In the last month, the once mighty Blockbuster Video chain has gone pretty much entirely out of business. Oh, there are one or two holdouts, but the business that once was is basically no more. No more driving to the store on Friday evening and picking up the action flick du jour. It’s a bit of a surprising turn for a business that was thriving ten years ago.
But, of course, times changed. Netflix became a major competitor to Blockbuster as customers avoided the trip to the store and the lines in favor of just walking to their mailboxes. So what if the drive is a short one? The walk is even shorter. But that’s not what killed Blockbuster. It managed to co-exist with Netflix’s mail-out DVD business, but the whole house of cards came crashing down with the advent of streaming video from a multitude of sources. And it got me wondering, what’s the difference? The answer I came up with was instant gratification.
I always noted a tendency in myself whenever I filled up the old Netflix queue with DVDs to be mailed out, and I contrast that to my tendencies when filling the streaming queue that I currently have. It made me think there are two sides to every subscriber (or at least, to me as a subscriber). The mail-out subscriber has a particular image of himself—erudite, interested in fine film and artistic quality. The mail-out subscriber is the one who queues up foreign films, classics, and Oscar nominees. He seeks out challenging material that will make him think and that displays the best moviemaking has to offer. And he’ll probably almost never watch any of this stuff.
And then there’s the streaming subscriber who can barely be bothered to put on pants and shake the Cheetos dust out of his t-shirt. He wants to see something funny or watch people die, and he wants it right now. He’s not willing to wait the three or four days it takes for the movie he wants to see to get mailed from Netflix’s distribution warehouse to his home, so he’s willing to go hit the local vid store if that’s the only way to satisfy his craving. But, hey, now there’s streaming! And that means those pants can stay in a crumpled heap on the bedroom floor, and he can start in on the Doritos, while still getting his movie fix.
Instant gratification is what separated the new competition from the old for Blockbuster, and I think it’s what signaled its demise. What does this have to do with law—the ostensible purpose for this blog? Well, not a whole lot. I could say something about patience being a virtue for an appellate lawyer because you never know how long an appellate court is going to take to decide your case, but that would be a stretch. Truth is I just thought it was interesting and a real sign of the technological changing of the guard we see so much of these days. Technology has made my solo practice possible (or at least, much more feasible), and our court system is continuing to adapt it to new use. For lawyers, I think the new frontier is an electronic one, as courts push firms to modernize and likely as clients insist on the efficiency that technology can bring about.