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Does the Internet Have a Drop Box? : Video outlets across the country are staking out sites on the World Wide Web. It seems cyberspace is a virtual research lab, but can be a hard sales pitch.

Diane Garrett is an occasional contributor to Calendar

If it’s in print--and even if it’s not--you can find it in cyberspace. Unlike your neighborhood video store, where top hits rule, cyberia abounds with places selling everything from cult horror flicks to foreign classics and niche instructionals.

Need a potty-training tape or fly-fishing how-tos? They’re all there, along with “What Women Really Want,” Florence Henderson’s “Looking Great” and used copies of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Bambi,” both out of print and therefore pricey. That’s only for starters. Every day, more virtual video stores pop up on the Internet.

Clustered on the World Wide Web, these stores vary tremendously in approach. The most elaborate have audio and video clips. Some are styled as the electronic equivalent to traditional video stores, while others are highly specialized, such as 100% Scot Video and the Iskcon Television site, which offer Indian devotional movies.

For Hank Paper, setting up shop on the Internet was a natural extension of his Connecticut video store. Known for its cult movies, Best Video already had a thriving mail-order business when Paper went online more than a year ago. “As soon as we put it up, we immediately got an order from South Korea,” Paper says. “That blew my mind.”

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Thanks to the Web’s linking abilities, new visitors are constantly being steered to his site from around the world. “A lot of people are just cruising the Net and they come to us,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot of unsolicited advertising that way.”

Best’s handsome site (https://www.bestvideo.com/) lists movies by offbeat categories--such as Vamps & Vixens and Weird ‘60s --and includes reviews from staffers. “We’re doing this because it’s our style to do it,” Paper says. “It’s fun--and we like to have fun.”

Entertainment industry veteran Susan Zwerman turned to the Net to plug “Hip Hop Animal Rock Workout,” a children’s video she produced. Zwerman, who won a Grammy for producing the Weird Al parody “I’m Fat,” used her producing skills to add sound and video clips to her site, https://www.earthlink.net/~crystal. “I tried to make it interesting--an interactive sales pitch,” she said.

Others see the Internet as a way to make hard-to-find titles more accessible.

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“We thought the Web site would be a great service to offer people a way to find videos they couldn’t find at their local Blockbuster,” says Thor Gunnarsson, Webmaster for Rocket Video, a Los Angeles store with an extensive catalog. Within weeks of its launch, the cyberspace offshoot of the La Brea Avenue store was generating a few thousand hits a week, according to Gunnarsson. Billed as Hollywood’s first virtual video store, https://rocketvideo.com/ includes a popular movie locator service.

Requests come for “the obscure stuff, by and large,” he says. “We get a lot of requests for early ‘80s releases, cult or foreign classics--not ‘Pulp Fiction,’ I can tell you that. It seems people on the Net are real up on films. They’re real aficionados.”

And sometimes they seem more intent on showing off than buying movies, according to Mark Vrieling. As the owner of a small Seattle chain linked to Film.com, an encyclopedic film resource found at https://www.film.com/video/, Vrieling has received some requests he considers less than sincere.

“They would say they wanted a copy of ‘The Stepford Wives’ when they knew it was out of print,” Vrieling says.

To offset this problem, Vrieling added a pull-down pricing screen so users could indicate how much they’d be willing to pay. Scarecrow Video, another Seattle store linked to Film.com, charges a $15 search fee, which covers some of the long-distance calls, owner George Latsios says. The retailer, who plans to beef up his online catalog to include movie descriptions, gets a wide range of requests for “everything from the most obscure to mainstream,” he says.

Titles with a Generation X appeal are a hit with visitors to Videoplex (https://www.videoplex.com), a site started as a hobby by Tim Schneider and three of his co-workers in Long Beach Memorial Hospital’s information services department.

Cheesy horror flicks and Mexican wrestling movies are popular.

“One-half of our sales have been in schlocky movies--that and the Bowery Boys,” Schneider says. “I think it’s because a lot of people on the Internet are Generation X-ers.”

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So far, most of their sales come from the East Coast, not closer to home.

“We seemed to get a lot of orders during the snowstorm back there,” he says. “I think a lot of people were cruising the Net, looking for things to do.”

Despite all the hype about the Internet, sales haven’t exactly been as robust as some had hoped. One reason: an ongoing reluctance by consumers to conduct financial transactions over the Internet, which most cyber shopkeepers try to get around by offering a variety of payment options.

“There are a lot of looky-loos and not too many people actually putting money down and making an order,” says Brad Kugler, president of DV&A;, a Florida distributor online since June. “We thought we would build it, and they would come. They haven’t.”

“We thought it would be like a lottery ticket and we could all retire, but we’re only getting two, three sales a day,” Schneider says. “Right now, it’s not even breaking even.”

Others are making money--if not much--and remain bullish on cyber selling, believing it to be only a matter of time before more people start getting their video fixes online. “It’s early,” Vrieling says. “And we’ve established a beachhead.”


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