Opinion: The Rental Age Is Still With Us, Maybe It's Time To Stop It Before It's Too Late.
If I said to you that the core principles of old video rental shops like the above Blockbuster could still be seen in action today, you'd probably laugh. Yet, if you look around you, it might just come become apparent that society hasn't moved on as far as we first thought. To me, it's time we did something about it.
One thing to note firstly is that when I say society hasn't moved on that far, there are some notably seismic shifts to speak of. Of course, you can't simply waltz down to your local Blockbusters and rent a film like you could ten years ago. Hell, you can't really, unless you pick your places well, go out and buy a CD or DVD like you could - shops like HMV and That's Entertainment seem to be slowly dying a painful death and won't be seen again for a long time. You can barely even go to one of Britain's infamous high streets without seeing an old, now boarded-up, branch of British Home Stores or, in some rare cases, Woolworths.
However, whilst the old names may have gone, the culture associated with them hasn't. Look, when it comes to video rentals, I'm as nostalgic as they come - it was a treat to go to your local Blockbusters on a Friday evening, rent a couple of films (usually some suspect rom coms and Peter Kay DVDs) with a couple of decent bags of toffee popcorn, pay your money and return the films in a few days time. That experience was great, and I'd love to have the opportunity again to do just that, but these days it's not the same. The inherent problem comes with the fact that on the digital video libraries like Amazon Prime Video, you have the option to rent films for a couple of days for £3.49 in what seems like a similar fashion to days gone by. What my problem is though is that it isn't a tangible rental - you are, in essence, paying a fiver or so to rent a video file for a couple of days. With the old medium of DVDs, you did at least feel like you were getting something for your money.
It's what I've come to term as a 'lease culture' - the idea that you never really truly 'own' anything. If you look at the on-demand video service argument, sure, storing all these films in the cloud is great, and when you consider the amount of content you're getting for the price of a yearly subscription, it's brilliant. However, there's still something great about going in and buying a DVD, even if it is for pennies these days. For instance, I went out to CeX the other day and bought the Lee Evans show Big - Live At The O2 from a few years back. There's a strange sense of accomplishment that comes with walking into a shop, handing over your 50p or whatever, and then coming out, paper bag in hand, with what you went in there to buy. It's a lot more of a direct system that searching for hours on say Netflix to find that what you wanted to watch isn't on there, so you'll end up settling for a mediocre Adam Sandler comedy that you didn't like when it was first released ten years ago.
This 'lease culture' isn't true for just films and TV shows; it's extended to a multitude of things, be it music, games or other forms of media. If I said to you "When was the last time you went out and bought an album?" when it comes to music, odds on you might shrug your shoulders and say you can't remember. That's certainly the case for an awful lot of people I know as it would seem everyone these days has moved to subscription services like Spotify and Deezer. Of course, such services do offer free tiers, providing you can put up with adverts, but if you want any form of ad-free listening, that'll be another £9.99 a month please, in the case of Spotify Premium. Admittedly, I do have a Spotify account and use it fairly frequently, but in a lot of cases, I'm still someone that's reliant on good old MP3 files that are saved on a hard drive.
There's a strong case to be made when it comes to convenience for allowing this subscription based model to continue to take hold. It's quite easy to understand the appeal of having instantaneous access to hundreds of games, films, or albums, especially since we're increasingly accessing these forms of media on ultra-speedy smartphones. It's not like that you can input a DVD into your new iPhone 12, let alone plug in a pair of headphones. What's more, as laptops and PCs these days continue to drop DVD drives from their arsenal, it's highly likely the disc format will be consigned to the scrapheap, not least since it takes several thousand years for them to biodegrade naturally. Plus, there's the whole thing with value for money - as much as you're paying out a monthly subscription, the amount of songs, films, television shows or games you're getting for the price of the subscription works out to pennies per show or episode.
To be perfectly honest, it's a dangerous game having so many services to subscribe to as without realising it, it'll soon be eating away at your wallet. It won't be long before we see such services almost becoming another form of utility bill if you will, although that really brings into question the idea of needs and wants and how much is too much. Add to this the principle of paying for a car on finance and higher risk debts and you've got an even bigger problem. Maybe now's just the perfect time to take a look at ourselves and see if we want to keep a world where we're paying out for things we'll never truly own.