Physical and analog media is seeing a minor resurgence as niche customers seek out rare items and nostalgia.
- Physical media has been on the decline for the past two decades as digital streaming services and music apps have gradually replaced DVDs and CDs.
- Older formats have bucked this trend: 41 million vinyl records were sold in 2022, marking 16 years of consecutive record sales growth, BBC reports.
- Hundreds of businesses have popped up to feed the demands of analog media, including a niche community of VHS collectors and distributors operating dozens of successful businesses across the country—including Lunchmeat VHS and Danger Zone Video & More.
Why It’s News
The future is becoming retro, and the younger generations are returning to older technologies. Compact flip phones have seen a resurgence, as Google searches for “flip phone” have increased 140% in the past five years, and #FlipPhone on TikTok has over 600 million views.
The movement reflects popular trends, as these movements often emerge from social-media networks like TikTok, but also reflect the desire of the younger generation to embrace nostalgia for a simpler time. Flip phones and VHS tapes reflect a less complicated time, and their relative abundance on the used market has made them easy to trade and access, particularly for low-income people.
However, one of the core appeals of the movement has come from niche collectors of physical media. VHS tapes are no longer in production. Hollywood stopped releasing new films on VHS in 2006, and the last VHS-tape distributor ceased production in 2016. That hasn’t stopped thousands of people across the U.S. from seeking out and collecting these throwback reels of film.
Building A New Video Store Business
Jesse Butler and Brittany Fernandez are the owners of Danger Zone Video & More in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Butler left his previous work as an independent pro-wrestling commentator, musician, and manual laborer to follow his passion for movie collecting, starting his business with his girlfriend, who works in film and television accounting. Their small storefront opened on August 5, 2022, and has since grown into a beloved center for film enthusiasts and physical media collectors in Nashville.
“I started collecting tapes when we moved in 2018,” Butler tells Leaders Media. “We didn’t have cable or internet for a month, but I had a VCR in the closet. We hooked it up, I showed her some old Wrestling tapes and visited a local video store and found more tapes. It got me collecting again, and I started doing flee market popups. During COVID, I had more time to put more time into this and develop a brand. We found our storefront on Facebook Marketplace, the rent was a steal, and we connected to the VHS community on Instagram.”
Danger Zone is more of a passion project for Butler at the moment. Still, he is working hard to build the small business into a successful venture—diversifying his stock of movies and collectibles and building connections with local businesses, conventions, collectors, and podcasts. As he told The Pamphleteer, Butler already collaborates with local bakers and small businesses to cross-promote each other’s work.
The Appeal Of Physical Media
Butler tells us one of the chief appeals of VHS is also the appeal of physical media. People are nostalgic for older media formats, but ownership also plays a role for collectors who fear that internet outages or contract disagreements can result in favorite movies or television shows being deleted from major streaming services—-such as HBO Max removing hundreds of films and shows from its catalog in 2022.
“People want to own things again—to hold things again. A lot of people that come in here are younger people. Kids come in here and buy stacks of tapes. Streaming is so fragile. People are slowly catching onto it. I lost access to the internet following the Christmas bombing in Nashville, and so we had to corral our Best Buy gift cards to purchase a box set of The Sopranos,” he says.
Horror movie fans are among Danger Zone’s most loyal customers. The store keeps its selection of horror DVDs, Blu-rays, VHS tapes, and collectibles full to meet the demand of young genre enthusiasts who want to watch goofy or low-quality movies with the analog aesthetic of VHS resolution. Many of the store’s customers are looking for eclectic, weird, and obscure tapes and movies.
“We had a group of high school kids come in one day and compare all of the VHS tapes to Imdb.com scores, looking for the lowest possible scores for a bad movie night. We ended up having a great conversation,” he says.
A Global Online Community
Part of Danger Zone’s success is that it was able to plug into a preexisting community of online collectors and enthusiasts who use swap meets and media mail trades to help collectors find what they want. A handful of small businesses have managed to break into the market by selling new VHS tapes, licensing films for limited releases, and selling them on digital storefronts.
Lunchmeat Magazine Editor-in-Chief Josh Schafer is the founder of Lunchmeat VHS. His online storefront and magazine began as a passionate hobby while he worked in university positions and for record labels, but it has taken off in the past few years as a full-time job.
Schafer compares the work he does to a music label. It is regularly approached by bands, independent artists, and companies like Shudder, IFC, and Shout Factory to release VHS tapes in limited quantities and license its own VHS rereleases. He has grown his company into one of the largest VHS influencers on the internet.
“It’s hard to describe what we do just because we have so many facets. We started out as a VHS magazine, but now we have multiple publications, we publish a horror-themed calendar, and we license films and put them out on VHS in limited quantities. We have apparel and lifestyle merchandise and host live events. VHS Fest in Leighton, Pennsylvania, is celebrating its seventh anniversary this year, and it is the largest VHS-centric event in the world,” he says
There is an irony that digital media and the internet are serving as a way to reintroduce younger generations to analog media. “It’s all coming back around again,” says Schaffer.