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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: So around 2008 people started to migrate away from the experience of walking over here, or walking somewhere.

JM: By 2008 you had a lot of stores popping up selling really cheap DVDs. You could start to find brand new copies of a movie in Target for five, six, seven dollars. Studios started mass selling out their back catalogues to places like Entertainment Outlet, and you could start getting things for about five dollars, or like two-for-ten. Also the DVDs themselves became so cheaply manufactured.

"Very early on in the video store’s life, the studios stopped treating video stores as a viable or appreciable market of theirs."


ARP: They got worse. They thought people stopped buying them, but I think that slowly because of the special edition thing, people started getting a little bit more hesitant to buy, so they notice a tiny dip in sales and they say, ‘Let’s stop putting money into them.’

JM: The money that people pay for a DVD, so little of it is for the duplication and the printing. It’s virtually nothing, but that’s where they chose to draw their money from. Very early on in the video store’s life, the studios stopped treating video stores as a viable or appreciable market of theirs. They didn’t want anything to do with us.

ARP: You think about the James Bond movies, somebody has to edit and produce those featurettes. And for some reason that disappeared. And part of what made DVDs special when they first appeared was that stuff. It was very exciting to see deleted scenes, or behind the scenes. And that was the first thing they got rid of. And now, 90% of new releases have no special features.

JM: The most you can ask for is a commentary track. The bare bones DVD is going to have virtually nothing on it. A lot of the film distribution companies did not want people renting movies. They want people buying movies. The clearest example of this is that we stopped getting screeners. We’d get a box of screeners for stuff coming out six months in advance sent to us virtually every month. And it was really cool to get access to movies that weren’t going to be out for another six months. That was when studios actively wanted video stores to push their product. And when DVDs started becoming available for less money immediately, the screeners virtually halted immediately. And I couldn’t even tell you the last time I got a screener from a studio.

ARP: That was the end of that era. Yet stores continue to exist, DVDs continue to get made. You can buy them at Best Buy or whatever. But now they’re 15 dollars, and they’re totally disposable. It’s the same thing as box office. You want to put it out, sell a lot in the first two weeks, and then forget about it. They’re not making these to still be bought five years from now. This stuff is everywhere, even at drugstores. It’s easy now, but we’re forgetting how difficult it was to find stuff in 2000. You’re talking about Anchor Bay, but I don’t know where one would find Anchor Bay new releases at that time. Blockbuster certainly was not going to stock every Anchor Bay DVD. You need a place for all these items. People come in for something else, but these other things they don’t know about are right here too.

JM: Absolutely. We had a video store, but I would end up going to Suncoast. That was one of the few places where you could buy a new a VHS for 80 dollars. Laserdiscs too. And that was a place where I bought all of my initial Anchor Bay titles. I would buy them there and bring them to the store, because our distributor didn’t even have them.

ARP: I wanted this [I grab a special limited edition tin of William Lustig’s "Maniac"] but I wouldn’t know where to find it when it came out. But that changed, and all of a sudden everyone in the country knew where to find something on the internet in 30 seconds. How did this affect people’s curiosity to come out and search?

JM: That’s when a lot of the stores stopped existing, at least for the customers. When we opened the store we knew it was a risky proposition. Every neighborhood had a lot of video stores. Our thing was to have the items that other video stores didn’t. So that’s why I had to go to conventions and buy those obscure movies. Or use a place like Facets for obscure foreign titles, or TLA. And also go to stores and buy weird horror movies. I never saw them in other neighborhood video stores. It was strictly Paramount, Disney, MCA and Warner Brothers.

This article is related to: Alex Ross Perry







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