Can crowdfunding save one of Madrid’s last video rental stores?

Regulars of Ficciones hope online donations can save business boasting 20,000 titles from closure

In February of this year, Andrés Santana took one of the most difficult decisions of his life: to close his Ficciones DVD rental store in downtown Madrid. He had tried everything but after more than 13 years in business, the numbers just weren’t adding up. He told his two employees he was closing up shop and began to sell off a unique collection totaling some 20,000 movies.

Andrés Santana at his ‘Ficciones’ in Madrid’s Tirso de Molina neighborhood.
Andrés Santana at his ‘Ficciones’ in Madrid’s Tirso de Molina neighborhood.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

Titles from directors as diverse as the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel and UK social realist Ken Loach began to fly off the shelves like in the good old days.

The end was well and truly in sight for what had become an institution in the colorful neighborhood around the Spanish capital’s Tirso de Molina square.

Fifteen years ago, there were 10,000 video rental stores in Spain; now there are just 350

But there was a twist in the tale for the 42-year-old Santana, who is from Spain’s Catalonia region. Rather than giving in to the idea of permanent closure, his customers began looking for a way to keep the business open. Then someone mentioned the magic word: “crowdfunding.”

“I had already made up my mind. I couldn’t keep pouring money into something that wasn’t working given the current overheads,” an emotional Santana explains.

“But my regulars started saying they were willing to give money to keep to keep the store open and they gave me the [crowdfunding] idea,” adds the store owner, who, in addition to running the DVD rental outlet is also a university teacher.

“My customers convinced me to look for new, cheaper premises. The crowdfunding money will keep my going until I can move to another location, and settle my debts from the last few months,” Santana says.

Our movies traveled to Equatorial Guinea, where they were shown to kids who had never seen a film before Andrés Santana, Ficciones manager

The plan is raise €13,000 via the Go Fund Me website. Together with sister outlet Ficciones in the Madrid neighborhood of Malasaña, Santana’s business boasts a member list totaling 37,000 people. That means a donation of just €1 from half of all members would be enough to guarantee the future of the store, which specializes in independent movies – many of them no longer available and difficult to find.

“We have 20,000 different movies and 200 series. If people have taken action it’s because there is a real demand for this kind of product,” says Santana.

Store regular Carlota Montero, 38, confirms this. “Whenever I have asked for movie advice, he has got it right. It’s great.” Today she ends up renting the British comedy Pride which sets her back €1.40, and which she will have to return in a fortnight.

“The best way to a see a movie is at the cinema and the second best way is using a video rental store, because you end up watching movies you wouldn’t see otherwise,” says Santana, who is a fan of US cult director Quentin Tarantino.

“Our movies, for example, have traveled to Equatorial Guinea where they were shown to kids who had never seen a film before. And we have helped actors, scriptwriters and directors to prepare projects by giving them recommendations,” he adds.

Using a video rental store, you end up watching movies you wouldn’t see otherwise

The Ficciones store in Tirso de Molina is one of just 15 video rental stores that are holding out valiantly in the Spanish capital in this era of online streaming. In the Madrid region, there are 35 outlets, while the number for Spain as a whole is 350, according to the distributor Das del Vídeo. Fifteen years ago, that number was 10,000, according to company spokesperson Ignacio Carbajo.

Santana decided to open Ficciones in 2004 so that he wouldn’t have to go to Barcelona, where he was born, to see independent movies. He had no experience but a great deal of passion for cinema. What he didn’t know was the sector was about to completely change. In 2006, the Blockbuster chain closed all of its 96 stores in Spain, as piracy bit into profit margins. Ficciones thrived because it offered a different product, and the closure in 2012 of the piracy site Megaupload even gave business a boost for a while.

But the arrival of online platforms such as HBO and Netflix is proving to be the final blow for the world of video rentals, with fans of the Ficciones store in Madrid having to resort to another online platform to try and save an institution they love.

English version by George Mills.

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