Blockbuster. Emphasis On Bust.
It was a Monday morning about 15 years ago. I’d just gotten to my desk when I suddenly remembered something terrible.
“Oh my God,”I moaned out loud to no one in particular. “I forgot to return our videos!”
I was talking about Blockbuster Videos, of course. And their odious late fees.
Weird how easy it was to remember to go to Blockbuster nearly every Friday evening, to try to score something good off the “New Releases” wall.
Yet, returning the movies in time was daunting. And I don’t think I’m the only one who actually drove to Blockbuster in pajamas to drop off almost-delinquent tapes just before the midnight deadline.
“Haven’t you heard of Netflix?” one of my more tech-savvy colleagues remarked without looking up from his computer. “They come overnight in the mail. No late fees.
“I hate Blockbuster stores,” he added. “They have the smell of death.”
Funny, I hadn’t noticed the aroma of decay. Then again, I never noticed the smell of death in the newsroom either, until people began losing their jobs in 2008.
Good thing I wasn’t a business reporter. Apparently I’m no good at spotting trends in the marketplace.
Chance are, you’ve heard. The last two Blockbuster stores in Alaska are closing, which means there will be just one Blockbuster left in the entire US. It’s in Bend, Oregon and apparently is supported by off-the-grid-nostalgia-worshipping hippies without cable, satellite or the internet.
How did it happen that a chain of movie rental stores that seemed to be in every strip mall in the 1990s went from boom to bust in about a decade? I suppose you could ask the same question about how newspapers went from printing money through the 1990s to hemorrhaging it by the time the recession hit in 2007.
The troubles that plagued both businesses are essentially the same: They were blindsided by the internet and they didn't adapt to changes in the market until it was too late.
Newspapers are treading water and trying to reinvent themselves. As they transition to digital delivery, their very name - newsPAPER - will become an anachronism.
Blockbuster? Well, at its peak, in 2004, Blockbuster had about 9,000 locations and employed tens of thousands of workers. Seven years later it was falling apart.
Most of us don’t miss those soulless Blockbuster shops with their lines and late fees and rewind penalties.
Newspapers? That’s a far more serious story.