Blockbuster's Bizarre 3-Month Delay on By-Mail Offerings

Blockbuster's last-ditch effort to attract new customers is like a gamer garage sale.

GameFly Blockbuster Netflix

For Blockbuster, immediate access is everything. The company has built its business on having content faster than Netflix and Redbox and may soon file for bankruptcy because of it. Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes constantly boasts of the rental store's 28-day advantage over competitors, and has told me time and again: "People want rushed content—our job is to provide it for them." Longer-tail titles—older content—is simply not Blockbuster's business. Unless, of course, it means launching a last-ditch effort to attract new customers.

Last month, Blockbuster added video games to its by-mail subscription service. The new feature was heralded by the company's head of digital strategy Kevin Lewis as "yet another convenient way to access entertainment content from Blockbuster." Combined with its movie offerings and lower prices, the service seemed to make video-game subscription competitor GameFly all but irrelevant. However, the company failed to mention that these video games come at a significant cost: a huge three-month delay, which isn't just way longer than GameFly customers wait, it's longer than even Netflix or Redbox must wait for many first-run movies.

As one frustrated customer pointed out, though Halo: Reach was released Tuesday and is one of the most anticipated video game titles of the year, it will not be available by mail through Blockbuster until late December—a full 105 days after it's available through GameFly. Is this an error? A typo? We delved deeper, and discovered a slew of new titles that are unavailable for months, from Madden 2011 (released in August, but not available until late November) to Killzone 3 (launching in February, but not available through Blockbuster until mid-July). GameFly doesn't have these enormous delays, so why the wait?

Since Blockbuster has not returned our requests for comment, we skipped right to the source: Blockbuster Customer Care. Turns out, Blockbuster has imposed a minimum three-month delay on new titles for its by-mail video game subscriptions—a delay they somehow neglected to mention when launching the service. According to the Customer Care operator, this window enables Blockbuster to keep its subscription prices lower.

What good is a by-mail subscription service if you have to wait more than a hundred days for certain titles? Doesn't that go against the entire philosophy of Blockbuster and Jim Keyes, who has said that such delays from Netflix "hurt [my] head?"

"Listen, Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Yes, you can see it on Netflix—it's only a year old," Keyes said once. GameFly could just as easily say the same thing of Blockbuster.

According to one industry source familiar with by-mail subscription plans, Blockbuster's delay is very unusual, especially for video games, which do not require expensive licensing deals like movies. The source tells Fast Company that video games typically have no restrictions on when they can be offered, and that almost every other service buys them up-front and has them available the day of release. "It appears Blockbuster is gathering up old store inventory, and making it available to customers," the source says. "Essentially, they have all these video games, so they just stick it in their by-mail business," the source says.

Which would make sense. Blockbuster's $900 million debt and impending bankruptcy is keeping it from any aggressive expansion. For its movie service, this means the company has not had the liquidity to advertise its 28-day exclusive window over Netflix. For video games, it likely means the company is unable to purchase the inventory needed to create a fully stocked library for its by-mail service. Rather, as Blockbuster shutters more of its stores—it has closed hundreds this year already—the leftover inventory is just re-purposed for a by-mail service. Newer video game titles? Only available as in-store rentals.

As the rumors of Blockbuster's bankruptcy become reality, we should expect slapdash efforts like this—features the company touts that are nothing more than re-packaged offerings from its struggling business. That type of recycled, desperate thinking is perhaps why Blockbuster is heading toward bankruptcy—and why competitors Netflix, Redbox, and GameFly are able to stay ahead of the game.

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  • Johan Daviny

    A given video game is more expensive than a movie. Both are two different forms of entertainment. This is why consumers can't reasonably expect an organization to provide video game rentals on cost parity with movie rentals. Any business that attempts to do such won't be in business for long. Blockbuster attempts to have its cake and eat it too by marketing the two on parity while actually not offering the same level of service for both. Therefore, there is nothing bizzare about the 105 day wait for new releases. Blockbuster is shadily marketing its inferior service to appeal to consumers' desire for such, but only the title publishers can make that happen, not the retailers.

  • Johan rita master

    LOL, are you just mentally retarded or what? WHO CARES!!! 105 days is wayyy to long and if you think, people renting a game over and over for a few months, instead of paying 60$ FOR LIFE is to expensive then you are a douche. A 60$ game vs millions of subscribers renting the same game. I think the odds would be in Blockbusters favor. Gamefly does it, why not Blockbuster? Only prob with gamefly is that it takes 7 to 15 days for a damn game to get here whether I live in one state or the next. Don't be a rita dude! Not to mention all the games that do suck are still being rented from thousands of people. SO AGAIN, do the math. 9,000 titles at 100 games at stock or more equals, 540 million. Way less than their debt. And lets take one game for instance Modern warfare 2, 26,287 people rented the game from gamefly. MAYBE MORE, i didnt leave a review, more probably did the same. That is 420,592 dollars since it has been release, less than a year. That's just one game, and I am sure they do not hold more than 100 copies which would be 6 grand and even if they had 1000 copies it would still be 60 grand, WAY LESS TO PAY THAN MAKING 420 thousand, right Jonah? That 420 grand is what you get a month if people keep subscribing at 16$ a month, some people pay more though, and there's more than that subscribing to gamefly, plus people who do not review, and so on. If blockbuster would stop being ignorant, they would be able to pull it off. I almosct subscribed to them instead of gamefly until i realized the wait time. Another factor, a lot of the games they would receive would not come any where near 60$ a game. Just the new ones, and I am also sure they receive the game for a lot less than you and me.

  • Scott Byorum

    Finally, an article about Blockbuster that tells what we already all know... a Johnny-come-lately megasaur in its death throws. BB had a chance to do what Netflix did long ago. But this is what happens to corporations when they dominate a market... they become arrogant and bloated, pissing off their customers with their lack of response, service, and innovation. Now its too late. They never learn their lesson. I suppose that's the way it should be, because there is always someone waiting to fill the void left by the rotting carcase.

  • Daniel Anderson

    Blockbuster is trying to reach more customers and they put out an offer to try to attract people that game. They are trying to push what they have. If you wanted them to charge double the price then I am sure they would get you the newest releases the day of release. I recently signed up for AT & T Uverse service and after the fact they tell you that oh yeah you can only get two HD streams at a time even though I bought three boxes. hmm you bashing them too? Why don't you bash netfix and the fact that its stock is currently trading at almost 60 times what it will earn this year?