Monday, May 04, 2009

Blockheads Gone Bust

Well, it seems that Blockbuster Video is block-busted. The company is in dire straits and could be closing its doors forever within a year's time. Many people are shocked by this.

Not me. If you've ever lived in a medium to large-sized city, chances are that you've lived near a really good video store, a place with a good selection, knowledgeable staff, well-lit, run by cinephiles, and kept clean. Where I grew up, the place was the Video Vault; in Chicago, it's the legendary Facets Video; in Toronto, it's either Queen Video or Suspect Video- but, you get the idea. And all of them are doing fine, even in this economy. The point is that Blockbuster could easily have followed this model. They chose not to.

Instead, if we look at "the video store" as a product, Blockbuster flooded the market with an inferior product. Their stores are dirty, staffed by surly teenagers, have no real selection, and anything you're looking for is likely shelved in the wrong section. But, hey, they're cheap and they've got stores everywhere. So, if you lived in the middle of nowhere, chances are that you went to Blockbuster because there was no other choice.

And then Netflix came along. In Canada, we have Zip; but Claire and I have signed up for the same reason as people use Netflix- because they have a good selection. Blockbuster is fine if you have a need to see Pirates of the Caribbean 5: The End of Plot Coherence. If you want to see anything remotely obscure, you're not going to make it a Blockbuster night.

This is really my problem with the big chain stores: it's basically a business model rooted in selling as much cheap crap as quickly as possible to whoever will buy it. It will no doubt sound "elitist" of me, but I don't really like to buy shirts that fall apart after a few washings, cars that need endless repairs, markdown DVDs of Norbit, junk food that makes me sick, furniture that collapses if you use it, or electronics that break when plugged in. Call me pompous or a snob,but I don't like cheap crap. Blockbuster was the cheap crap of the video rental world, so it's not hard to see them go, in spite of the image of those surly teenagers standing on a soup line somewhere, fucking around with their cell phones.

Blockbuster is not alone. Apparently, a number of these retail chains are in trouble now, but if there's one thing American businesses could stand to learn it's that if you sell people cheap crap, they will have no loyalty to your company.


Holly said...

I'll say it: I'll be happy if they go under. No problem with that at all. They're 100% redundant at this point, especially when it's possible to BUY a film for less than it costs to rent one.

On a slightly tangential note (about the mass sale of cheap crap thing)... I walked past a bill board today for jeans, supposedly a really, really good sale price, of €60. Not name-brand jeans, just your basic generics made in some factory somewhere the workers earned 50¢ that day. It's the same quality you can buy at WalMart or wherever. So... why does it cost 3x as much here? The only thing I can think is, the US gets a serious volume discount?

I'd always heard merchandise was more expensive in Europe, but much better quality. I'm just not seeing that. The poor quality stuff is very expensive, and the high quality stuff is very, very, very expensive.

Rufus said...

I know exactly what you mean. Most French towns have these outdoor markets like three times a week where the farmers sell pretty good produce and other people sell the sort of junk you can get at Wal-Mart for about twice the cost. I don't know the reasoning, but it could also have to do with taxes or differences in the exchange rate. Canadian retailers will sell things at a higher rate just because people will assume the prices are higher due to taxes, even if they're not.

The punchline to the Blockbuster issue is that the DVD kiosks that they've had in Europe for years now are starting to show up in the US and cutting into Netflix's profit. So Blockbuster is thinking of going into kiosks!

And I do know people who just buy movies now- actually, that's often what happens at Blockbuster- you rent a movie, forget to return it on time, and they bill you as having bought it.

clairev said...

"in spite of the image of those surly teenagers standing on a soup line somewhere, fucking around with their cell phones."

sometimes, i can just hear you saying the stuff you type. this gave me a chuckle because i know what your exactly inflection would be.

love you


Holly said...

Ironically (for Blockbuster, who are seemingly determined to continue sucking) the kiosks will soon be gone, because digital on-demand purchasing IS going to take over. It is the only way the distributors can combat the "right click discount"