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Friday, October 18, 2013

Scarecrow Video Is In Trouble

Posted by on Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Just in time for tomorrow's International Independent Video Store Day, some terrible news from Seattle's Scarecrow Video:

It is a difficult time to be a video store, and the past several years have not been kind. Our rental numbers have declined roughly 40% over the past 6 years. This isn’t a huge surprise—obviously technology has been moving this direction for some time—but the decline has been more dramatic than we had anticipated.

We’ve responded to the changing marketplace in pretty much every way we know how to....We’ve added rental specials and date night and family package deals. We’ve increased our on-line presence and web sales. We’ve cut our operations costs as much as we can. But even as we try to offer our customers new and interesting reasons to come in, we simply are not generating enough traffic to support managing and maintaining the world’s largest collection of films. Hence this open letter.

Scarecrow Video is a labor of love. Everyone involved here does what we do because we love this place and what it represents: Uniting People With Film, access to film and film knowledge for everyone. Scarecrow has never been about making money, but it has to support itself. It’s no longer doing that, and hasn’t for a while.

We’re still in this fight, but there is a very real possibility that this will be our last Video Store Day celebration. We are committed to continuing through the holidays in the hopes that the changes we’ve made to our store and our operations will be enough to convince you, the customer, that Scarecrow and its unparalleled collection are worth saving. Ultimately, it comes down to whether people think it’s worth it to come back. So many people say to us, “I love you guys! I used to go in there all the time!” Lately that has included, “What can I do to help?” That’s simple. Come back in! Rent a couple of movies once or twice a month. Pick up a new Criterion film and have a latte. Buy something from us on-line. Come play trivia and have a beer or two, or come to our events. Let us help you find a movie you didn’t even know you’d love!

Read the whole open letter from Scarecrow owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough here, and confidential to Paul Allen: Please consider buying Scarecrow Video, leaving it where it is, and turning it into a museum/library. Think of it as the cinema wing of the EMP. Thank you.


Comments (45) RSS

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dirac 1
"confidential to Paul Allen"

Actually, a rich benefactor is not a bad idea at all.

I will pick up a $40 rental pass tonight.
Posted by dirac on October 18, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 2
I saw the horror film exhibit at EMP this summer, and I was thinking the same thing: there should be a cinema museum, but preferably not affiliated with any studio. I would be at that museum so much.
Posted by MacCrocodile on October 18, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 3

Used to go there every other night...two decades ago.

If some tech mogul were to buy this, wouldn't he want to turn it into a streaming online art house?

Netflix still only has 10% or less of its catalog online...

Hulu has the Criterion collection but that's another monthly subscription.

Scarecrow should have gone into the content creation business a long time ago, knowing what its customers want.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on October 18, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
fletc3her 4
I think the last idea is almost what needs to happen. They have an amazing collection of videos. Recasting the store as a video library or video museum, possibly even creating a non-profit to own it, would allow them to seek grant money.

Criterion is the commercial arm of Janus Films which came out of efforts by the owners of the Brattle Theater in Cambridge to restore and distribute rare films. If they had continued as a theater they wouldn't be anywhere today, but recasting themselves as a restoration company allowed them to thrive.
Posted by fletc3her on October 18, 2013 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Rotten666 5
When I saw A*P*E* was on Netflix I figured the end of Scarecrow was inevitable. Another analog roadkill on the road to our digital utopia.
Posted by Rotten666 on October 18, 2013 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Fenrox 6
Yes to the museum, Paul Allen is a toolbag but if he does it it should be better than EMP's style at museums. Don't let scarecrow close Seattle! It's like one of the only reasons you guys matter.
Posted by Fenrox on October 18, 2013 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Anne18 7
Have they considered becoming a non-profit? I'm sure there are options out there. Scarecrow can not go away.
Posted by Anne18 on October 18, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Report this
I scarecrow. Their catalog kicks all hell out of Netflix.
Posted by venividiscarecrow on October 18, 2013 at 11:58 AM · Report this
Damn it!

That was the only place I could find The Last Valley, Omar Sharif & Michael Caine.…
Posted by tkc on October 18, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
levide 10
Tragic news. I remember the old, pre-UDist location fondly, and I even bought a row of seats from the older UDist screening-room (that once belonged to the old Coliseum Theater, now Banana Republic). Unless something good happens this is sad news for Seattle, but, on the other hand, that's gonna be one hell of a clearance sale.
Posted by levide on October 18, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Ugh. I had never looked at their online store before. It is really badly designed.

They definitely should move to become a non-profit and start it through a kickstarter. If they try to remain a profit based business they are doomed, but I think turning the store into a non-profit rental or video library is their best bet.
Posted by Spike1382 on October 18, 2013 at 12:06 PM · Report this
@8, Maybe it does, but not everybody lives in or near the U or Roosevelt District to conveniently patronize them. If they did change their model and put all their films online and charged a monthly subscription, they would turn around quickly IMO.
Posted by neo-realist on October 18, 2013 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Gurldoggie 13
Why not go the non-profit route? Seattle has a peerless track record in supporting movie-centered non-profit orgs. Off the top of my head there's SIFF, the NWFF, Grand Illusion, Wiggly World...probably more. I have to believe that Scarecrow could support itself with grant and donations, and supplement their income with rentals. And/or one of those existing orgs could take over Scarecrow. No?
Posted by Gurldoggie on October 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM · Report this
@12 Scarecrow does not own the rights to stream media.
Posted by OOF POOF on October 18, 2013 at 12:23 PM · Report this
biffp 15
Typical Seattle: all whine, no wag.
Posted by biffp on October 18, 2013 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 16
A future location of high priced apartments or maybe a new aPodment building? The latter The Stranger won't know how to respond to..
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on October 18, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
I pretty much quit going there when it became impossible to go through their new arrivals section without spending way too much time doing it, but my personal annoyance is probably not the reason why they aren't making it. What about having a mail-in service like Netflix?
Posted by anon1256 on October 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Report this
@17, true. The store categories are very confusing; you have to ask someone (if they're not busy checking people out) where something might be. Pricing is not good; length of rentals is not good. Trying to maintain a paying operation when less people are paying doesn't work.
Posted by sarah70 on October 18, 2013 at 1:18 PM · Report this

You can return them by mail, but you cannot rent them by mail.
They do not provide envelopes or pre-paid postage.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on October 18, 2013 at 1:20 PM · Report this
Mr_Friendly 20
Scarecrow has over 112,000 titles. How much do you think it would cost to license all of these titles for on-demand streaming? More money than they could ever raise from grants and subscriptions, and they probably couldn't even find a way to license a lot of the stuff in their collection anyway (studios and distributors of the more esoteric stuff probably went out of business a long time ago). Netflix has 36 million subscribers, and you can't even stream Citizen Kane or The Godfather on there. If you're holding on to the belief that a collection the size of Scarecrow's should be available to stream online, forget it. Won't happen in our lifetime. The good news is all of those titles are still available at the store...for now. But should they have to close their doors, a lot of that collection may be gone forever.
Posted by Mr_Friendly on October 18, 2013 at 1:28 PM · Report this
I like the fact that Scarecrow still exists, but I'd only be sad to see it go in concept. I don't really give a fuck about legality as far as obtaining media I want to consume, so if it goes away it's the same difference to me.
Posted by The CHZA on October 18, 2013 at 1:29 PM · Report this
What's a video?
Posted by jeffy on October 18, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Yes, it is indeed very sad. The place is a source of some fond memories of the pre-DVD age for me. Being turned on to one of the best documentaries of all time, "American Movie", by one of the clerks. Plunking down a $150 deposit on a worn VHS copy of what would become one of my top ten favorite movies, "The Wickerman", before it was reissued in the early '00s. I hated that deposit policy of theirs, but I knew Scarecrow was the only place in the state where I could find that title at the time. In the end I was grateful that such a service existed; even then I knew it would not in many other cities.

The death knell for video stores has been ringing for some time, though. Really, their fate was as good as sealed with the arrival of Netflix, and I mean even a few years before they offered a streaming service. Let's face it. The brick-and-mortar video store was a business model that was never sustainable. Even under the best of circumstances, patronizing them was never an experience I particularly enjoyed. Carousing the racks looking for new releases that were all checked out. Taking forever to come to agreement with significant others over what to watch. Bad tapes (and later, scratched DVDs) rendered unwatchable by their mishandling. Then, of course, there were those late fees...

It's a testament to Scarecrow's greatness and service that they functioned within that consumer-unfriendly framework for so long. They made the movie rental experience as palatable as was humanly possible. But the internet has fixed everything that was wrong with that process. Unlike record stores and book stores (which by the nature of their physical wares have a fighting chance of survival), nothing is lost in the process of renting or buying a movie digitally (and if you want the higher qulaity picture you can still have the dvd or blu-ray mailed to you). For me, it's hard to look back on the old ways with anything other than nostalgia.

I do agree that as a cinematic archival service, Scarecrow is unparalleled, and it would be a damn shame to lose that aspect of its existence. But archival services rarely make any money, and in fact are usually non-profits. As many other posters have pointed out, this would be Scarecrow's best course of action at this point, and perhaps its only realistic shot at salvation. Let's hope Mr. Allen read Mr. Schmader's proposition.

Despite this, I plan to be at Scarecrow's sales event this weekend. Though I feel it's a futile event to stave off the inevitable, I'll still do all I can to help. I'll always admire and appreciate what Scarecrow has done for this city and the world of film in general, even though it, at least in its current incarnation, is probably not much longer for this world.

Posted by apollo winnefred on October 18, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
I really actually like the idea of getting Paul Allen to buy it. Is there any way to send a petition or a community letter to him? I also feel like SIFF should buy in. There is no reason for this video store to go the way of Blockbuster, because it is NOT Blockbuster, it is a treasure.
Posted by stilettov on October 18, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
There remains a huge opportunity for some company to secure the rights to stream art house, foreign, and hard-to-find cinema. This is the ONLY viable answer to the dilemma.

Perhaps Scarecrow should just donate their catalog to the Seattle Public Library and let users access the titles through that system.

But, this notion that somebody is going to buy them and turn them into a museum is simply untenable.

Figure out how to go online (where, again, there's huge opportunity) or close shop and be on your way. I've been hearing about the potential death of Scarecrow for about a decade now, and none of their "solutions" seem to have any creativity or merit.

…and I don't feel guilty about not getting into my car (which I no longer own), driving through terrible traffic to a terribly located building, spending a lot of time rummaging through physical media, returning home, and repeating the effort to return it. Not going to happen.
Posted by Timothy on October 18, 2013 at 2:13 PM · Report this
If you believe that every title at Scarecrow is available online, you are wrong. If you think they'll become available after Scarecrow closes, you are even more wrong.
Posted by Monty on October 18, 2013 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Yeah, there's huge chunks of film history missing from the streaming libraries out there:

"Standard-bearer lists like the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies or Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films Poll are sorely underrepresented. None of the AFI’s top 10 American films are currently streaming on Netflix; just 14 out of the list’s 100 titles are currently available there. The pickings are even slimmer from Sight & Sound’s top 100 (or 102; they rank with ties), where just 11 movies are streaming at the moment. "…
Posted by ducki3x on October 18, 2013 at 2:23 PM · Report this
@4: The Brattle is still a theater:
Posted by d.p. on October 18, 2013 at 3:09 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 29
Merge with SIFF.
Posted by kk in seattle on October 18, 2013 at 3:43 PM · Report this
Support your local blacksmith.
Posted by No Excuses on October 18, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
fletc3her 31
@28 Oh yes! When I was a student I loved going there, during the Running Arts years I think. I wasn't able to make it last time I was out in Boston, but it still looks like it's going strong. However, Janus and Criterion are significantly bigger operations than the non-profit which runs the Brattle.

I'm suggesting that if Scarecrow thinks about what their passion is they may find it is in archiving and preserving their unique collection and then figuring out how to be able to distribute it. Rather than simply running a video store.
Posted by fletc3her on October 18, 2013 at 4:07 PM · Report this
stinkbug 32
Jesus, why do some people keep saying "just stream stuff online"? There's a reason many titles are out of print.

Are the owner still Microsofties or have they moved on to something else? In any case, I'm sure they have at least indirect connections to people with piles of money. I'd rather see it continue as a self-sufficient though. In a worse case scenarios though I wonder what Scarecrow fans like Tarantino would chip in.

Ideally the store would set up an online site asking people for ideas on what would bring them into the store more often (and/or what would make people fork over more money to them). People could then vote up/down on the ideas. Or if not that just an in-person meeting to gather ideas from local supporters and neighbors. You never know when a great idea will pop out.

I have a bunch of credits in their system. Am I supporting the store more by *not* renting something out than by using up my credits?!
Posted by stinkbug on October 18, 2013 at 4:27 PM · Report this
MarkyMark 33
I've been terrified of this happening. I rent there several times a month - its basically the ONLY way to rent Blu-rays of classic films, for example. But their location is inconvenient, their rental policies are archaic and should have been completely reworked several years ago, various other problems. They really should have cut back long ago on purchasing the tons of low-interest stuff they keep acquiring. Its never been well-managed, but in any case its demise may be inevitable.

Its strange to wake up and find yourself in a world where if it doesn't exist online, it doesn't exist. Which for example probably cuts out more than 75% of Scarecrow's rental inventory.
Posted by MarkyMark on October 18, 2013 at 4:36 PM · Report this
Did any of you geniuses even click the link? Because at the end of the letter, they say No, we can't stream, getting the licensing rights is way out of reach.
Posted by Escapee from S. Idaho on October 18, 2013 at 6:46 PM · Report this
Clara T 35
A) the U should buy their collection.

B) the place has got a little attitude issue that's made me not miss it.
Posted by Clara T on October 18, 2013 at 7:52 PM · Report this
Oh, I totally agree, @31. It would be nearly impossible to overstate the impact of Janus in particular. There wouldn't be a nation-wide distribution infrastructure for foreign cinema without the work they did in the '60s and '70s. I just wanted to correct the language of your first post, which implied the Brattle at some point ceased to exist as a moviehouse.

You're right that Scarecrow's uniqueness lies in the breadth of its holdings, and that any organizational reinvention would do well to define that as its foundational purpose.
Posted by d.p. on October 18, 2013 at 9:23 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 37
@33 The problem is the low interest stuff is what truly separates them from Netflix.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on October 19, 2013 at 1:30 AM · Report this
Who said Scarecrow has to stay a video rental store?

The era that gave us the video rental store is fading away. What does this new era need you to be, and what forms can Scarecrow take to fulfill that need?

You have an amazing collection. Find new, creative ways of sharing it, preserving it and helping other people to discover it. ...and helping filmmakers make even more of it.

Scarecrow could become a ...
1.Film library and film preservationist society partnered with local film festivals, forums, universities and filmmakers. Partner with an indie theater; the Egyptian needs a new purpose.

2. Film club with members who meet, watch movies and hold forums with filmmakers. Help filmmakers and film enthusiast connect with each other. Every passion needs a point around which to develop a culture. So, be it.

3. Film club & some or all of the above and add a bar that is uniquely Scarecrow.

What do people love about Scarecrow?
1. Amazing film collection.
2. Staff with passion and knowledge about films and filmmaking.
3. A culture of people who share your love of independent and rare films.

Those three things are capable of being expressed in more formats than simply a video rental store.

Open up those minds.
Connect with your community.
Be creative.
Imagine it, build it.

Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there's nothing to it
- Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley
Posted by View Askew on October 19, 2013 at 10:59 AM · Report this
T 39
The nonprofit/museum route is the only way Scarecrow will live on. That, or relocating outside the city where rent will be far cheaper than their spot on Roosevelt. Video stores as a business model were a dying breed from pretty much their inception - The flawed concept of VHS rental pricing, the studios' collusion with the big chains, the advent of DVD and the necessary replacement of entire rental libraries, Netflix, and now streaming and on-demand services (and those are just the legal options). All of them gradually critical death knells for an industry that never had a fair shake.
Posted by T on October 19, 2013 at 4:09 PM · Report this
Knat 40
The first thing I thought after reading this was, "I guess it's time I bought a shirt from them, like I've been meaning to do for years now." But for some reason, they don't sell them on their site. I can't imagine why not.
Posted by Knat on October 20, 2013 at 2:18 AM · Report this
Here's a place to go to pick up a t-shirt online. It also has a picture of a cute puppy.…
Posted by Scarecrow Lurks on October 20, 2013 at 10:14 AM · Report this
zachd 42
Thanks for the heads-up. Made sure to go there Saturday and drop some dough. It's an awesome place and I hope it sticks around. :\
Posted by zachd on October 21, 2013 at 7:10 PM · Report this
Ridiculous late fees and inflexibility made me stop going there 5 years ago. Back then Hollywood video and block buster were closing everywhere because of Netflix. No surprise here. Best bet would be to make it a non-profit film library. Talk to Michael Moore he has done similar things with Movie theaters.
Posted by dogless on November 6, 2013 at 11:16 AM · Report this
Would it help if the employees were volunteers and not getting paid for their time?
Posted by just a thought on November 9, 2013 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Scarecrow owns the building so rent is not the issue. The owners who were Microsoft people at one time at least, are not "into" the idea of a non-profit or of selling out to a benefactor because they feel it is their place and they don't want a board making the decisions that they want to continue to control. The new and desperate ideas, the coffee shop, the cinema screening nights, the selling more candy- everything they've tried has been barking up the wrong tree for their location and the customer they target. A lot of people enjoy scarecrow and wish it well, but to survive the owners will have to take a step back to let scarecrow live.
Posted by Ex- Scarecrow Staff on February 21, 2014 at 12:35 PM · Report this

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