In comments on the previous post, Disgrunted Manatee suggests:
As others have said, without a picture of the selection from previous ages, it is hard to digest this data. I still recall Blockbuster having an entire aisle to display 100 copies of each of the 3 most popular movies at the time, then 3 aisles holding a random smattering of other stuff. The selection was never all that grand. Anecdotally in my small experience, the selection now just with netflix is way better than in my childhood with blockbuster and two other brick and mortar video store memberships combined.
A few points in response:
1. Blockbusters were, for the most part, terrible video stores, focused as they – and Netflix, for that matter – were on feeding consumer demand for the newest hottest things, rather than being consumer-oriented pay libraries (which are generally profitable enterprises, if not as profitable as stoking consumer demand to hyperactive proportions).
2. Your typical Blockbuster – and I can speak to this as I had multiple siblings work there – worked on stocking principles that dictated that half of the store’s shelf space was devoted to new releases (with the newest and hottest releases taking more prominence, of course), and half to older stock. This contrasted with more traditional video stores, where (and I personally worked at several, so I can also speak to this) generally had a new release/long tail ratio of anywhere from 40-60 (your neighborhood mom and pop store) to 20/80 (the really good video stores that took movies seriously).
3. Compare to Netflix, where we actually have hard statistics to determine how much of their catalogue can be considered recent thanks to sites like New On Netflix. Thanks to that site, I can tell you that Netflix Canada has 5,190 titles right now, and of those 5,190 titles 3,007 are less than three years old. That’s 58 percent! And that’s before you remove TV programs from the equation, because TV series are considered (for search purposes) single titles with their year being the earliest season available on Netflix, so most TV series skew older rather than newer, which means that the percentage of movies on Netflix that could be considered reasonably recent is actually even higher than it looks at first glance.
4. Just as important, though, is the fact that although most video stores and Blockbusters would generally clear out their new releases stock as “previously viewed” sales to increase their revenue, they would keep one or two copies of each new release to be incorporated into their older stock, because although the long tail for rentals is a thing, for movies that are 5-10 years old you’re still in the medium of the long tail where there was an active audience of people who were only getting around to see any given movie which they had intended to see for a while (this happened regularly with prestige pictures/Oscar winners), and after the medium of the long tail passed there was still the long tail of revenue to be generated from movies which had already seen the vast majority of their lifetime rentals but which could earn additional revenue every so often simply by sitting there and being available.
5. The average Blockbuster had a movie library of approximately 7,000 titles at any given time (per Big-Box Swindle by Stacy Mitchell); independent video stores almost always exceeded this, with “good” video stores often exceeding 15,000 titles. Netflix – regardless of country – has at any point a library of in between 5-6,000 titles. That is usually about 20% TV shows (and many of the TV shows are marginal things); it usually also includes about 20% bottom-bin straight-to-DVD releases (and straight-to-video releases were certainly a part of any video store’s inventory, but the ratio was usually about 10% rather than 20%). There really isn’t any numerical question that Netflix’s service is inferior to practically all video stories in terms of variety of catalogue.
So, the basic response to Manatee’s comment is the least satisfying one to all concerned, which is “your memory isn’t really accurate.” Regular video stores were better for catalogue than Blockbuster was, and Blockbuster was better for catalogue than Netflix was.