February 2001|The situation surrounding DVD-Audio packaging is not typical. Historically, when a new consumer disc format has been released, packaging companies have scrambled to offer new styles in an attempt to edge out the jewel box. But oddly, all has been quiet for DVD-Audio, and the packaging situation is not likely to change until the labels start releasing more titles. Several sources feel that DVD-Audio is taking a back seat to other Internet-based technologies, thus labels are dragging their feet in releasing titles and making the kind of push for the format that a trend toward striking or distinctive packaging would signify. Also, industry pioneers—some of whom have been burned before on the likes of Mini Disc or Digital Compact Cassette—seem to be taking DVD-Audio one step slower.
While NARM (the National Association of Recording Merchandisers) is said to be working with its membership to generate recommendations for DVD-Audio much as the VSDA (Video Software Dealers Association) did for DVD-Video, no one from NARM was available for comment.
No Shelf to Itself?
While packaging is what gives a packaged product or consumer product group its visual and tactile identity on a retail level, that distinctive look and feel is only part of the process of identifying the product for its potential customers. Between the packager and the purchaser stands, of course, the retailer or distributor, who presents and delivers the package to the consumer. If not a shelf to itself, a new format or product group needs a clear identity in the retailer's or distributor's field of vision if it's to carve out a niche in the market. Otherwise, it risks being buried or all but forgotten in the manner of, say, CD-Extra, a risky proposition for DVD-Audio. CD-Extra discs can be fully enjoyed (and usually are) as CD-Audio discs without ever experiencing the ROM component. By contrast, DVD-Audio discs can't be partially used by purchasers who picked them up on a CD rack without knowing what they were.
Packagers and retailers alike may feel bound to follow the practices used by early CD-Audio and DVD-Video purveyors in matching size and shape to the SKUs used in the formats' direct market antecedents. Particularly in the case of CD-Audio, creating a longbox equal in height to a 12-inch LP record was considered essential to make use of existing store bins and racks if the format were to make a quick and easy transition into music stores around the world. DVD-Video boxes, similarly, were packaged in dimensions similar or identical to VHS titles, in order to establish a presence in the same video outlets and rental stores as the tape-based consumer video format.
At this point, these appear to be non-issues in the consumer audio retail realm. Distributors seem to have little to say about the format, and EMedia actually had to define DVD-Audio to many retailers contacted for this article. Thus, DVD-Audio-specific packaging does not seem to be high on their agendas either.
"DVD-Audio is such a new format, I'm not sure we understand how it is going to work in terms of packaging. Determining the box is probably not something we get involved in because our sorting devices can pretty much handle any configuration," says Heather Muller, spokeswoman for Valley Media, a distributor in Woodland, California. Sources at Best Buy, Circuit City, and WalMart could not comment at this time.
However, Borders Group Inc.'s Kendra Smith says Borders "has been influential in the packaging decisions for DVD- Audio." She says the discs will be packaged in the same jewel case as CDs, so they can easily be mixed in with other artists, but most will reportedly have a gold-colored top spine to stand apart. "Due to fixture design, packaging options are limited," says Smith. "But we think the educated consumer will be able to identify the DVD-Audio as more selections appear in the marketplace."
Gil Wachsman, vice chairman of Musicland Group, addresses the CD versus DVD-shaped/styled dichotomy, and says there are pros and cons for both products. "If the titles are in a jewel case, every fixture we have fits it. A 6" x 8" box, that shares the dimensions of the popular Amaray video box," he says "would clearly differentiate the titles. It will likely help avoid returns by confused consumers, but even more importantly, it will make it clearly visually different from a DVD-Video and a CD product. That initial differentiation is important." As for retailer enthusiasm, Musicland, one of the marketshare leaders in DVD-Video, will make a DVD-Audio impact the moment that it can, according to Wachsman. "We are struggling to find enough titles to make a presentation. DVD-Audio won't be displayed with DVD-Video. We want to put it with audio products but in their own section. With only a few titles available, however, it's difficult to give the product a whole section."
What's Out There Now
At the writing of this piece, the only titles on sale in consumer audio channels were the original seven released by Warner and three more from 5.1 Entertainment. All were packaged in jewel boxes.
In October 2000, 5.1 Entertainment shipped its first three DVD-Audio discs: Swingin' For the Fences by Gordan Goodwin's Big Phat Band (Silverline); Devotion by Aaron Neville (Silverline); and Venice Underground featuring guitarist Peter DiStefano (immergent). In November, Silverline released 26 classical music titles on DVD-Audio. In January 2000, Silverline and immergent planned to release an additional 10 DVD-Audio titles each month this year.