Cashing In On The
Altered Perceptions
in the "Book" Market

by Craig Stark

#50, 16 January 2006

Why DVDs Work for Booksellers

Something I'm always on the lookout for when I'm scouting are common, profitable items that dovetail into what I'm already doing with books. Take DVDs. They behave almost exactly like paperbacks. They're about the same size and shape; if taken care of (unlike VHS tapes), they last indefinitely; you can look them up on ScoutPal when you're scouting; they're a snap to list on, say, Amazon Marketplace; and when you sell them, you can use the same packing materials you use for books. And - if you decide to sell them on eBay, why, you can use precisely the same photographic techniques. And don't forget about flashpoints. Many book flashpoints also extend to DVDs.

Sometimes, of course, DVDs actually are (audio) books, and sometimes movies, music, and so on, and you can find them in many of the places you already look for books. What I'm getting at is this: if you'll simply alter your perception of books to include DVDs, you can immediately exploit this market for significant profit without making a single substantive change to your business operation. Additional revenue without additional expense of money or time is what we're all looking for, right?

Ok, another similarity. The DVD market works much like the book market. There are hot spots and cold spots and everything in between, and collectors are everywhere. Obviously, you need to pick your spots with audio books, movies, and music, but there's one collector-driven sector of the DVD market that I think all BookThinkers should pay special attention to in 2006. Its growth has exploded in the past year especially, and prices are strong almost entirely up and down the line. If you haven't figured out where I'm going yet, I'm referring to TV series.

Yes, thanks to the introduction of DVD technology, entire seasons or runs of TV series can now be produced on a handful of DVDs. And not just major TV series are being reproduced. Relatively obscure series are popping up as well. Some are shows that were never syndicated - never run again after the year they first appeared. And not just old shows. Newer ones as well. Virtually everything you can think of.

And, best of all, almost everything sells, sometimes for surprising amounts. As booksellers, we already how passionate collectors are about books - their form and content. Form, obviously, isn't a factor in TV series collecting; it's all about content, but passion can run very high notwithstanding. Baby boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV, and now that many of them are reaching retirement and have money to spend, guess what? They're spending it on nostalgia - the things they loved when they were kids.

One interesting aspect of this is that many classic TV shows are now in the public domain. They can be reproduced on DVD, that is, without the expense of acquiring rights. In some cases this translates into more copies being available and, in turn, softer prices than newer, copyright-protected series, but not always.

Example: if you grew up in the 50s, you might recall a TV series called Adventures in Paradise. Adam Troy (played by Gardner McKay) captained the schooner Tiki III and sailed to many adventures in the South Seas. The series was notable for its exceptional quality. James Michener had a hand in it - created it, in fact - and many gifted directors and guest actors made appearances. It was one of my favorites, and I recall being disappointed when it ceased production after only three years, and I continued to be disappointed in later years because I never once saw it re-aired.

Like many other series from the 50s, Adventures in Paradise is now in the public domain, and last month I ran across a 65-episode 22-DVD set on eBay with an opening bid of $9.99. Seemed very affordable to me, and I thought, well, I'll just enter a snipe bid of $30 or $40 - surely nobody would bid higher than that for a 50-year-old, relatively obscure TV series - and add it to my DVD library. Imagine my surprise when I received a "Bid Not High Enough" email from eSnipe when the auction closed, and it wasn't like I'd just missed snagging it. Final price: $202!

What's also surprising to me is that relatively new TV series that are still in syndication and are regularly, sometimes endlessly, aired as reruns also, often, get bid up to three figures. Collectors, of course, want both the complete series and the freedom to watch episodes of their choosing.

So, if you give this a shot the next time you're at sales, what do you look for? Let's keep it simple - everything. Sell-though on TV series DVDs is unusually high, almost no matter what it is, and prices rarely fall into the not-worth-bothering-with range. This is so simple that you don't even have to use your bookselling instincts. Just keep this principle in mind: when it comes to TV, there's no accounting for taste. If you think The Dukes of Hazard was the dumbest thing ever produced by humankind, your opinion in this context is irrelevant. There are countless collectors who think it was a watershed interlude in television history - and they'll pay $20 to $30 a season for the privilege of reliving it.

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