It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that I wholeheartedly disagree with Richard Corliss’ new essay for Time magazine about “Why Netflix Stinks.” Corliss seems to have an issue with the fact that Netflix deprives consumers from the experience of visiting their local video store and interacting with clerks and shelves. Guess what: if that process (which currently hangs on by a thread) was so popular and/or successful, it wouldn’t be in danger of extinction. And, for every person that cherishes the experience of visiting a neighborhood video store (like Kim’s, which he highlights in the article), there are easily 100 other folks that would not watch nearly as many films as they now because of Netflix’s service.
I used to be a video store clerk, and I also used to love scanning the walls of Austin hubs like Vulcan Video, Waterloo Video, and I Love Video. However, as my life got busier, the time I spent visiting these stores declined. Once things like Netflix and VOD sprang up, and later iTunes and Hulu, game over. If I wanted something too obscure from these digital services, I would wait for a theatrical event. But if I’m looking for home entertainment, I’m pretty easy to please. And you know what, we don’t really have a choice. Kim’s didn’t make its name from hardcore film lovers alone; mass audiences had to walk through its doors as well. Once those mass audiences started drifting to Netflix and television, you don’t have enough customers to sustain a business. This is the same thing that happened to record stores. But let’s face it, life’s too short and too busy to spend more time at a brick-and-mortar store than you’re going to spend actually consuming the product you’re there to choose.
Corliss states “Not that every video-store clerk is a budding Quentin Tarantino, eager to point renters toward some arcane masterpiece from Italy or Hong Kong, but you do miss out on a face-to-face with a knowledgeable cinephile.” I’m sorry, but I think we need to celebrate the fact that the snobby store clerk era is coming to an end. I used to be that guy, in Brownsville, TX, rolling my eyes when a soccer mom had never heard of Akira Kurosawa. C’mon. Life’s too short. Plus, the record-and-video store clerk was never a healthy career track. We have blogs now for that (thanks for reading).
Is it sad that the hipster kids of tomorrow will be better off learning recommendation algorithms, rather than learning the complete filmography of Sam Fuller? Maybe, but at least they’re now more likely to earn health insurance. So, while we as video-store consumers may enjoy the face-to-face banter with our clerk, more often than not we leave the store with the movie we really wanted instead of the obscure choice he/she tried to push on us. Besides, that film you chose is probably more enjoyable, and guess what, it’s likely available on Netflix. As much as you’ll miss video stores, no one else knows which film you’re in the mood to see, better than you.