Red All Over

6 03 2010

One of the greatest ironies of the internet era is the success of Redbox DVD rentals, the quaint little throwback to an earlier day. A day with vending machines. A day with limited selection. A simpler day in which, if you couldn’t find it, you didn’t need it.

The truth of the matter is, Redbox is a runaway success, and is without doubt one of the foremost beneficiaries of the current recession. DVD rentals for $1 are an easy sale when money is tight and jobs insecure. And Redbox is so successful that the movie industry is fighting back.

Heck, all those cheap rentals are keeping people from actually buying the DVD for their home libraries.

Now I am one to talk about home libraries. I am King of the Hoarders when it comes to books, movies and music. Yeah, I shook the music habit two years ago and went digital, but I still buy the others as if there would be no more cinematic or literary tomorrows. Besides, it often takes me months to get around to watching something I purchase (sometime even years). And it has taken me three weeks to get half-way through Season 1 of Big Bang Theory. If I were to rent, it might cost me a fortune in late fees.

But apparently there are enough people being diverted from their collecting ways that Hollywood has had to put its collective foot down. For example, Redbox and Netflix both recently inked distribution deals with Warner Bros. effectively keeping both from renting new releases until 28 days have passed since street date. Since 90% of a movie’s sales occur during that first four weeks, the industry thinks if it can keep the rental shops at bay for a while, there’s still hope to sell the higher-margin personal copies.

Worse yet, Redbox is now prohibited from selling older movies that have been in rental circulation for a while. Rather than being able to pawn them off for a modest price, they must now be “recycled.” Which is a clever euphemism for shredded.

It is this kind of industry strong-arm tactic that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Throttling progress is a mortal sin, even if “progress” is a red vending machine with a limited selection. And let us not forget the insanely successful Netflix rent-by-mail model, as well as streaming video downloads. This might even be enough to make a renter out of me, if only to direct my small voice in the general direction of Hollywood. Look, we already have to wait several months for the DVD release following its theatrical run; what’s another 4 weeks going to hurt to be able to rent it or watch it on demand?

If I can eliminate one more thing from my tangible acquisitions, it’ll clear all the more space for other things I hold dear. I just have to get accustomed to not actually seeing it on my shelf. Because habits are hard to break. Because, in spite of my evo-marketing ways and means, I can’t deny that I am from that simpler time. Because the film of my life has little holes for sprocket wheels, and is stored in a tin canister.

I just need to figure out how to take that first step.

Dr “Is There An App For That?” Gerlich

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