Agent Mulder might call it a commercial conspiracy.
Despite a crush of consumer interest, merchandise based on the popular Fox Network series "The X-Files" remains much like the show's labyrinthine plots: hard to get unless you really work at it. And it's not by accident.
The dearth of products and the frenzy surrounding the items that are in stores was carefully calculated, according to licensing industry observers. Unlike "The Simpsons," "Star Trek" or other cult shows that have cashed in big with shoppers, makers of the hourlong thriller decided their more adult audience would view less as more.
"With 'The Simpsons,' that was the classic example of saturating--stuff was everywhere," said Rich Levitt, editor of the Licensing Book, a New York-based trade publication. "But with 'The X-Files' you're seeing something unusual. They are putting out very sleek, hard-to-get items that reflect the show's production values."
While most shoppers can easily find the six videos and more than a dozen books spawned by the spooky sci-fi hit, they are hard-pressed to get their hands on much of the apparel, trinkets and other specialty items. Levitt and other observers say the trickle of products is likely to keep fans interested in the tie-in products longer and generate a hunger for more.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Irene Keller of Carson had far more demand than supply, and even less patience. She shook her head with dismay after her hunt for "X-Files" gear at South Coast Plaza ended with just two paperback books and two videos for her husband.
"I wanted to get more, something he could take to the office," said Keller, a devout fan of the Sunday night show. "I'm really disappointed. I thought there would be more."
There is more: Key chains and computer mouse pads, sweatshirts, jackets and hats, trading cards, even bound copies of scripts. But try finding any of it. Some sci-fi stores, such as Mile High Comics in Garden Grove, have large selections of "X-Files" products, but even they can't keep pace with demand.
"X-Files" fans can expect more products to hit stores in 1997, according to Pat Wyatt, president of 20th Century Fox licensing and merchandising, which handles the show's goods. Meanwhile, Wyatt said, many of the show's faithful followers thrive on the hunt--just as their heroes, FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, chase down the truth about aliens and shadowy government conspiracies.
"The pursuit is part of the fun of it," Wyatt said. "We don't want products to be too mainstream. If fans see the products everywhere, it loses some appeal to them."