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From Hammer to Nail: What We Lose When We Lose Video Stores

By Alex Ross Perry | Indiewire March 31, 2012 at 12:48PM

Perry's interview with Joe Martin, the longtime proprietor of East Village rental store Reel Life--which closes its doors for good at the end of this month--is an unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to the deterioration of the physical video store.
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ARP: Very quickly in this golden age, DVDs were made for collections. To take home and own them. When tapes would first come out, you couldn’t own them. Then when it comes out to own, it’s the same thing you rented. When you see it for sale, it doesn’t occur to you that you need it. But around 2002, instantly you need to own this DVD. And I wanted to own them, buying tons of stuff. So rentals became for older stuff, things I don’t want to own, because there is no special edition. Did most people then decide to just rent because they don’t want to own it, just because they like the movie?

JM: Yes. The people who came in weren’t all that aware of what the thing was. The people who are really into film, they knew. Oftentimes, the people really into movies couldn’t afford to buy it for 20 dollars, but they could rent it for three.

ARP: Overall, what was the effect on the rental market of this golden age of collectors editions?

JM: I don’t know if it was a big change in how people rented or how much they rented. It was a conscious thing that people knew what they were renting, and became informed as to what did and did not exist. They’d come in and say, ‘Which one did you get? Did you get the two-disc edition or the five-disc edition?’ A movie like Blade Runner is a good example, in that it seems to come out every couple years, and everybody always knows what edition is what. And then someone wants to watch Blade Runner, they want the director’s cut, or the theatrical cut, or the final cut.

ARP: So re-releases of something like "Blade Runner" or James Bond, they’re not being released a fourth time for renters. At all.

"It was a conscious thing that people knew what they were renting, and became informed as to what did and did not exist."


JM: It’s strictly for people buying.

ARP: That’s no longer part of the thinking in 2004 or 2005. It’s so that you can throw away your flimsy DVDs and purchase these nice ones. And that was the prevailing idea of video production at the time that DVDs were incredibly profitable. But they were no longer being released exclusively for rentals, as tapes were.

JM: You’re right. Even the Anchor Bay stuff was definitely not marketed towards video stores. It was marketed towards the home buying market. And the studio films, they would first release the movie with nothing. And that was for the video stores, because they knew video stores would buy 1,000 copies of it. And they can make them cheap. So after the video market is saturated, towards Christmas when they are focusing on the buying market, the version with the bells and whistles would come out. And the people that would come in and say, ‘Which one do you have? The re-release version?’ And as a small video store it was rare that you would have the resources to go back and buy a movie that you already have a dozen copies of.

ARP: Right in the golden era, "The Lord of the Rings" movies were coming out, and everybody knew that in six months you get the deluxe package. But you need to rent them right away, so you had to buy 4 or 5 copies for new releases. But you’re not going to buy 4 or 5 copies of the big box set. That’s for people to own. People don’t need to rent it. They know they love it, so they want it. People became frustrated by that. So in 2008, at the end of the golden age, something like Zodiac comes out and it is already announced that six months later we’re getting the special edition. But walking into a video store has never been prone to remembering something and coming back for it in six months. Did people stop trusting the merchandise?

JM: Definitely, people were immediately wise to that, the bare bones edition coming out first. It’s a common thing for people to say, ‘Isn’t there a longer one coming?’ And everyone knew around Christmas generally there’d be a saturation of the special features edition, or the director’s cut. "The Lord of the Rings" is a perfect example. We had to buy that I think three different times. Three different versions: the initial ones, the ones that looked like books that had four discs, and then another more bare bones extended edition.

ARP: It started getting confusing for people. And this is also the time that walking into a store is not the only option. And people stopped making time to come in and deal with this. Even though we were being deceived and lied to with new releases, the catalogue is still back here. But it just became confusing for people to wade through what they wanted, because all of a sudden they became out of practice with how to walk in here and look. This is also right when you closed the Williamsburg store, right?

JM: In 2008, yeah. It was a rent thing, just like this.

ARP: Was business stable?

JM: Even when we opened the one in Williamsburg, people were like, ‘You’re crazy.’ Even opening a video store just to rent in 1997, people thought we were totally insane. And then opening the store in Park Slope, there was a lot of resistance.

This article is related to: Alex Ross Perry







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