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To Rent or Buy Laser Discs? That Is the Question

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you’re thinking about buying a laser-disc player, keep something in mind: Finding stores that rent laser discs isn’t easy. And the situation is not going to change any time soon, even though the laser market is growing.

Laser is a buyer’s market, dominated by film buffs and affluent fans who are into collecting movies, not renting them. According to David Del Grosso, marketing vice president for the distribution firm Image Entertainment, sales dwarf rentals by a 9-1 ratio.

Most of the estimated 2,400 national laser-disc outlets don’t rent, including the nation’s two largest chains with laser-disc departments--Tower and Camelot.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t strong laser-rental advocates. The small Laser’s Edge chain, which has its main store in Woodland Hills, is known throughout the business as the nation’s largest laser-rental outlet. Operations manager Jim Barrow claims that his stores do more rentals than sales, noting that the Woodland Hills outlet often rents 500 titles on a weekend.

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Laser’s Edge, though, has an edge on rivals in that its enormous stock includes many out-of-print titles, attracting customers from around the country.

More typical is Dave’s Video--the Laser Place, in Sherman Oaks. Owner Dave Lukas reports that only 20% of his business is rentals.

“Most of my customers are buyers,” Lukas said. “This business is geared to collectors. The price to buy is reasonable--usually $25-$30--and often less than that. If you can buy that cheaply, why rent?”

Some people do want to rent, of course, but not enough to make it profitable for most dealers. A retailer who buys a laser disc (about $20-$25 wholesale) for the purpose of renting it (at $2-$4 per day) would need at least 5 to 10 customers to get his money back. With the universe of laser-disc households still very small--about 500,000 nationwide, according to Del Grosso--the odds of that happening on anything but the hottest titles are slim.

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“For a laser rental market to flourish, we need about 2 million households with laser players,” Del Grosso said. “We’re maybe three to four years away from that. Until then, laser is mostly a (sales) business.”

If it’s any consolation, however, the laser picture in Los Angeles--for both rentals and sales--is better than anywhere else, he noted. “Laser’s biggest appeal is to movie buffs and the affluent,” he said. “In Los Angeles there are many of both types.”

Some laser-rental outlets:

* The Laser’s Edge: 20929 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; 2006 N. Glen Oaks Blvd., Burbank; 1917 Daly Drive, Camarillo.

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* Videotheque: 330 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; 1035 Gayley Ave., Westwood; 8800 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.

* Dave’s Video-the Laser Place: 13511 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

* Odyssey Video: 11910 Wilshire Blvd., West Los Angeles.

* Laser Blazer: 2518 Overland Ave., West Los Angeles.

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* Blockbuster Video: 12112 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles.


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