Sunday, July 26, 2015

TIL: Video stores destroyed their own inventory

You know how you used to go into Blockbuster Video -- and I must ask you now to think back to the halcyon days, when video stores used to exist -- and there would be a wall with 100 copies of Transformers, or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, or whatever was the latest and greatest Hollywood new release that was expected to be watched by a bajillion eyeballs?

And then you'd go back to that same Blockbuster 30 days later, and those 100 copies had dwindled down to a modest 20 or so?

You didn't think those extra 80 copies had all just been quickly and efficiently sold off as previously viewed videos, did you?

Well, I kind of did -- to the extent that I thought about the issue at all. That is, at least until I watched this video. And if you don't want to go to watch the video itself, I'll summarize what it's about below.

The video is made by a former employee of Blockbuster, who released it allegedly to "expose" the now-defunct video rental giant for practices that I now know were not actually their fault.

But the black and white facts are rather starting, as seen above. Namely, Blockbuster employees were required to wipe their superfluous copies of movies so that they could never again be played, then basically just throw them away.


Yeah, that's what I thought too. Watching them lobotomize a bunch of perfectly good movies so that they were no better than coasters for your drink was rather shocking. But then someone in the Facebook thread where I originally saw the video explained what was really going on here, and though I didn't like it any better, I definitely understood it.

See, it was a mandate by the studios. They'd sell Blockbuster (and other video stores, presumably) a ridiculous quantity of these movies to meet the high demand for them upon their initial release, and they'd sell them at a price that was advantageous for Blockbuster's profit margin. The catch was that once the rental of these movies dropped down below a certain threshold, the excess stock would be obliterated from the earth in order to make way for the next wave of new releases.

And while that seems like a pretty draconian approach to business, one that seems to illustrate the earth-hating, sneering short-sightedness of Big Business, it actually kind of makes sense. The more of these movies that were out there as inexpensive previously viewed movies, the fewer the studio would be able to sell as new copies at Best Buy or other retailers. The market for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest would by highly diluted if there were 80 copies available at every neighborhood Blockbuster -- or in every neighborhood landfill, if someone only threw them away and didn't actually destroy them.

I guess it's the same approach to how currency maintains its value. You can't print a bunch of new money every year without destroying a bunch of old money. If the old money stays around, then eventually all the money starts to be worth diddlysquat.

But it's still rather striking, just on the face of it -- especially if you're a movie fan. Perfectly good movies that could go to charities -- as the guy in the video points out -- or at worst just serve as a fringe benefit to working at a Blockbuster -- as the guy also point outs -- were instead just wiped. And it's not like a couple could even "go missing," just as all the money marked for incineration is closely guarded. The studios had serious safeguards in place to ensure that x percentage of the copies of these movies ceased to be part of the natural world. The former Blockbuster employee who commented in this thread told a different story to the guy in the video -- he said that they had to actually return all the destroyed copies to the studios to prove that every last one was accounted for.

So obviously, Blockbuster is (for once) not the place deserving of blame here. But I guess in a way, neither are the studios. They made those kazillion copies of Transformers available at their own pleasure, and destroyed them at their own pleasure as well.

Well, those days are gone, as now digital copies of movies make the physical reality of any given one a moot point. As with any change in this industry, we win something intangible as we lose something tangible.

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