There are few sights sadder than an empty bubblegum machine.
My wife sent me a picture of one the other day, taken at a Blockbuster Video store near downtown Salt Lake City. The "Store Closing" signs cover the location's exterior, and inside the inventory DVDs, video games, even the store fixtures (including that bubblegum machine) is for sale at reduced, "everything must go" prices.
Blockbuster announced in January that it would close 300 stores in the U.S. this year, leaving about 500 operating.
Movie geeks, like me, remember the days when the local video store was the place to go to get your cinematic fix. You could find tons of movies, from classic titles to the latest hits, on VHS tape (and, later, DVD). For a two- or three-day rental, you could watch a movie repeatedly over the weekend, without the commitment (which was substantial back then) of buying it for yourself.
Video stores became part of the culture. Savvy shoppers knew which stores stocked the racy titles and which ones didn't. Or, in the brief copyright-infringing craziness of Utah's "Cleanflix" era, which ones edited out Kate Winslet's breast from "Titanic." You also knew which stores employed clueless idiots and which ones had overstimulated movie geeks who had watched every title in the store and could regale you on the finer points of each one. (Don't knock it. That's how Quentin Tarantino started.)
But new technology came along to knock the video store out of its prime placement. Netflix, for example, put the video store in your mailbox, allowing you to pick titles online and have them shipped to your house. Cable and satellite TV services added video-on-demand, so you could stream a new movie to your TV without even the tactile experience of opening a DVD container.
Video stores tried to fight the future, for example by signing studios to 28-day noncompetition windows that gave the brick-and-mortar stores time to show a new title before it could be seen via Netflix or VOD. But measures such as that were just delaying the inevitable consignment of video stores to obsolescence right next to the buggywhip factory and the 8-track tape dealer.
Soon to be setting up shop on the same street, according to an analysis in The New Republic, is the blogger.
In an article titled "Eulogy for the Blog," writer Marc Tracy dissects a recent decision by The New York Times to review and possibly can some of the paper's once-popular blogs.
Blame, as we always do, new technology.
"Less and less do readers have the patience for a certain writer or even certain subject matter," Tracy wrote. "Instead, they use social media to efficiently pick exactly what they do and do not click on, rather than reading what a blogger or blog offers them."
That's been my experience in the past couple of years, as the number of posts I've made on The Cricket blog has dwindled. It's become less important to have a steady stream of posts every day and more important that every post stand up individually. It's an era of home runs, not singles.
For a blog to survive these days, either every single post must be a gem, or a writer has to have a voice so unique that people will bother to scroll through everything he or she writes. Tracy cites the political blogger Andrew Sullivan, who recently cleaved from The Daily Beast to run his blog independently on a subscription model. I'd name two examples of unique voices: Charlie Pierce, who writes the scathing political blog for Esquire magazine; and Utah's own Heather Armstrong, proprietrix of the no-holds-barred domestic blog Dooce.
What The New York Times or, for that matter, The Salt Lake Tribune does with its blogs is still to be determined. Newspapers, often written off as dinosaurs in the Internet fast-media age, are hanging on in spite of the most dire predictions for our future. And we're always evolving, or at least trying to.
We ink-stained types got a bit of good news: A study from the consulting firm McKinsey and Company found that 92 percent of the time spent by news consumers was spent on "legacy" media in other words, the old-fashioned stuff like newspapers, radio and TV.
Hooray. I wasn't ready to move in next to the buggywhip factory just yet. That place smells funny.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.