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Short Prebooks Cause Retail Consternation

13 Feb, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

King Kong on DVD is due March 28, retailers believe, without an official announcement from the studio.

Snafus over prebooking and apparent release date leaks to consumer sources are causing consternation among some retailers and industry observers.

Industry analyst Ralph Tribbey ranted in his Feb. 13 DVD Release Report about the lack of an announcement for Universal' Studios' Peter Jackson tour de force King Kong, although Web sites such as Amazon.com and Netflix are taking prebooks for a March 28 release.

A Universal spokesperson said other Web sites sometimes speculate about unannounced release dates even though the studio has not made a formal announcement. The date for King Kong is on the company's press Web site, though.

Independent retailers have been concerned that studios are holding back on release dates and shortening prebook periods for big hits such as 20th Century Fox's Walk the Line.

Although a Fox spokesman said Feb. 7 that the street date for Walk the Line had not yet been announced, days before it began to pop up on online sites as Feb. 28th, Tribbey said.

Amazon.com offered no date or prebook on Walk the Line as of Feb. 13, but the description for a two-disc collector's edition of the movie included this invitation: “The studio is currently not producing this title, but to be notified when it is available, enter your e-mail address at right. You'll also be voting for this release; we'll let the studio know how many customers are waiting for this title.” It indicated that the list price would be $39.98 but the set would be available new priced from $27.99.

Preprinted banners hanging from the new release racks at Wal-Mart stores list titles scheduled to become available within a given month; the February banners showed Feb. 28 as the street date for Walk the Line long before the title was formally announced. Information on the studio's press Web site has been posted and changed sporadically.

“How can we budget? More basic, how can we order other titles not knowing what is coming on any given release date and when will it be announced?” lamented one indie retailer.

Indies complained on the iDEA discussion board that they were getting shadow solicitations for the title without knowing the date, and warnings that they would have just 48 hours after the date is announced to prebook.

“I think it's because it's still doing so well in the theaters,” a source in distribution said. “They wanted us to sell it but they didn't want to announce a home video date yet.”

“Having a prebook date before officially announcing a title totally defeats the reason for prebooking,” independent retailer Tom Hannah posted on the discussion board. “I think that as the window between theatrical and video shrinks the time between prebook and street date must also shrink. That is, unless the studios like working with incomplete data.”

Another rentailer said a short prebook window will force him to get product at Wal-Mart.

Others seem unaffected.

“I checked with our buyers and they said they have had no issues,” a Best Buy spokesperson said.

A Fox spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the strategy.

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