The Story of Video Mailbox

Video Mailbox was a company founded in the mid-1980's that rented videotapes through the mail.  Why should you care about them?  Think back to how you rented movies in the 80's.  Back in the day, people would become members of a local brick-and-mortar video store.  You would rent one or two movies from their very limited selection and pay a fee for each one.

But 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?

Sound familiar?  This pretty much describes how Netflix and other DVD rental companies work today.  But it was Video Mailbox, back in the 80's, that came up with many of these ideas.

This site is dedicated to preserving the history of Video Mailbox, a truly pioneering company in the world of video rental.

Here on the Story of Video Mailbox site, we have brought together some rare old materials.  Check out the Video Mailbox color brochure.  This was given to customers back in the mid to late 80's and details exactly how the rental process worked.  Note how similar it is to Netflix, Blockbuster, and other popular rental services of today.  Also check out the page called A Brief History, where the Video Mailbox founder discusses how the company came to be.

Also enjoy an original Video Mailbox TV commercial, recently discovered on an old VHS tape.  The commercial depicts a fictional video store owner lamenting the fact that his business model is no match for the rent-by-mail model.  This turned out to be an accurate prediction.

Netflix Patents their Business Model

Many years after Video Mailbox, Netflix applied for -- and was awarded -- a patent for their business model.  Here is an interesting New York Times article about Netflix and their court battle with Blockbuster over the patented business model:

"Blockbuster Settles Fight With Netflix"
(NY Times)

Here's another article that we learned about from a user named Haggie1 over on the Consumerist website:

Netflix Awarded Business Model Patent, Immediately Sues Blockbuster (ars technica)

Original Video Mailbox Color Brochure

This rare brochure includes diagrams explaining exactly how you can rent as many movies as you like each month via mail.


(View larger sized images)

Original Video Mailbox TV Commercial

The famous 1987 commercial that predicted that renting movies by mail would put brick-and-mortar rental stores out of business.