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Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Old Video Store

Funny how things go.

I had a dream the other night that the old video store had re-opened. The place was packed and everyone was excited about movies. In dreams, everyone loves the movies; but in real life, people mostly just moan about them. I was genuinely disappointed when I woke up.

And two days passed.

Then the phone rang. It was my old boss from the video store. Hadn’t heard from him in maybe three years. Those years haven’t been kind to him. The video store was all he knew, it was his life. Now it’s gone, and so is his wife. And he has trouble getting access to his kids.

These things happen for a variety of reasons, but of course; he traces it back to the video store. Everything was great when he had that place.

He called me just to catch up. He was at home with his new girlfriend, who I also vaguely knew – and they were watching a movie, which reminded him and her of me. And that’s why I got the call a few days later.

Someone offered to reopen the store. It’s sitting there derelict, and with a bit of investment, it could get off the ground again.

And maybe that’s why he called me. I had no authority at the store. I was just the kid sitting there for below minimum wage, but we had a bit of a rental-renaissance when I was there. We bucked the trend. We got people renting movies again.

But it didn’t last. We built a new core of customers who loved movies. But it’s just like the cinema. There’s a hardcore who goes twice a week, but most people go once every six months.

A video store can’t survive with those numbers. Not anymore.

But he got a call last week – and this guy suggested he re-open. Said he’d put up the cash. Get the old horse back on the track.

So when my friend got in touch with me - he knew it wasn't the right thing to do, but there was some hope in his voice. Maybe things would be like they used to be.

But he’s not remembering the last few years. The day’s takings were rarely enough to buy a pizza come the end of the night. The distributors were keeping rental DVD prices sky high, yet feeding mass amounts of discs to the supermarkets far below retail prices. Sometimes he would buy discs retail, but rental stores get penalized for that. They were being squeezed out by the distributors. This is a typical capitalism story.

The DVD/video rental industry is no longer relevant.

Sounds a crazy thing to say. After all, 90% of Netflix USA’s income is still through their DVD service.

But it’s dying.

And the video store is all but dead.

I was the one who had to break it to him. I mean, he knew already, but he listens to me. I used to be the kid in the video store, but now I’m the guy on the inside looking out. It’s my job to know where distribution is going. And everyone is looking towards the internet. And those who aren’t, are living in denial.

I’m already feeling nostalgic for the days when you could walk to the end of your street and find people eager to discuss the latest movies. Remember those days? You’d pop in to pick up a movie and end up sticking around for three hours discussing the obscure movies by the corner, in the bottom row, that were faded by the sunlight and neglected by the customers.

Those days are gone. I had to tell him, “don’t re-open the store.” That business model is gone. Sure, it’d be packed out for the first week, but nobody wants DVD anymore. Nobody wants VHS. Nobody wants the video store. 

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