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A Case For Collecting

13 Mar, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Remember the good old clear plastic jewel case? Back in the early days of DVD, the square box was a leading contender to house DVDs as well as CDs. Two major studios, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Video, released their initial batches of DVDs in jewel cases, as did a host of independent suppliers. Their reasoning was that consumers were already accustomed to buying music on five-inch discs and this familiarity would extend to the packaging.

But before long, the little jewel case fell from grace, in large part because the Video Software Dealers Association successfully argued for a bigger box to give DVDs their own identity. And thus we are where we are today, with those ubiquitous rectangles, all pretty much the same dimensions.

But there's writing on the wall, still faint and barely visible to all but the most knowing eyes, that seems to indicate smaller may, in fact, be better. Consumers still have a voracious appetite for buying DVDs, but some retailers are privately wondering whether there is a saturation point — the “full shelf” phenomenon, they call it — when consumers simply don't have room for any more DVDs and all of a sudden become significantly more selective in what they buy.

I know for a fact that at least one studio is conducting high-level talks about ways to extend the lifespan of the active DVD buyer. One option being considered is shrinking the box. Already, some screeners are arriving in flat cardboard wrappers and you can store about five of them in the same amount of space one regular Keepcase'd or Snapper'd DVD takes.

The problem — and the reason I don't think we're ever going to see studios take that route for consumer product — is that the flat wrappers are literally spineless. There's no room for any writing on the side, so you have to pull it out to see what it is like old vinyl records — hardly good merchandising.

But there are two other options. One is a flatter plastic case, maybe half as thick as a Keepcase or Snapper, so there's still room for writing on the side. Already, there's one such model available.

The other is to bring back the little jewel case — which may actually be the best option, when all the smoke clears. It's not only thinner, it's also shorter — which means you can put many more pieces in the drawer, or in the bookcase, even if it means adjusting the shelves a little.

And given the sad state of the music business, I'm sure there are plenty of jewel case makers out there who would be more than happy to cut the studios a deal.

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