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From Betamax to Blockbuster

Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video

Joshua M. Greenberg


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Paperback (9/24/2010)


The first video cassette recorders were promoted in the 1970s as anextension of broadcast television technology--a time-shifting device, a way to tapeTV shows. Early advertising for Sony's Betamax told potential purchasers "Youdon't have to miss Kojak because you're watching Columbo." But within a fewyears, the VCR had been transformed from a machine that recorded television into anextension of the movie theater into the home. This was less a physicaltransformation than a change in perception, but one that relied on the very tangibleconstruction of a network of social institutions to support this new marketplace formovies. In From Betamax to Blockbuster, Joshua Greenberg explains how thecombination of neighborhood video stores and the VCR created a world in which moviesbecame tangible consumer goods. Greenberg charts a trajectory from early"videophile" communities to the rise of the video store--complete withtheater marquee lights, movie posters, popcorn, and clerks who offered expert adviceon which movies to rent. The result was more than a new industry; by placing movieson cassette in the hands (and control) of consumers, video rental and sale led to arenegotiation of the boundary between medium and message, and ultimately a newrelationship between audiences and movies. Eventually, Blockbuster's top-downfranchise store model crowded local video stores out of the market, but the recentrise of Netflix, iTunes, and other technologies have reopened old questions aboutwhat a movie is and how (and where) it ought to be watched. By focusing on the"spaces in between" manufacturers and consumers, Greenberg's accountoffers a fresh perspective on consumer technology, illustrating how the initialtransformation of movies from experience into commodity began not from the top downor the bottom up, but from the middle of the burgeoning industry out.Joshua M.Greenberg is Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship at the New York PublicLibrary.

MIT Press (MA), 9780262072908, 214pp.

Publication Date: April 1, 2008