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Blockbuster tries new online-rental incentive

"Total Access" program, which lets online renters exchange DVDs in-store, is latest attempt to compete with Netflix.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

update Blockbuster has introduced a feature to its online-rental service, giving subscribers the option of returning DVDs to stores rather than solely through the mail.

Subscribers to any Blockbuster online-rental plan can use the new "Total Access" feature. When a DVD rented online is returned to a Blockbuster store, the online system immediately gears up the next movie in the subscriber's queue for shipment, thus cutting down on the lag time associated with mail.

As an added incentive, each time customers return an online rental to the store, they can get a free in-store rental. The bonus in-store rentals are, however, still subject to due dates and other stipulations associated with regular in-store rentals, and must be returned to the store from which they were obtained.

Blockbuster, once the dominant force in the movie rental business, has been faced with up-and-coming competition, such as online rental Netflix, video-on-demand services and digital downloads. Blockbuster's own online-rental service was launched more than two years ago, but it has remained a step behind the Web-only Netflix, which has also made inroads into video-on-demand and has shown signs of interest in digital-download technology.

Last month, it was widely rumored that Blockbuster had opted to discontinue a test run of a $5.99-per-month plan to match Netflix's least expensive subscription option. The company has since stated that this was not the case.

Correction: This story incorrectly described the status of Blockbuster's $5.99-per-month subscription plan. The company is continuing its test run.