The hot Christmas gifts this year may not be books or videos but books and videos. Publishers and video companies are teaming up to create a new product, one that can be marketed as either a good value or as a lavish gift item. The only hitch is that many book and video stores are reluctant to stock the bulky sets.
Expected in stores by July 4 is Turner Home Entertainment’s six-hour video on the Persian Gulf war, to be packaged with a book from Turner Publishing. And this fall Turner will combine its “Citizen Kane” and “The Lost Stooges” videos with books from other publishers.
“Citizen Kane” will come in three configurations, ranging in price from $19.98 for a single cassette to $99.98 for a collector’s edition in numbered boxes. The latter includes Doubleday’s new book “Citizen Kane: The 50th Anniversary Album” by Harlan Lebo, the original trailer, a program called “Reflections On Citizen Kane,” a poster, a booklet of original press materials and still photos, the original shooting script and the film itself.
Turner first combined the two media in 1989 with a $199.98 “Cosmos” gift set. According to Martin Weinstein, senior v.p. at Turner Home Entertainment, the Ballantine book was offered as a bonus to spur sales of the series on video. The idea apparently worked, since the package has sold 275,000 units to date.
That experiment was followed by a collection of Jacques Cousteau programs, which were paired with a 36-page booklet and sold for $118.98. “Above $100, you have to create an added value,” Weinstein said.
The idea for combining Turner’s “The Lost Stooges” tape with Citadel’s “The Three Stooges Scrapbook” originated with the two companies’ collaboration on “Kisses.” That book, co-published by Citadel and Turner Publishing, will return to stores next Valentine’s Day in a package with TNT’s special of the same title.
Weinstein and Steven Schragis, who heads Citadel, part of his Carol Publishing Group, realized they both had popular Three Stooges titles when they were discussing the book-video version of “Kisses.” “The Lost Stooges” tape was released last year, and Weinstein said, “We’re going to create a new life for it by packaging it with a book.”
The pairing makes sense since, as Schragis sees it, “Both of us are trying to find a way to relaunch existing projects in a new way.”
In fact, he hopes to sell an additional 15,000 to 20,000 copies of “The Three Stooges Scrapbook,” one of Citadel’s bestselling backlist titles. “I think it will sell another round without affecting the people who just buy the book,” Schragis said.
He doesn’t worry about other publishers copying the idea, since there are other Citadel film books that would lend themselves to similar packaging. For instance, Schragis plans to combine Tony Thomas’ “A Wonderful Life: The Films And Career Of James Stewart” with the video of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If possible, the combo will be released in time for Christmas.
The trick will be to convince book and video stores to stock these oversized gift items. Rhino Home Video ran into that problem when selling the book-video version of “Best Evidence,” David S. Lifton’s examination of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Arny Schorr, Rhino’s v.p. and general manager, said many bookstores were unwilling to sell the package, even though the book by itself had been a big seller. In addition, he said, “Videostores are really geared toward hits. This is not something they’re comfortable with.”
Originally conceived as a promotional tool for the book, the video did sell. But only 20% of sales were accounted for by the book-video package. Rhino sold most copies through direct response marketing and in specialty stores.
“By and large, the American public is very passive,” Schorr said. “They don’t expect to find a product like this in front of them.” However, Schorr thinks such packages would catch on if more stores sold them.
To appeal to bargain hunters, “Best Evidence” was offered at a reasonable price: $24.95. Schorr now thinks that might have been a mistake, since profits would have been higher with a $29.95 pricetag.
For Carroll & Graf, the publisher that sells the paperback to Rhino, the package boosted sales of an already popular title. Herman Graf, the company’s president, estimated that nearly 50,000 books were sold with the video in the past year.
‘We keep getting orders from them, and we keep selling out,” he said. Carroll & Graf has published the trade paperback edition of “Best Evidence” for three years, and it remains a leading backlist title.
Despite its success, Graf has no interest in distributing such sets himself. “We can’t be a book publisher and a video packager,” he said, “but we’ll be open and receptive to any ideas.”
As Schorr noted, buyers at bookstores and video chains are not always interested in these packages. Bryan Curtis, manager of Waldenvideo, said the main problem is shelf space. “We don’t have room in the video section – it depends on how it’s packaged – and it may not fit in the film [books] section.”
Whether they are shrink-wrapped or enclosed in a boxed set, book-video combinations take up a lot of room. They also are tempting targets for shoplifters, which is another reason to place them in the better-monitored video sections rather than with books, retailers say.
While Curtis thinks the “Citizen Kane” gift set has potential since the video is consistently popular, he is not convinced customers will buy others. “[Publishers and vid dealers] are always talking about them, and we usually discourage them,” he said.
For Arny Schorr and others, that attitude is the principal obstacle to selling books with videos. In his opinion, “People want this product, and they have a hard time finding it.”