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A World Without Retailers

Home entertainment retailing is on the ropes.

The buzz phrase of the moment is “direct to consumer.” Streaming keeps gobbling up more and more consumer home entertainment dollars — more than 80%, according to the latest DEG numbers, for the first quarter of this year. And while transactional spending appears to be holding up, disc sales remain in a freefall, with the latest quarterly spending reporting showing consumer purchases of DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays accounted for less than 5% of total home entertainment spending.

No wonder, then, that big retailers like Best Buy and Walmart are cutting back on their physical media sections. I shudder to think what the end result of all this may be — will there come a day when physical media is gone completely from the major retailers, and if we want to buy a DVD or Blu-ray Disc we need to go to a studio website or that grand e-commerce aggregator, Amazon.com?

To me, at least, that’s a chilling thought. I’ve always enjoyed the retail experience — the searching, the discovery — from the time I was a teen eagerly browsing the cut-out bins at Tower Records, The Wherehouse and Licorice Pizza (the store, not the movie) to the more recent days of Suncoast and the Virgin Megastore, with vast inventories of what seemed to be every movie ever made.

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Maybe that’s why a few years ago, I resurrected my vinyl record albums, bought a new turntable and had Chuck Berry (my sound man, not the late rock pioneer) hook everything up to my home theater system. I regularly visit used record stores and also spend at least an hour a day on Discogs and/or eBay. The philosophical question I ask myself is this: Do I visit these stores because I am a record collector, or am I a record collector so I can visit these stores and once again enjoy the retail experience?

Hard to say.

I will say that I enjoy Netflix as much as anyone, with Discovery+ a close second. But there’s so much good stuff out there that isn’t on any of the streaming services that I regularly visit digital retailers such as Vudu and Redbox On Demand to check out what else is available. And I truly wish there was at least one big disc store with thousands of different titles — not just to buy, but also to browse and maybe get acquainted with something I ordinarily would never have thought about, or even known about.

But, alas, there isn’t any such store, at least not near my home.

I understand the concept behind, and benefits of, direct-to-consumer sales. The lack of a middle man means higher profits for the brand, and, hopefully, lower prices for the consumer. But as a consumer, I feel as though I have lost something — the joys of search and discovery, which I can still do online at the handful of third-party digital retailers that are bucking the DTC trend, but even that’s not nearly as gratifying as searching and discovering new movies and shows in a physical environment.

I fear there’s also an element of self-fulfilling prophecy. As physical media sections shrink, the lack of choice leads to even less business — which, in turn, leads to even smaller sections.

I sincerely hope we never get to the proverbial point of no return — although, in a way, we are already there.

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