R.I.P. Blockbuster Video

After years of financial difficulties, struggling to maintain relevancy in the current marketplace, and steadily dwindling retail presence, one-time video rental powerhouse Blockbuster Video finally announced this week that it will close its last 300 remaining stores and its DVD-by-mail business within the next few months. I bet a lot of our readers are surprised to learn that this didn’t already happen years ago.

In its prime, which lasted a very long time, Blockbuster was the dominant video rental chain in North America. Unfortunately, the company grew complacent in its success, and was blindsided by new, innovative competitors such as Netflix and Redbox, which quickly overtook its market share. Due to a lack of management vision, Blockbuster was very slow to respond by developing its own discs-by-mail, rental kiosks and internet streaming options – and even when those did come, they simply weren’t compelling enough to lure back the customers who’d already moved on. As a result, Blockbuster stores across the nation shuttered their doors until the franchise shrank to its current state, just a shadow of its former self. And now, even that’s going away.

Technically, the Blockbuster brand isn’t completely dead just yet. Current owners at Dish Network will maintain the Blockbuster On Demand and Blockbuster @Home streaming services. However, critics point out that the title selection available by either of those methods doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Netflix, VUDU or HULU. Even this final aspect of the business might not last too much longer.

As I’m sure is true of many of our readers, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Blockbuster was always a kind of crummy company. As the big bully in its field, Blockbuster aggressively, almost gleefully drove many of its smaller competitors, including countless local mom-and-pop video stores, out of business over the years. In doing so, it left many markets with no video rental options other than Blockbuster, whose stores were typically poorly stocked, badly mismanaged, and often staffed with underpaid employees who knew or cared little about the movies they were shilling.

On the other hand, I have a lot of nostalgic memories of trolling the Blockbuster aisles, perusing the alluring VHS cover art to find a movie to watch on many a lazy evening in my youth.

Perhaps more importantly, the death of Blockbuster also signals the imminent death of the video store as an industry or an institution. Admittedly, internet streaming may be more convenient, but there was something special about the experience of going to a good (non-Blockbuster) video store and getting a movie recommendation from a knowledgeable clerk. Will my kids ever have that experience? Probably not.

What are your memories of Blockbuster – good, bad or indifferent? Share them in the Comments below.

[Source: USA Today.]

8 comments

  1. Alex

    The Blockbuster in my old neighborhood has been turned into a Five Guys. It’s… eery, honestly, not because Five Guys is a bad burger place (it’s not, even if it’s a bit overpriced), but because I have so many fond memories of the place, from convincing my Dad to rent The Untouchables for me, even though I was way too young, to scrambling to find the last copy of Mutiny on the Bounty since I hadn’t read the book and the term paper was due the next day. Shoot, I even got a date with the girl behind the counter one time. Good times. Good times.

  2. If you have one closing in your neighborhood I would suggest going in and checking out the used DVD and Blu Ray selection. I found one on a work trip and scored Clash of the Titans (the good old one) and Quantum of Solace for $3 each.

  3. Lord Bowler

    My mother was the second new account at our local Blockbuster (before it converted to Hollywood Video) where we’d rent EVERY new release every Tuesday and watch them all week. Sometimes we’d be bringing home 10 movies to watch.

    Now, with the closing of Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and other non-chain rental stores, I use Netflix as my primary rental outlet. I think we have two or three independent video rental stores left in the entire city.

    I remember running through the new release wall grabbing 5 to 6 movies every tuesday, also games when they started renting them as well.

    I will miss that, because sometimes you found that little-known gem, that by title and cover you would have skipped, that became your favorite movie of the year.

    I’m still one who likes to own the Blu-Ray/DVD of a movie I love, but I find instant streaming a very efficient way to watch before you buy.

  4. Timcharger

    Blockbuster did this amazing thing. It was cutting edge spectacular. It revolutionized the industry…

    They pioneered putting movies “face out”. Instead of shelving stuff by the spine, they put the cover facing out to the customers. Prior to them, every mom and pop rental chain was more concerned about space, so they filed things with only the spine showing.

    And Blockbuster pioneered putting tons of copies all “face out”. If they had tons of copies, they would have a whole wall shelf (or a couple wall shelves) with nothing but that movie. This move added to the sense that you’re renting a “blockbuster” flick.

    Front covers “sell” a film better than just the tiny spine art.

    Even though the mom and pop rental stores were cheaper, you went to Blockbuster to get that awe in that rental experience. Especially for new releases, they were going to get 100 copies of it, while the mom & pop store would get 4 copies of it.

    So even though Blockbuster did drive out many mom & pop shops. They didn’t do it by undercutting them until they went out of business, just to jack up prices when they no longer had competition.

  5. William Henley

    There are a few stores still left around here, so I may hit them up to pick up some used discs. I have been making killings over the past couple of years hitting up Blockbuster stores going out of business.

    There are still some communities around here that have Mom & Pop stores and some smaller chain stores. Those communities usually do not have access to DSL or Cable, and Hughes Net has really low bandwidth caps, so streaming services are not really an option out there. However, with Redbox popping up all over the place, I am sure it is a matter of time before even those B&M stores close.

  6. hurin

    I won’t miss them. I remember how they took over existing video rental shops, basically getting a monopoly, and raising prices.

    • William Henley

      This is a good point. The Mom & Pop stores in my area were doing rentals for $1-$2 a night. Blockbuster came in, and I think they started with the three-day rental for $3, which is still about the same price. They drove the local stores out of business, so all we had was Blockbuster. Then they raised the prices on video games. Then on New Releases, and went with a 2 day rental on them – so now $4 for a 2 day rental. Then they went $4 for a one day rental on new releases. Then they raised the price on regular rentals to $4 as well, but you could still keep them out for 3 days. Problem is, you could no longer just go out any more and get 1 movie for a buck for a night…..

      Until Redbox came to town.

  7. Was never a fan of Blockbuster.
    New releases often nowhere to be found.
    No “specials” per-say, throw me a bone, cheap rentals during the week? Nope, not there.
    Previously viewed titles were priced about the same as NEW on sites like KenCranes, which amazon eventually overtook.

    It took these guys forever to adapt to allowing a grace period on returns. If you were 10-minutes late from your 24 hour rental return period, zap, late fee.

    I think it was also not very smart of them to rent space rather than own their stores. The only winner ever is the landlord. the landlord killeth many a business.

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