Video stores make like the Titanic and begin sinking

One booth dominated the exhibit floor at the Video Software Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas earlier this month: Paramount’s massive plywood-and-vinyl Titanic. Erected to promote the Sept. 1 video release of James Cameron’s epic, it featured an ingenious photo op inside: Within a digital simulation of the ship’s prow, you could pose as your very own King of the World.

But though hundreds of independent video-store owners happily stood on line for the souvenir, they weren’t kidding themselves. All week long at the confab (which was down to about 10,000 visitors from 12,000 last year) they fretted over slackening growth in rental revenue, how prices are too low, how there are too many stores, and how chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video seem to be cornering all the life jackets. A group of independent retailers staged an off-site protest meeting that drew more than 900, threatening to bring legal action against “revenue sharing” programs that have some movie studios providing masses of VHS copies to the chains in exchange for a slice of rental money. Most indie stores aren’t big enough to get in on these volume discounts, which critics say are drowning out suppliers and renters of B and C titles.

“For every new video store opening up, we get calls from 15 to 20 who are going bust,” says Brad Kugler, president of Distribution Video & Audio, a supplier of new and used videotapes. “They can’t compete with big retailers who can offer huge numbers of new-release copies. And that seems to be what consumers want.”

Anchored at the Titanic booth one afternoon to sign autographs, actress Gloria Stuart said: “The movie says a lot about the class system. Poor people shouldn’t drown.” Indeed they shouldn’t, and all around the convention floor, the little guys were rearranging the deck chairs as best they could.

With additional reporting by Troy Patterson