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Wealth of Discs Puts DVDs In A Shelf Space Squeeze

5 Jun, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Is it time to put DVDs on a diet?

Buy rates are still extremely high, even among the new DVD adopters who are now mostly families relegating the old VCR to a spare bedroom. Consumers are getting used to the fact that for $15 or less you typically can pick up any hot new movie you want, while catalog prices continue to tumble. The last time I was in Wal-Mart there was a veritable feeding frenzy around one of those $5.88 DVD bins, with eager hands grabbing a surprisingly diverse selection of recent blockbusters from most all the major studios.

If there's any chance of rain falling on this shopping parade, retailers tell me, it's the prospect of “full shelf” syndrome. A fellow buys a DVD player, finds DVDs cheap and plentiful, and opts to buy rather than rent, building a formidable collection in the process. But once the bookcase in the family room and a couple of crates in the garage are filled up — and we're talking maybe 300 to 500 discs — he's going to be forced to cut back a little, simply because there's no more room at the proverbial inn.

It's been six years since DVD was launched, and consumers are still buying more DVDs than ever. But how many of those discs are going to households that are just now coming online? There's probably no way of measuring this except for observation, and in that area the news is not good: Several retailers say their longest DVD customers, the guys who used to rush in every Tuesday to pick up the latest batch of releases, are no longer buying as much, or as often.

This probably won't be a problem for a year or two, when just about everyone has a DVD player and the number of new households coming online won't be significant enough to make a difference, to make up for the slack.

The solution — a short-term fix, granted, but one that should last long enough to tide everyone over to the much-anticipated high-definition launch a few years out — would be to make DVD cases even thinner, so that the guy whose bookcase is half filled with 300 DVDs can cram 600 discs into the other half — and thus prolong his active-buying life.

Personally, I'd hate to see that happen. I like my DVDs just fine the way they are, with spines wide enough to read the title without squinting. Then again, I am a little tight on space, particularly now that I'm collecting old Westerns, and Italian horror films from the 1970s, and film noir classics, and…

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