Blockbuster’s thirty-year story encapsulates the dangers of resting on prior models of success in a changing industrial landscape; by the time you realize your own obsolescence, it’s too late.
I worked in a video store as a teen. Movieland in Caulfield was a perfect job for a young cinephile burning with a passion for independent learning.
It was a place where I made some wonderful friends and learnt about people, their tastes, and began to develop my own sense of criticism.
It was owned by a couple of businessmen who didn’t care about movies but saw the franchise as an opportunity for some good cash profit. They also recognised the right time to get out of the business.
They sold it months before a Blockbuster opened 75 metres away. The man who bought it, also as a side investment, didn’t know how to run it and maintain competitive advantage. His manager was not clued in to the needs of the customers.
The store closed a couple of years later. I had already been fired early in the new regime; the manager desperate to have people who wouldn’t question her decisions. Riding my bike past the empty store, I experienced my first feeling of professional Schadenfreude.
The Blockbuster lasted about 10 more years but has been gone for just as long now. It was the first sign, for me, that short term growth would be favoured in the market over sustainable practices that cost a little more.
That I was vindicated in my early economic assessment is little comfort, though. Recommendation is performed by an algorithm now, which gets it right a lot of the time, so people, movie renters, don’t miss the store experience. But the skill of empathy required to recommend a film to someone is the great loss to the world from the death of the video store.
It was a place where the staff would speak to the customers regularly, get to know them and their tastes, and be able to provide a truly personal service. I love my Netflix subscription but it’s anything other than personal. Blockbuster started designing its own tombstone when it removed passion from the process. Netflix just took over the reins. Sunrise, sunset.
Thanks to Daniel for sending me a link to the original blog post.