Many retail outlets report success with books, audiotapes and videocassettes associated with the O.J. Simpson murder case. But supermarket sales and customer reactions are mixed.
According to a recent trade report, the 90-minute Time Warner audiobook "I Want to Tell You," by O.J. Simpson, has been a hit in supermarkets.
But while some retailers polled by SN said the "I Want to Tell You" book and audiotape are moving well in their book and video departments, others said the items are not as popular as predicted.
Some, meanwhile, have decided that products associated with such a sensational murder trial are not appropriate for supermarket family-oriented clientele.
Carr Gottstein, Anchorage, Alaska, "isn't carrying anything that has to do with O.J.," said Gary Schloss, vice president of general merchandise.
Nor is Jitney Jungle, Jackson, Miss., said Allen Booth, assistant director of general merchandise. "I'm just not sure the sensationalism of something like that [case] is anything we'd care to get involved in," Booth said.
Terry Lipelt, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Rezound, a Minneapolis-based video distributor, said some retailers may be embarrassed to carry the audiotape because of the "tabloid mentality" of the product. However, many have chosen to stock it "because the public demands it -- and the customer is king. We are here to serve the customer." Lipelt said his company has supplied the "I Want to Tell You" audiotape to about 700 supermarkets across the country. "The numbers speak for themselves," he said of the amount of grocers who have ordered the tape. "It's been a success."
Lipelt said the audiobook, which contains several passages of O.J. Simpson speaking, has done more to increase consumer awareness of audiobooks than almost any other title in video history.
Bel Air Markets, Sacramento, Calif., has had trouble keeping it on the shelves of its video department, said Rick Ang, director of video operations.
"Rental demand for the 'I Want to Tell You' audiotape continues to surge at our six video rental departments of Bel Air Markets," he said. The retailer usually purchases one copy of an audiobook per location. It ordered two copies of the O.J. audiotape and both have been renting at each location about five to six times a week. "The audiobook is doing quite well," Ang said. "It's been out on rental almost every day since we've had it. Demand is running very strong." Ang reports that the audiotape version of Faye Resnick's "Nicole Brown Simpson; Diary of a Life Interrupted," by Dove Audio, is doing equally well. "We have one copy of that title per location and it goes out pretty much every day," he said. Bel Air was initially hesitant to purchase O.J. products because of the sensational nature of the case, but opted to carry the audiotape based on customer demand, Ang said.
"There's still quite a bit of interest out there, and we're just trying to fill that demand," he said.
Many supermarket customers are not only interested in renting the audiotape, but also in purchasing the hardcover book version. In three days, Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C., sold out its shipment of 12 books displayed at each of its 172 stores, according to Tony Federico, vice president of nonfood.
As successful as it was, though, the book won't be reordered. "I like to run a title like that while it's hot, sell it out quickly and then move on to the next hot title," Federico said. "In books, you've got a three-week window when you should sell all or most copies of a hot title. If not, you might as well forget it. With the O.J. book, I was just happy to bring that promotion in and watch it sell out."
But not all supermarket retailers report success with, or even interest in, O.J.-related products. Tom Dyrhaug, video coordinator at Fleming Cos.' GM division, La Crosse, Wis., said of its 350 supermarkets, only one retailer ordered a copy of the videocassette "The O.J. Simpson Story," a compilation of events leading up to the Simpson trial. Retailing for $53.97, the video is being released by FoxVideo with a March 21 street date. "Our retailers didn't appear too interested in capitalizing on the O.J.case, which seems to parallel media polls that people have had enough of the trial," Dyrhaug said.
Some chains have avoided carrying any books, audiotapes or videos connected with the Simpson case to avoid the appearance of capitalizing on the notoriety that it has generated. "We decided not to go with anything on O.J. -- videos, books or audiobooks -- since people would rather tune into CNN and see the real thing," said Tim Harrison, video supervisor at Food Giant Supermarkets, Sykeston, Mo.
Harrison said the company hasn't had much success with audiobooks in general. "It's rare that we get a request for anything in particular in audiobooks, including anything that relates to the O.J. case," he said.
Jitney Jungle's Booth said his company has not been approached with either the book or audiotape. But even if it had, it would have opted against carrying it.
"We're not doing anything with it, nor do I see us getting into those products," he said. "We had previously committed for space for shippers and floor displays at video rental and book centers. If we had brought the O.J. items in, there would have been no slots available for them since we have other nonfood displays up in those sections."
Booth said Jitney Jungle would much rather try to sell "The Lion King" video, which is going on display March 1, than go with O.J. products.