It’s a little embarrassing to admit it now but back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Blockbuster Video was really cool. It was a quantum leap past mom-and-pop video stores and it seemed unstoppable at one point. We all know of course that Blockbuster’s stores are no more, and the company’s purchase by DISH was too late to stop the inevitable. While it’s popular to say that Netflix disc delivery killed Blockbuster (remember, Netflix streaming was in its infancy when the company collapsed) the truth is that Blockbuster killed Blockbuster. Bad customer service and odd directives from corporate combined to give the perception of an out-of-touch dinosaur company and when it got to the point that people would do just about anything to avoid going to a store, it just so happened Netflix was there to pick up the slack.
If you don’t remember just what the experience of Blockbuster Video was quite like, you’ll like this essay at mental_floss called “11 Secrets of Former Blockbuster Employees.” It’s no surprise that these whistleblowing former Blockbusterites place blame on weird corporate decisions instead of themselves, and yes that’s true too… but certainly anyone who spent time at a Blockbuster location can remember an apathetic employee or bad customer service decision. For me it was a time when I was charged a late fee for one tape of a two-tape rental and not the other tape. The employee didn’t dispute that I’d returned the tapes, didn’t dispute that the tapes were returned together (since it would have been impossible to return them separately, remember those weird double-case things they had?) but somehow didn’t see how I just couldn’t have returned one late and one on time.
I also remember used discs that cost more than the same disc new at another retailer (owing to their ultra-restrictive marketing deals, Blockbuster never discounted movies for sale) and so-called “new releases” that were 3-4 years old. I was a little late to the Netflix party, but once I jumped in, I maybe set foot in a Blockbuster twice after that point.
Now of course, streaming is the new standard in movie rentals, and it threatens to kill the physical disc business for good. That might happen, but since Netflix and Redbox have already removed the human element from the transaction, it won’t be the employees to blame. Not this time.