February 2, 2008

Requiem for a video store

I work at a video store. Come April, I won't anymore, because it's closing. Therefore, this is the conversation I will have to endure until the end comes:

Customer: OMG, you're CLOOOOSING?
Me: Yes.
Customer: OMG, you guys were like the last in the neighborhood!
Me: Yes.
Customer: OMG, it's cuz of Netflix, right? It's totally Netflix. You are clearly threatened by Netflix. Your demise is courtesy of Netflix. I use Netflix. It was only a matter of time before you succumbed to Netflix
Me: Actually, it's because our manager is a nasty bipolar coke addict with the business sense of an earthworm who singlehandedly destroyed a thriving business.
Customer: Oh. Can I rent Transformers now?

Sad but true. We still have a lot of business, due in no small part to our porn selection, so our impending doom seems incongrous. Which it is. In my opinion, it just boils down to the poor business decisions, notoriously horrendous customer service, and the stark resistance to change and innovation by a single person (the manager), who is the one of the dumbest and meanest people I have ever met. Stores in neighboring cities and regions are doing fine.

But what if it is Netflix? I doubt it, but there's no denying that Netflix and its imitators have changed the landscape of video rental forever. And it has its advantages and benefits. I've been a subscriber - two summers ago, when I lived at home in the suburbs and my only other source of movies was a Blockbuster that had 900 copies of RV and no movie made any earlier than 1989 (and the library, but I quickly exhausted their selection), it was a lifesaver.

Netflix is not the answer for everyone, however. It's not for the casual movie renter, who may end up paying exorbitant prices every month for a couple of movies. It's not for the spontaneous movie renter, because if you want to watch Superbad on a Saturday night, you need to think of that at least a week in advance. It's not for the high-volume movie renter, because Netflix can't maintain that, especially when you figure in turnaround time. It's not for the uneducated renter, who may rely on reading the backs of cases to determine what they want to get. And it's definitely not for the porn renter. Those preceding groups comprise the entirety of our clientele. As smug as they are about Netflix's conquest of America, when we close up shop they're going to be really upset that they can't get a lot of movies/a couple of movies for cheap/descriptions and recommendations/movies on a whim/porn.

This is a great example of the idea that just because you CAN do something, it doesn't mean you SHOULD. Technology moves forward so quickly that there isn't adequate time to think through whether something is the best option. A good example is the "digital readers" that Sony and Amazon are now peddling. You can download hundreds of books onto these little tablet devices and take them with you. Seems cool for a second, until you remember that books are one of the few gloriously low-tech amusements left. Imagine being bored to death on a long plane ride because YOUR BOOK CRASHED. Similarly, congratulations, you don't have to leave the house to get movies anymore, but oh by the way, your viewing habits are severely restrained.

Rest in peace, Place That I Work Which Will Remain Anonymous Because I Called My Manager Bad Names. You will be missed by the employees and community alike.


Scott Nye said...

In a perfect world, I could have both. Because here in Boston, no video store anywhere stocks everything I need. Hollywood Express comes close, but their rental prices ($5 a movie) are too high, and even they're selection ain't all that.

So I need Netflix...but I also gotta wait 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days to get...anything, by which time I might not have as much time as I thought (goodbye 3-hour film).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your Netflix comments, it's convenient, but there's nothing like actually going out and renting a DVD to watch on your TV. Some things are better left untouched by the Internet.

Toto said...

I worked at a Mom 'n Pop video store for a while in the late 1980s (when new videos cost $80, mind you). We had to compete with Blockbuster, but we managed for a while. I took pride in knowing my customers' tastes. Mr. Jones? Here's the latest indie feature. Mr. Smith? Stallone's latest is just to the right of the "Care Bears" movie on the shelf. Good times ... and customers appreciated the personal touch. I can't imagine asking a Blockbuster employee for their picks. It's simply a different atmosphere. So I'm sorry your store is closing. It might have fallen someday soon even with the savviest of managers at the helm.