A Moment for Blockbuster

Renting videos to play at home had become a big thing while my wife and I were living in Japan in the early eighties. Much cheaper than the movies, it was also more convenient than going to a theater, standing in line, and sitting in uncomfortable seats. Renting videos were also excellent ways to help endure typhoons, as long as the power stayed on.

Blockbuster hit the American scene in 1985, but we were in Germany. We were impressed when we returned to America. At last, we could go to a convenient location and find a wide assortment of movies for a reasonable price.

We weren’t necessarily thrilled. My wife and I liked supporting small, independent video rental businesses in our area. But, sadly, they lacked good selections. Finding nothing there for us to rent, we grudgingly started renting our videos from Blockbuster.

Blockbuster’s ugly side was soon revealed as they treated us, the  customers, like dirt. Greg Satell at Forbes magazine summed it up for us.

“Yet Blockbuster’s model had a weakness that wasn’t clear at the time.  It earned an enormous amount of money by charging its customers late fees, which had become an important part of Blockbuster’s revenue model.  The ugly truth—and the company’s achilles heel—was that the company’s profits were highly dependent on penalizing its patrons.”

The lines became ridiculously long at Blockbusters. A movie rented at one location couldn’t be returned to a different location. What had been fun, going to Blockbuster to rent a movie, lost its enjoyment. (It reminds me of how taking a flight across the country used to be and how it now is, with the airlines trying to suck pennies out of its customers for anything and everything.)

A pause to reflect on customer service and support. My wife and I have noticed that both have rapidly diminished in our experience, whether it’s with retail stores, Internet providers, rental places, airlines, hotels, newspapers, and utilities. What’s most telling is that if this topic is brought up at a gathering, everyone have stories to share about bad customers service and support. The one bright spot for us, and other agrees, have been Costco.

We’re holding our breath and have our fingers crossed that Costco doesn’t become like the rest.

When Netflix came along, we leaped on it. Creating a list online, we received DVDs in the mail, watched them, and mailed them back. Not everything we wanted to watch was immediately available, but it was a damn sight better than the Blockbuster experience.

Netflix has almost lost us over the years as we shifted to the streaming model and experienced price increases. I’ve left them twice for others, but the others soon took me for granted, and Netflix lured me back.

Right now, Netflix is barely hanging on to me. My wife and I don’t find much to watch, but we see the same pattern on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Britbox, Acorn, etc. There’s one or two enticing shows, a plethora of things that aren’t to our tastes, and then a huge offering of old movies and television series. In the end, the streaming experience has become much like the video experience, which, itself, became much like the cable television experience of, so many channels, nothing to watch. As for Blockbuster, much like VHS and Beta recordings, its star has waned.

Fortunately, we have books and computer games. I would mention Facebook and social media, but I’ve noticed a trend there…

It kind of reminds me of Blockbuster.


4 thoughts on “A Moment for Blockbuster

Add yours

  1. Video rental stores quickly caught on in America. Blockbuster made it possible to rent many movies. Blockbuster was closed in 2013. However there are still some video rental stores out there with rare selections. if you still relish old movies you could visit one. I never heard of a video rental store that didn’t charge late fees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All true. What most didn’t realize about Blockbuster, including me, was how my of their revenue and profits were dependent on their late fees. That meant that reduced customers and rentals had a more dramatic impact than expected, revealing Blockbuster as overexposed.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers


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