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B’buster to bow custom CDs

Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. will equip some of its 500 music stores to produce custom-designed music compact discs by the end of this year, company technology VP Robert L. Carberry said Tuesday.

Consumers would choose favorite songs from a computer library and stamp their own CD within seconds, he told reporters following his keynote address at the New Media Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Blockbuster planned to have the service by Christmas 1993 but withdrew the idea when record labels objected, citing copyright concerns. Those issues have been resolved, allowing the plan to move forward, although expanding the service to include hot-selling albums was not promised.

National rollout of the new service will be “a step at a time,” Carberry said. He added that the cost of technology is falling fast enough to enhance its commercial viability.

Instead of concentrating on brand-new applications in the untested and murky waters of multimedia and interactivity, Carberry urged listeners to “look for an application that exists and apply the new technology to it, and make it cost-effective.” His remarks came during a well-attended keynote address aimed at answering questions about the information superhighway at the expo, which continues through Thursday.

“One of the traps in all of this talk about the interactive age is the ‘Field of Dreams’ fallacy, where people say build it and they will come,” said Carberry , who joined Blockbuster less than a month ago after ankling as president of IBM Personal Systems business unit Fireworks Partners. “We’re finding that’s not really true. You don’t have to go into a new market when you can widen an existing one.”

Carberry went on to cite another “pothole” on the superhighway: The complexity issue, which he referred to as the “flashing VCR problem,” noting that most VCR users can’t set their machine’s clock. “Without a map, the complexity overwhelms,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it simple. When you can bring it down to an easier level, you can get customers.”

In addition, Carberry said, “We have to solve the affordability problem if we are going to make this successful.”

Discussing his move to Blockbuster, Carberry quipped that it was entirely for economic reasons. “I have two sons,” he said, “and they offered me unlimited free videos and no late charges.”

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