Why Isn't This A Big Business?
November 20, 2006 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Why don't movie theaters sell merchandise for the films in the lobby?

Maybe this happens from time to time, but at least in the theaters I frequent in NYC, candy and popcorn is all you can buy in the lobby. There's plenty of times I hear a good soundtrack at a movie, and I would buy it right away if I could, and it seems like theaters could make a mint on selling toys from the kids movies...

So why isn't this a normal part of the business already?
posted by extrabox to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It does happen occasionally (mostly with kids' films)
On the whole, however, I suspect that it has a lot to do with distribution, stocking and inventory issues.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:43 AM on November 20, 2006

There's not enough mark up on merchandise to justify the additional space and staffing requirements. Soda and candy are pure profit for the house, marked up hundreds of percent in the case of candy and thousands of percent in the case of fountain sodas. With movie tie-in merchandise, most of the sale price goes to the film studio, with just a small percentage for the vendor.
posted by Optamystic at 5:06 AM on November 20, 2006

Oh, and I forgot to mention popcorn. That shit is hot-buttered cash. What do you think a 50 LB bag of popping corn costs a cinema chain? Maybe ten dollars. They can turn that into thousands of cartons of popped corn, at 3-5 bucks per unit.

The concession stand is the only reason cinemas still exist as somewhat profitable enterprises.
posted by Optamystic at 5:12 AM on November 20, 2006

When the cinemas near me were owned by Virgin, they had a mini-Virgin Megastore in the lobby selling CDs and DVDs. But Virgin do that sort of thing anyway. And they don't own cinemas any more.
posted by corvine at 5:34 AM on November 20, 2006

I've seen vending machines that sell movie soundtracks in theater lobbies before. They are always full; nobody buys them.

Yeah, it's mostly a mark-up thing. There's really no money in it for the theater unless they waaaay over charge. Those soundtrack vending machines? Eighteen bucks for a cd. Same thing at best buy or amazon for twelve. Or just get the tracks you want at itunes.
posted by dogwalker at 5:37 AM on November 20, 2006

Landmark Theaters do this - It started off as just selling the DVD releases of movies that had played there - Control Room, etc. Later, it moved to other classic Cinema fare - Sex, Lies and Videotape, Pink Flamingos, and a handful of others. They also sell the soundtracks of the movies that were doing well. The Garden State soundtrack was for sale for a looooong time. And now that I think about it some more, they do book tie-ins as well. They were selling In Cold Blood when Capote was playing.

Have you been to the Sunshine recently? I don't know if they're participating, but I have a hard time believing they wouldn't, since policy at Landmark is dictated from the top, just like every other chain.

I was never a manager, so I don't know what percentage of sales these kinds of items made up. I've got to guess that it's small, especially if the Landmark in question has a liquor license. I think it's less a profit thing, and more a "Let's make our distributors happy by appropriating a small amount of our real estate to this thing that hardly ever sells."
posted by god hates math at 7:19 AM on November 20, 2006

I'd guess it's also risk-aversion on the part of the theater. If they order a pile of soundtrack CDs for Starship Troopers III and the movie sux so bad that no one goes to see it, someone is going to lose a lot of money on those discs.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2006

I remember they tried, during the first Christopher Reeve "Superman" in 1978. An incredibly obnoxious ad came on just before the feature, touting Kryptonite Necklaces for sale in the lobby. As I recall, nobody showed any interest in the display.
posted by Rash at 8:37 AM on November 20, 2006

You'd also miss the non-movie-goers. It seems like the only natural place to display and sell merchandise would be at the snack counter, which a customer would need a ticket to reach. At Starbucks, which seems like a natural comparable, you don't need to buy coffee to buy their other crap. Not that this issue would be a dealbreaker itself, but it's another item for the "cons" column.

In my short time in NYC, I saw quite a few movies at the Landmark Sunshine theater (mentioned by god hates math above) and I seem to remember that they sold a handful of DVDs at the ticket counter. I can't imagine they did much volume though. The volume required to make this worthwhile at a mainstream theater would quickly overwhelm the ticket booth, both in terms of manpower and inventory/display requirements.
posted by mullacc at 8:55 AM on November 20, 2006

The coolest I've seen in a theater is in Madrid at the Filmoteca Cine Dore where they had an excellent bookstore with a huge selection of everything related to films and film-making. Books relating to the current films were showcased.

Of course it is operated by the Ministry of Culture but still that place was one of the most popular theaters in the city. When they did a retrospective of all Robert Wise films last year, tickets had to be bought at least a day in advance if you wanted to see a particular movie. An attached bookstore might only fly in a few places in the states though.
posted by JJ86 at 9:02 AM on November 20, 2006

Merchandise in the lobby = merchandise that can walk off. You need to dedicate personnel to the shop. That means that the low-margin merchandise must not only pay for itself, it must pay for the wages of the people you've got minding the store, and only then do you begin to profit.
posted by kindall at 9:18 AM on November 20, 2006

Best answer: I think the biggest reason is that, however imaginitive they may be in other areas, movie and music industry people are notoriously unimiginitive in the area of opening-up new distribution channels.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2006

In support of my above comment, see Lawrence Lessig's book (free download) here.

While I don't believe the book covers this particular facet of the industry, it does a rather damning job describiing the general mindset.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:30 AM on November 20, 2006

About fifteen years ago I used to frequent a little arthouse cinema in Australia, and they sold merch for every film that came through. I still don't know if the merch came from the film distributors or if the cinema staff came up with it themselves, but I prefer to imagine the latter. When Delicatessen came out, they sold little gold pig brooches for two bucks, and when Naked Lunch was screening, they had little sachets of sherbet with a plastic cockroach inside, labelled "BUG POWDER".

I loved that place.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:39 AM on November 24, 2006

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