Between 2007 and 2011 EDGE Video did very well. Both stores were doing well. They were two very different operations, with different clientele, but somehow they worked together. Even though the rest of the world was in financial chaos, EDGE was thriving. The storefront video rental business peaked in 2008, after that a lot of other video stores dropped off hard. Even the big ones, Hollywood, Movie Gallery, and Blockbuster all descended quite quickly. But I only saw opportunity. I wanted to more open more storefronts and really planned on expanding our on-line presence. The Internet and e-commerce was definitely the future.
While the two stores took most of my attention (and gave me the most headaches), I was spending every other waking moment developing on-line businesses. We had always sold on Amazon Marketplace and Ebay, as that was the business model: from Buying out stores and flipping the back stock product on-line to buying multiple new release rental copies and then selling the extras ones on-line. But I knew the day was coming when the rental market would be dead. We needed something else. Two of the business idea sites we came up with started to get some traction: moviesfromtheEdge.com (long ass title for sure, that was one of my first ecommerce lessons) and replacetvdisc.com.
Let’s talk about the origins of both sites, how they both ended with a untimely demise and their relevance to the current legal situation:
RIght from the beginning, EDGE Video was promoted as an ANTI-Big Chain store. We had a great team who excelled in customer service and was brimming with Movie/Video Game knowledge. It was designed to be a store for Movie lovers and a fun place to hangout. We basically kicked our local competitors collective asses. That would include Movie Gallery, Hannaford and yes, even Walmart. Really?, you might doubt me. But at the time Hannaford and Walmart both sold physical media (movies), we sold them cheaper and had a better selection not just the current dreck put out by Hollywood. I was told personally by some employees of those stores, that management was not happy with EDGE and said stuff like, "they must be doing something wrong or illegal." ...And that's when the seed was planted.
EDGE had a section in both stores called "Area 51", it was a couple bays of rare, weird, eclectic, and cult movies. It was very popular and brought in Customers looking for such movies. Because the Internet was still young, not everyone liked ordering on-line so special orders was also a big part of our business. For example, let’s say you are a customer and you are looking for a movie called Babes in Toyland, which was a 1986 Christmas movie starring a young Drew Barrymore. You watched it as a kid and couldn't find it anywhere on DVD. You come in and have us look it up for you. The exchange would usually go something like this:
CUSTOMER: “I’m looking for a old Christmas Movie with Drew Barrymore and the guy from the Bill and Ted Movies”
If we didn't come up with a title off the top of our heads, (yeah, alot of the EDGERS, were that good), we would cross reference the names on IMDB/Amazon/VideoETA.
EDGE: “There is musical from 1986 called Babes in Toyland."
CUSTOMER: "That's it!!!"
EDGE: "Well, we can order one but it’s out of print and very expensive.”
CUSTOMER: “Um, OK, I really want to watch it, how much is it?”
EDGE: “75 dollars.”
CUSTOMER: “Jeesh, well, ok, I really want to watch for Christmas, I want my kids to see it. Go ahead and order it.”
EDGE: “Um, it’s only on VHS.”
CUSTOMER: “Really? I don’t have VCR anymore. Why can’t you get it on DVD?”
(Pause, while EDGE types a little bit more on the computer.)
EDGE: “We can get one. But it’s probably going to be a copy, you know, a bootleg.”
CUSTOMER: “Is that illegal?”
Now the first couple times, I wouldn't know an answer to tell them, but after this happened more and more, I researched it heavily. This was when I discovered Fair Use, Implied License, and Orphan Works. I asked many Lawyers, on-line and off. No one could ever give me a straight Yes or No answer.
So we started ordering them almost as a customer service. Eventually we order lots of them. It was a very popular service and ended being one of the reasons Edge Video had an early success. After a couple years of ordering the same special order movies time and time again and getting all kinds of different versions of the films, I realized the quality of these products ranged from blank discs with a handwritten sharpie for title to a professional looking DVD with Full artwork. But they were all unauthorized Non-studio versions.
Not one EDGE Video store customer EVER complained about the quality or wanted a refund for a Special Order. They just wanted to watch the movie. And MoviesfromtheEdge.com was born. The website is always supposed to be an experiment and honestly, I liked researching the movies to determine what was potentially an orphan work, which ones were not on DVD, Public Domain, etc.etc. But as it grew and became “popular” I knew a legal fight may be on the horizon. I always thought it would be a civil case not a criminal prosecution. I remained very digilant with any potential rightsholder who contacted us to remove their property. In fact, one of the first encounters with a major studio was with a lawyer from Warner Brothers. It was about a movie called “Ode to Billy Joe”. He sent an email, basically a form letter. To cease and desist selling the movie on DVD. So I called him up and said is there anything else on my site that belongs to Warner? About a week later, he called me back with a list of 5 or 6 titles. I said I will remove them immediately and what do we do next?
He said “Nothing, I just want you to remove them, Warner will not pursue anything else. Thank you for calling me and asking me. We send out so many of these notices, most people and companies just ignore them”
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed, Because as we got better and better at making the discs, enhancing the website by producing content for the website and increasing the traffic, it was my goal to be contacted by a rightsholder and then turn the exchange into a pitch to distribute their film on DVD. I knew I probably didn’t stand a chance with the heavy hitters like Warner or Disney so maybe some smaller independent filmmaker might go for it.
But that plan never came to fruition and looks like it never will, but let’s move on.
When EDGE Video first opened, streaming was still on the horizon and the day when Streaming would crush every Hollywood business model was just a foregoing nightmare. Our TV on DVD section in the Brewer was extremely popular and grew very fast. We started out with one bay and eventually expanded into 10 or 15. The idea for the website came from an actual need. One of the major problems we encountered was when discs would get broken, or lost or stolen. That would make watching the rest of season very difficult and make for some very unhappy customers. Because we were already doing tons of special orders, we just ordered another season for just one disc.
I said to myself, “Too bad there wasn’t a site where you could order just one disc of a season”. So we made one. While it took awhile for the site to take off, Replacetvdisc.com was showing some great promise. We were getting referrals from Netflix, while they wouldn’t openly admit it. Some of our on-line customers told us that they had sent back a disc from their personal boxset by accident, they called Netflix, customer service couldn’t send back the personal disc but they would look up the replacement disc on our site, credit the customers account for same amount and refer them with a link to our site. I thought it was fantastic and had great potential. But the best thing happened around 2010, when someone in charge of development from Amazon contacted me and said they wanted to merge our site into Amazon and create a specialized storefront that Amazon would market. That would have turned Replacetvdisc into a real property and launched our revenues into the stratosphere. Then 2011 came screaming in and the Brewer Police Department wasn’t far behind.
To Be Continued.... Thanks for reading.