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THE MORNING BUZZ: With the Loss of Rich, the Industry is A Little Poorer

31 Oct, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Rich Thorward's sudden death earlier this week came as a real blow to many of us in the industry. As a journalist who's been covering this business since the late 1980s, Rich was a valued source and one of those rare birds who was as thoughtful as he was passionate about this business he loved.

Rich and I spoke a lot during the industry's first great shakeout of the early 1990s. He was a harsh critic of the studio establishment and a fervent protector of the independent retailer. After he left the retail side of the business — frustrated as many indies were — to launch his consulting and newsletter service, he channeled his energy and foresight into helping others. And I don't think I'm the only one who would credit Rich Thorward's knowledge with helping some retailers — maybe many retailers — remain competitive and solvent a lot longer than they would have without him.

I didn't speak with Rich as much after he left retailing, but in our periodic conversations at industry functions like the VSDA convention and the East Coast Video Show I could feel a sense of weariness that I'm sure we all feel from time to time. This business has changed so dramatically in the last few years, it's easy to see how insiders could feel like outsiders even though they are still in the proverbial thick of things.

Rich was a buying guru for independent rentailers at a time when the big chains had already knocked a good percentage of independents out of business — and the remaining ones just weren't that important to the powers that be in Hollywood any more.

That must grate on a guy, particularly the kind of guy Rich was. He knew his stuff, and he wanted to be taken seriously. He would have made a first-class consultant to some big chain like Wal-Mart or Best Buy, applying his years of experience in the business to the new consumer paradigm of buying rather than renting. But instead he stuck with the little rentaliers, and while he still had things to say, the expanding world of DVD retailing slowly seemed to drown him out.

Rich's passing, then, is a symbol of what could be construed as the passing of an entire era. The video rental industry, peopled by thousands of small entrepreneurs, has given way to a DVD sales machine operated by mighty chains who sell all sorts of other things besides video. And the Rich Thorwards of this world have been replaced by nameless, faceless consultants with fancy names like “category captains” who essentially fulfill the same function he did — helping their clients make more money — but on a far less personal basis.

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