Netflix killed the video store. Blockbuster as we knew it died Tuesday because the world is "clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment," according to DISH President and CEO Joseph Clayton. The video chain announced it will close its 300 remaining retail stores and stop its rent-by-mail service in January. For many, Blockbuster was a video store, a first time job or an important part of their childhood. This is a eulogy.
Let's not kid ourselves by saying Blockbuster was fantastic by any means. The prices were often outrageous and in most cases the selection was terrible. But the big box video store's death is concerning to me in many ways, because I relish going to video stores and discovering something new the same way other people enjoy perusing through the stacks at a library. And if Blockbuster can't make it in this big, scary world, then I fear the smaller video stores that have survived probably don't have much time left. The end is nigh.
Netflix's appeal is easy enough to understand. Who wants to put on pants and trudge into the cold to get a silly movie when you can stay under the blankets and scroll endlessly through Netflix? It costs more to rent a movie, sure, a fact the pro-movie store lobby has no real answer for. Netflix is cheap and impossibly convenient. But let's be frank: Netflix's selection isn't that great, and a decent video store should have hallways of classic and forgotten films from the last hundred years that Netflix isn't offering.
On Friday and Saturday nights in junior high, before we were old enough to get into more interesting trouble elsewhere, my friends and I always took trips to the video store for snacks and movies before retreating to someone's basement. I loved snooping through rows and rows of DVDs, finding strange and obscure movies time forgot. The idea of striking up a conversation with some (probably stoned) 20-something paying for tuition with his part-time job who also happens to love 80s action movies is an idea of the past. I used to be that (not stoned) 20-something paying for tuition with a part time video store job.
You can find most movies on the Internet now. Between Netflix, iTunes and other less legal means, most things you'd ever want to watch are a few tippity clacks on a keyboard away. But those memories, those moments of discovery, those human connections through film are all lost to time. We can simply stay home in our sweatpants instead, wiping the Doritos, ordered on Seamless, on our shirts without a care in the world. We can let the Internet do the work for us. Isn't that the utopia we've always wanted?