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Stores Preparing for Costly Phaseout of CD Longbox

March 23, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Record store clerks around the country are ripping up millions of longboxes, the familiar 6-by-12-inch cardboard packaging for compact discs.

Major U.S. record companies--long under fire from environmental groups for what was considered wasteful packaging of the longboxes--have promised to stop packing CDs in the cardboard as of April 1. In preparation, retail store personnel are replacing now-obsolete bins, or putting the plastic CD "jewelbox" holders in plastic "keepers" that fit in the old bins.

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It's a task that their bosses ordered grudgingly. Many record store owners had fought to keep the longboxes, favoring them both because they fit nicely in the old bins designed for 12-by-12-inch vinyl albums and because the packaging made CDs more difficult to shoplift than the jewelbox containers that hold the discs. The cost of the transition from longboxes to unpacked jewelboxes has been estimated at nearly $200 million for retailers nationwide.

"I can't see a smooth transition," said Arnie Bernstein, president of the Minneapolis-based Musicland group's 900-store music division, which elected to go with the "keepers," meaning that each new release will have to be placed in the plastic holder and then removed upon sale. "Different record companies have different amounts of product ready to ship (without longboxes), so we can't change overnight. They're going to start in April and try to complete it in August, but we'll see."

Russ Solomon, president of the Sacramento-based Tower chain and one of the most outspoken critics of the record companies' elimination of the longboxes, said the change is a "monumental job" for his staff.

"We're going through and ripping up longboxes as fast as we can," he said, adding that the result may actually be to make the displays look nicer--Tower's 77 U.S. stores will be merely displaying the jewelboxed CDs, with no "keeper" devices--but the changeover will cost the chain "millions."

Jim Donio, communications director for the New Jersey-based National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers trade group, said the six major record distribution companies will save about 50 cents per CD by eliminating the longbox. Some of that money will be returned to retailers in the form of rebates to defray their expenses. But industry sources say at best it will only cover about half the cost.

"It's no secret that the retail community felt it was in no way enough, but it's better than nothing," Donio said.

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If store operators are moving ahead with reluctance, customers seem to be meeting the change with indifference. At the Tower store in Pasadena, customers surveyed said they don't care about the longbox phaseout, both in terms of environmental concern and shopping convenience.

"It's fine if the savings are passed on to the consumer, but I've heard they won't be," said Joe Camp, 57, of Pasadena. "Otherwise it's no difference to me. But it may be a boon for the people hired to redesign the bins."

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