What We Lose (and Gain) Without Video Stores

    by Mark Glaser
    April 13, 2007

    i-68438120aeba1615e08ef09782f2a06a-Netflix logo.JPG
    The red envelopes are back. After my high profile departure from using Netflix about a year ago, I’ve now gone back to the popular DVD-by-mail rental service. I know what you’re thinking: I just couldn’t stay away from a good thing. Not exactly.

    The sad truth of the matter is that the owner of my local video rental store died, and whoever inherited the store decided to sell the entire inventory and give up. The store is being converted to a day spa. There was a lot of grieving in my neighborhood, Potrero Hill in San Francisco, over the loss of the store, but there was also a huge rush of people (including myself) going in to buy up the inventory like vultures at a sale for raw meat.

    Then what? Strangely enough there are no video rental stores in this neighborhood now, which means I have to drive 10 to 15 minutes to the nearest one. So I’ve returned to Netflix a bit begrudgingly, and my son and I picked all the movies we want for our online queue.


    Everyone talks about movie rental stores as being outmoded, and others can even see beyond the time when Netflix will matter, when people can simply pick whatever movie they want on-demand through cable, satellite or the Internet. That’s all true, but I stopped to think about what we’ve lost when our rental place went out of business — and perhaps what we’ve gained.

    What We Lose Without Video Rental Stores

    > A reason to get out of the house and meet up with neighbors in the random fashion of local shopping.


    > The tactile sensation of going through aisles of movies, reading over the movie box’s descriptions, and finding something we weren’t necessarily looking for.

    > Instant gratification for my son, who could pick through the movies, and grab the one he wanted to watch that very night.

    > The recommendations of movie lovers who work at the video store, or even the recommendations of acquaintances you might see at the store.

    > Loss of local jobs for people who love being around movies.

    What We Gain Without Video Rental Stores

    > The convenience of ordering movie rentals without having to leave your house — especially good if you are infirm or elderly or can’t get around easily.

    > No worries about late fees for returning movies after their due dates.

    > The lower cost of getting movies through Netflix, especially if you watch a lot of movies and like more variety.

    > Automated recommendation service through Netflix, which helps you pick similar movies to what you like. Also, you can see recommendations from friends.

    > Less time spent driving around to return and pick up movies. Less time waiting in line at a Blockbuster-type store, which might have poor customer service.

    In general, I’d say that the loss of the physical store feels like a loss for the neighborhood, and a loss of the human touch. And the advantage of Netflix is that I’ll get to see more movies for my money and I’ll have more movies and TV shows to choose from.

    What else am I missing? Send along your own thoughts on the importance of video rental stories, or why you don’t mind if they all disappear. I’ll update this post with any important points I’ve missed.

    Tagged: film netflix video
    • Lorena

      Netflix free…

      I am centrally located between two video stores. Neither is a corporate shop, both are independently run and owned. I like that, it gives it personality, ambiance, and character. My favorite is Into Video in the Haight.

      I get discounts if I am using the film for educational purposes. I didn’t even have to ask, they just offered it to me- now that’s service!

      When I am shopping for a gift I can select from their tremendous assortment of t-shirts, they are funny and unique.

      When one of the girls is having a bad day, we can choose a pint of Ben & Jerry’s from the in-store freezer.

      And yes, single people gt to mingle and new couples get to compromise on films- instantly…

    • I use Blockbuster because I can return movies to the store and check out a movie from the store…all while a new movie is on its way to my house…where I sit…waiting…waiting…YES! The mailman.

    • One added bonus to DVD-by-mail services like Netflix:

      A drastically reduced impact on the environment.

      You mention the horror of having to now drive 10-15 minutes to get to your nearest video store. Unfortunately, outside of the walkable confines of cities like San Francisco, this is the standard reality for most suburban residents. All the driving, packaging, and energy to run the store add up to quite a bit of carbon emissions.

      Personally, I think that on-demand services (whether through cable or IP) will eventually obliterate DVD-by-mail. But unfortunately it will be a slow process here in the US, as our broadband infrastructure is so far behind that of other countries.

    • Mark, you have missed a prediction of a future when Internet costs are properly allocated. Downloading video will become more expensive, possibly justifying return to Video Stores. I,Cringely may be right when he says. “We Don’t Need No Stinking Best Effort”.

    • I was sad to see that store in Potrero go too. I can’t think of a decent independant store either that is within walking distance of my apartment. There is a blockbuster (which is also a dying breed) but that in no way compares to Four Star.

    • My husband and I own one of those “neighborhood video stores” and the only way we’ve been able to stay in the competition is to diversify with the industry. One major misconception of Netflix subscribers, or those who look into this type of rental model, is that there is a cost advantage. Depending on the subscription level you have i.e. number of titles out at one time, will depend on how much you will pay per movie. We have been subscribers and at the very most, we were only able to receive 12 movies in a months’ time. That’s receiving the movie, watching it that night and mailing it back the next day. When we tested this model, the 3 out at a time was approximately $24.99; that equates to $2.08 per title if you can only receive 12 in a month. With the new model out there — the DVD rental machines like redbox — you can rent a movie for $1 per night!! Your quote above, “the advantage of Netflix is that Ill get to see more movies for my money and Ill have more movies and TV shows to choose from” is not true with the much more cost effective model of the DVD vending machines available. You may possibly have more TV shows to choose from but for the money, the DVD vending machine is the way to go.

    • In the “what we lose” category — I too would miss with the enjoyment of picking up the videos, of physically browsing (and I need this even more with books!). However, in that same category, I’ve lived in many communities full of transient strangers where “a reason to get out of the house and meet up with neighbors” sounds great in concept but never seems to happen in practice. I wonder which will run expire first, the neighborhood store where neighbors run into each other to chit chat, or the sort of neighbors who know each other well enough to chit chat in the first place?

    • alastair machray

      Mark , isn’t it an absolute pain in the neck (god, this sounds lazy) to have to parcel the films up and mail them? Just as bad as dropping off at the store! Why can’t we (or can we?) download to our TVs? Surely the technology to link TV with internet is here?

    • The loss of video stores would just be another step on the path to all geeks only existing as an online profile. I use the work geek as a compliment. Quentin Tarrantino is a geek. Could he make the movies that he does with no interaction with human beings.

      I have no independent video store in my neighborhood. I am lucky enough to have one independent bookstore, but I still have to drive and the parking is a pain. I love the internet and the opportunities it provides for dialogue with people I would never meet in the tangible world, but it shouldn’t substitute for meetings with flesh and blood people in my community.

    • Simon

      Tivo now provides a download service linked through Amazon – on a typical 1.5 mbs DSL – it can take a very long time to get THAT movie NOW!

      “Are we there yet?” – NO

      “Will we get there soon Daddy?” – Yes Son!

    • Susan

      Our small town has just one video store, and it carries only “big name” movies, (and hunting videos). I use Netflix because it is the only way I can get the foreign films, independent filsm, and documentaries that I love.

    • Chris Newman

      With the rise of the internet and the access it gives you, I’m not surprised with the popularity of NetFlix. The internet allows us to shop for everything and it can be delivered, so we never have to leave our house. One thing that will be on the rise is digital distribution. Instead of having to go to the store, or Netflix, but downloading them from your computer. Apple is doing this with iTunes and music, and video games is heading down that road as well. I think that Netflix gives more selection than a video store chain, but majority of America hasn’t caught on. I think each will be around for the next five to ten years before Netflix or another company like Netflix becomes the norm.

    • While I feel for the remaining small video stores out there, I can’t say I’ve had access to one in years.

      I lost nothing in the switch to Netflix and gained a lot. There were no helpful movie lovers who worked at my local blockbuster, a ten minute drive away. There were surly employees who seemed to think I was an inconvenience.

      I don’t have cable, so Netflix is a great value for me. My queue probably has 200 things on it including both movies and TV shows. I can see what my friends and family are watching and what they did and didn’t like, leave notes for them, and find out what experts think is worth watching.

      Also, if I don’t happen to have time to watch something for a few days, it’s not a problem. And — now the instant gratification issue is solved with the Netflix On-demand service.

      Yup. Lost nothing — gained a lot. I’m definitely a Netflix evangelist.

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