Video Mailbox: Like Netflix, Only 15 Years Too Early

I had always thought that mail-order video rental only came to be after the invention of DVDs because video tapes are too bulky and delicate to send through the mail on a regular basis. I was wrong.

Hacking Netflix alerted us to the existence of Video Mailbox, a service that let you rent, by mail, as many videos as you wanted for the low, low price of $29.95 per month. If you lacked a VCR, you could rent one for only $10 per month. Video Mailbox made its debut in 1987.

Their hilarious commercial features Ralph, owner of a local video store, shuttering his business because of mail-order competition—again, 15 years too early. Who can compete with ten thousand titles? The service is memorialized on its own web site.

…Video Mailbox came up with several breakthrough ideas: Why not allow the customer to rent as many videos as they like for a flat monthly fee? Why not ship the movies to the customer via mail, using a special pre-paid mailer? Why not give the customer a huge selection — practically every major film that was available? Why not have the customer indicate their favorite movies in a “queue” so that when they return a movie, the next movie on their list would be automatically dispatched? Why not use a sophisticated software program to manage each customer’s queue, to ensure that videos were dispatched quickly and efficiently?

Indeed! While Video Mailbox didn’t survive, it’s a great example of a brilliant idea existing before the technology to support it could.

Was Video Mailbox The First Movies-By-Mail Rental Company? [Hacking Netflix]
The Story of Video Mailbox [Fan Page]