Next week I'll be presenting work from my current book project at King's College London as part of their research seminar series.
Find the abstract for my talk, below:
The Way to Blockbuster: The Birth of the British Video Superstore
Since the new millennium, a number of academic works have emerged about the infancy of video’s ‘tangible phase’ in North America (Wasser 2001; Greenberg 2008; Herbert 2014; Newman 2014). However, very little has been written about video’s early days in Britain beyond the controversy surrounding 39 exploitation films that were banned as ‘video nasties.’ This focus has partly been due to the fact that histories of video technology in the UK have mostly emerged from horror film fan communities, whose members have striven to emphasise the ‘subcultural relevance’ of horror video and the dealers that allegedly traded in them (Egan 2007). The emphasis placed in these discussions on ‘outlaw’ cassettes and retailers has meant that more anodyne elements of the British video industry have gone unscrutinised.
This presentation looks to redress the balance by considering the mainstreaming of video in Britain, historicizing the birth of ‘video superstores’ in the latter half of the 1980s. During this period, negative media coverage of video nasties ran concurrent with an industry-wide decline in video rentals; the blame for which was typically put at the foot of so-called ‘cowboy’ retailers unable to sustain the levels of professionalism acquired to keep business buoyant. And while trade publications and industry bodies initially fought back against the press, they too eventually found themselves calling for the rental business to ‘clean up its image’ in a bid to win back customers. For some in the industry, this meant moving away from the image of video as a business operated out of seedy shops in provincial towns, towards something far more streamlined and corporate. To show how these aims were met, I will reflect on foundational business practices such as rack-leasing, examine trade initiatives such as Video Business magazine’s ‘Superstore 88’ campaign, and briefly reflect on the expansion of British chain stores such as Ritz Video, Azad Video and Hollywood Nites.
Dr Johnny Walker
Senior Lecturer in Media, Northumbria University