Thursday, November 26, 2015

I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.

1) Video stores are about investment

The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice.

Why streaming will never live up to home video
We watch Netflix like we used to watch television on a slow Sunday night, everything blending together as we flip aimlessly through the channels. At first the choice is overwhelming: all of these options and nothing but the questionable "You Might Like" cue to guide us — we stare at the screen like idiots, paralyzed. But then when we make a choice, if we make a choice, it feels unimportant. Another option is only a click away.

If you're actually in a video store, the stakes are different. You're engaged. You're on a mission to find a movie — the right movie. You had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to a store. You had to think about what you want, why this movie looks good and not that one, perhaps even seeking guidance or advice. Whether it's from nostalgia, advertising, packaging, reputation, recommendation, or sheer whim, a movie chosen from the shelves attaches you to your choice. Before the film even starts playing, you've begun a relationship with it. You're curious. Whether you've chosen well or poorly, you've made a choice, and you're in it for the duration.

With online streaming, we don't decide — we settle. And when we aren't grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films. Unlike that DVD they paid for and brought home, a movie on Netflix will be watched only so long as it falls within the viewer's comfort zone. As that comfort zone expands, the desire to look outside of it contracts.

2) An algorithm is no substitute for human interaction

In the last days of the store, daily life at the store got pretty intense. Longtime customers were bereft. We tried to comfort them, explaining how our owner had ensured that our whole collection would soon be available at the public library — for free, even! It didn't help much. Almost to a one, they had the same reply: "But you won't be there to help us."

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Hulu has overtaken Netflix to become the best streaming service That was flattering and sad, and ultimately all we could do was agree: Yeah, we wouldn't be there. There were tears and gifts and genuine concern (not unfounded) about what my coworkers and I would do to survive, a phenomenon both touching and illustrative of how identified we were with the role we played in their lives. A great video store is built on relationships, in some cases relationships that had gone on for years. Our customers were losing the people who'd helped shape their movie taste, who'd steered them toward things we knew they'd like and away from things they didn't know they'd hate. We were losing the people that we, in our small way, had been able to help. We were all grieving the loss.

Over the years, we'd come to know our customers' tastes, their pet peeves, and their soft spots. Our experience and movie expertise helped us make informed, intuitive leaps to find and fulfill entertainment needs they didn't even always know they had. I've had parents hug me for introducing their kids to Miyazaki and The Iron Giant. Nice old ladies have baked me cookies for starting them off on The Wire. People knew they could come in with the vaguest description — "This guy has an eye patch, and I think there's a mariachi band" — and we'd figure out they were looking for Cutter's Way. Other times, they'd take a recommendation for Walking and Talking and come back saying, "Just give me everything Nicole Holofcener's ever done." If someone asked me for a great comedy, my first question was invariably, "What's one comedy you've seen that you think is hilarious?" I've spent 20 minutes refining exactly how scary was too scary when picking out a horror movie. It's a skill set you develop, a sensitivity to just the right vibrations of interest and aversion.

If you think I'm overrating the power of these connections, consider this: Years ago, I helped a lovely, seemingly upstanding woman choose from several Shakespeare adaptations. The next week she returned, asking about the relative merits of zombie movies. Interesting, I thought.

She started coming in regularly. After months of recommendations and some earnest cinematic dismantling ("Like a handful of romantic comedies thrown into a blender," she said of Love, Actually), I became her go-to movie guy. A year later, I became her go-to everything guy when we got married.

This phenomenon isn't uncommon. We at the store ended up dating and/or wedding customers so consistently that it became a running joke from the boss that we were taking money out of his pocket. (Significant others got free rentals.)



Read more at: Vox

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