"Where? Where?" writes Mrs. E. Andrade of Barstow. "Where can I find the video I read about in The Times?" If there's a note of desperation in this reader's request, it's not the only one we've been hearing lately.
Andrade wants to know where she can find "Gameplan," a videocassette reviewed in our new Tuesday column, Home Tech. Other readers have been writing and calling, wondering where to find other tapes mentioned there or in the Thursday VideoLog.
Movies are easy enough to find. Music videocassettes and children's tapes are fairly well-stocked at most stores, too. But tracking down anything beyond that can be a challenge. An informal phone survey of video stores confirmed the reader complaints: Though a lot of how-to, self-help, documentary, informational and unusual videocassettes are being released these days, they remain tough to find.
Video stores have been popping up around Southern California like toadstools after a rain. Most are small, neighborhood operations. They're where many people go first when looking for a video.
I called a few of these and asked if they had any of the following recent releases: "The Baby-Safe Home," "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey," "You Can Win" (a how-to-negotiate tape) and "Mary Lou Retton's Workout for Kids"--all well-promoted, big-company tapes. I also asked about a couple of more esoteric releases: "Kerouac," a documentary on the author, and "Poetry in Motion," containing performances by contemporary poets--new "alternative" videos that don't have a big advertising budget but still must find their spot in the video marketplace.
They're not having much luck.
The response at Video Plus, which has been in business for eight months on Olympic Boulevard, was typical.
"Are these movies?" asked the puzzled clerk after I'd named three.
I explained what the tapes were and named the others.
"No, we don't have any of those."
Were they just rented out?
"No, we don't have them at all."
Store manager Eunice Lee came on the line and explained why: "We mainly just rent movies--whatever's hot right now. We don't have much demand for those other videos."
Doesn't she have any interest in carrying at least one each of the more prominent "alternative" videos, in case someone wants to buy them?
"Not much. We sell a few music and workout tapes, but that's about it. We can't compete with some of the bigger stores there. We have to deal with a middle man while they deal directly with the company and get the tapes for less. We don't make as big a profit on sales."
At Tower Video on Sunset Boulevard, one of the largest video stores in Southern California, manager Mike Williams confirmed this. "A lot of those stores buy from a 'one-stop,' a middle man, where we buy directly from the companies. We try to make sure we're well-stocked."
Even at that, Tower didn't have three of the above videos on the day I spoke to Williams. "A lot of the tapes are out in rental during the holidays," he said. "But we'll usually have them."
Bob Stein, whose Voyager Press distributes "Poetry in Motion," indicated that Tower was exceptional. "It's the only store that took multiple copies of 'Poetry,' " he said. Stein has been fairly satisfied with the response of "the stores that would be most likely" to carry "Poetry," though others "that would have a substantial chance to sell it," including many book stores, have been hard to crack, he said.
Besides Tower, other video stores that seem to carry more alternative tapes are Videotheque (in Beverly Hills and Westwood), Movideo and Vidiots (both in Santa Monica). Book chains like B. Dalton, Crown and Waldenbooks are carrying more cassettes (video and audio) all the time; something like a cooking video might be more easily found there.
It's still going to be difficult to find certain videos, but the situation "will get better," according to Court Shannon, executive vice president of Karl-Lorimar, a company that has been successful with mainly non-movie products, ranging from the Jane Fonda workouts to a recent video bartender's guide.
"Even though renting feature films will remain the driving force of the business," Shannon said, "the film libraries are becoming more depleted and you'll see more alternative videos. There will be something of a transition from a rental mode to sale mode.
"As hard as it is to find some videos now, it used to be worse. We're getting our product more easily into several kinds of stores--from Licorice Pizza to Wherehouse to Tower to mass-merchandise stores like K mart and Target. And most of our tapes make a profit--though it hasn't been without a struggle."
Shannon suggested that the customer do some struggling, too, and not give up too easily in locating a tape. "Often you'll find you're not talking to the most knowledgeable sales person--there's a lot of uninformed part-time help. Sometimes if you ask for the manager, you'll get a different response."
Another resort is calling the company that puts out the video you want. Video magazine, available at newsstands, lists phone numbers for many companies at the end of its list of new releases each month.
For Andrade's "Gameplan" tape, that would be (800) 423-7455 for U.S.A. Video. Perhaps they'll tell her which Barstow store has it, or a way to get "Gameplan" through the mail. Otherwise, a long drive to Los Angeles may be the only solution--and even that may prove fruitless until all those "moms and pops" start getting interested in other things besides movies.
TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES
(courtesy Billboard magazine)
1--"Beverly Hills Cop" (Paramount).
3--"White Christmas" (Paramount).
4--"Jane Fonda's New Workout" (Karl-Lorimar)
5--"The Best of John Belushi" (Warner).
TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS
1--"Beverly Hills Cop" (Paramount).
2--"Ghostbusters" (RCA Columbia).
4--"The Emerald Forest" (Embassy).
5--"Brewster's Millions" (MCA).