The Blockbuster Total Access Saga, Part II: Fear and loathing in Urbana

posted 4/4/09 on 2009: A Blog Odyssey


Our fearless protagonist — myself — drove east down University, that jaded whore of a road, and strolled into a Blockbuster on Friday the 13th (of March) expecting nothing out of the ordinary to happen, only to find out that Blockbuster Total Access changed its policy on DVD exchanges.

Denial and confusion ensued.


Back in the sepia-toned glory days of late 2006, when I was but a wee college sophomore, I decided to subscribe to Netflix to see what all the hype was about.

It seemed like a pretty sweet deal at the time. Just by typing in my name, address, and credit card information on their site, I could get a free two-week trial of the service that would send me four DVDs at a time. I could hardly believe how quickly they mailed me the next choices from my queue once I returned my rentals with a simple flick of the wrist to slip envelopes in any mailbox. Once they received my returns, they’d ship my next four in the same business day. Then after two weeks, I pared down my service to just one disc at a time for a reasonable price (can’t remember the specifics anymore). I caught up with dozens of movies I’d been meaning to watch, all of which arrived promptly and in good condition, and was completely satisfied with Netflix . . . until I learned about Blockbuster Total Access from a friend.

Yes, with their motto of “Never be without a movie,” a similar two-week trial plan, and the added bonus of returning DVD sleeves directly to any Blockbuster location instead of dealing with US Mail as the middle man, the service would prove to be even quicker. And wait — what’s this?! — I learned I could take home as many DVDs as I returned.

In short: receive four movies in the mail, return four movies to Blockbuster, take four movies home, and await four more movies in the mail.

The service costs a couple extra dollars per month as compared to Netflix, but it was definitely worth it because it was basically double the value. So after the two-week trial ended, I once again changed my service to being just one disc at a time (as there’s only so long you can watch two or three movies per day to keep up) for just $11.99 a month, and I got along just fine for a couple years.

Sure, there were a couple scratched discs that wouldn’t play all the way through, but I suppose that’s to be expected, and the Blockbuster staff was always very courteous about crediting me a free store rental for my trouble.

I remember this golden age as if it were yesterday. (In fact, the golden age only just ended about a month ago.) I’d chat with the sort–of-knowledgeable store staff about the latest arrivals and favorite classics, walk slowly along the new releases wall in reverse alphabetical order weighing my options, pitying the foolish customers without a DVD sleeve to return, who seemed completely ignorant of the deal they were missing out on.

All this and more until that fateful night when everything turned to a steaming pile of dog shit taller than the haphazard stacks of three-for-$20 used movies. That life-changing Friday when I realized that Blockbuster let itself be intimidated by the poor economy, and instead of giving customers new incentives to rent with good deals, they retracted the very aspect of their Total Access service that gave it an edge over Netflix.

The cowardly yellow in the company logo shone through the brave blue, and I knew things would never be the same again.


“This doesn’t seem right,” I said. “The whole point of the service was so you could take a movie home.”

Hence the motto, Never be without a movie, I thought. “Don’t I know it,” the store manager said and shrugged. Like me, he was but a rat scurrying back and forth blindly in Blockbuster’s cruel cage. “I’m really sorry about it.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, a dreary sense of powerlessness and resignation seeping into my thoughts.

“A lot of people don’t like it, and unfortunately, I have no control over it,” he said. “I tell you what, though. What you ought to do is go to the Blockbuster website and file a complaint.”

I perked up a little.

“Is there a place to do that?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure there is.”

“You’re probably right!” I said.

Maybe if I sounded my war cry along with thousands of other disgruntled subscribers, Blockbuster would change the error of their ways. Or at least give me some free rental coupons for bothering to complain.

“I think I will do just that,” I said while heading for the door with Gonzo in hand.

“Good,” the manager said. “Have a nice night.”

As he took the next customer, I marched out the door again, a man on a mission.


I send Blockbuster a rightfully pissed off email.