay WAY more at Blockbuster back in the day!

Angela04 on April 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm

and I’m not a Netflix kind of person
———————————————–
I used to say the same thing Debbie but after I saw what my teen daughters were watching on MTV last November, I had to say enough. I quickly shut off my cable and went to Netflix. The reason I like it so much is that there is so much content that sometimes if you don’t know what you want to watch, it takes so long to find something that more times than not we just sit and talk instead. It has drawn us closer together and now we actually talk about the things we watch as a family. And that is what our nation sorely needs, families sitting and conversing face to face. Actually being a family…

Keith in Seattle on April 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I’m very sad to see blockbuster go away
i rented there almost every week…and i’m not going to use red box or netflicks or download etc etc.

so i guess the only thing i can do now is buy my movies
btw i’ve had enough of this economy being soo screwed up
that everything i care about is closing down so maybe it time
for a new president who isn’t as popular but knows how to follow through instead of talking about it hey i know how about one that was born and rasied in america that might be a good start.

lucky on April 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Although many stores have close and Blockbuster is now owed but DISH I think it was for the best. DISH is doing some amazing this with it and being an employee I got to learn all about those things and experience them. DISH has Blockbuster @Home that allows me to have movies, TV show and even games come through the mail. I can also stream thousands of on demand. I got it free when I came to DISH for 3 months free and now it is at a low price for only $10.00 a month. I think it is worth it since I’m a movie buff. So don’t get too down about the stores closing just come to DISH and get Blockbuster @Home!

Beauty on March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm

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