The Netflix Before There Was Netflix

7 Comments

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that Netflix (s NFLX) invented the rent-movies-by-mail business. But Hacking Netflix has unearthed a gem about a company called Video Mailbox that offered rent-by-mail — on VHS, no less — way back in 1987, long before little red envelopes clogged up our mailboxes.

There are striking similarities between Netflix and its apparent predecessor. Video Mailbox let you rent movies for a flat monthly fee ($29.95 – yikes!). It provided a pre-paid mailer to return movies. It offered 10,000 movies and users could manage a queue of their favorites.

There’s a Video Mailbox site dedicated to preserving the history of video mailbox (including this gem of a TV commercial and a color brochure explaining how it worked). And though the site doesn’t provide an official reason for the company’s demise, it was obviously an idea ahead of its technological time.

7 Comments

Justin Graziano

No wonder this company is so unheard of, theres no phone number in their commercials! Back in 1987 the only way to get a product was by calling, there was no internet, what were they thinking!?

Excelsior

“Clogged up our mailboxes”? Maybe those envelopes clog up YOUR mailbox. Me, I’m always happy as a clam when I see them show up.

Ryan Janssen

Funny stuff Chris. I still remember when I was approached by a friend back in 1999 to join this new company “Netflix”. I LOVED the business (especially after he explained the postage rates for DVDs).

Sadly, in my typical misguided wisdom, I explained that the internet industry as a WHOLE was where it was at, and I wanted to hedge my bet against joining any one startup by staying at the consultancy I was at.

Didn’t feel like such a good decision when the company I was at and the “whole internet industry” collapsed a couple years later!

timekeeper

What’s interesting is that they were predicting the demise of Video Stores back then.

timekeeper

20 years later…

Was it a local mom & pop shop or a big chain store?

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