Judging a DVD by its Cover

Emily Lowe
Everyone has heard the expression "You can't judge a book by its cover." But, like it or not, most consumers judge adult DVDs by their box covers. Cover art is what makes a consumer select one movie and not another from the shelf. And a quick perusal of the back art typically is what sways his decision to either put the movie back or bring it to the checkout counter.

"In this industry, where there are hundreds of new DVDs being produced monthly, [the box cover] is the only way to stand out in the crowd, to get attention and to seduce consumers," Raging Stallion spokesperson Kent says.

Arnold Stein, owner of Old Pueblo Distribution, adds that in his experience, cover art is responsible for "about 85 percent of a title's success."

The 1984 box cover for "Ginger," starring Ginger Lynn, is a perfect example. The cover is widely credited with launching fledgling Vivid Entertainment into the stratosphere.

Vivid founders Steve Hirsch and David James sank a great deal of their budget for "Ginger" into creating the couples-friendly box cover. The results were phenomenal. The video sold 6,000 copies out the door and went on to gross nearly $700,000 and launched a line of sequels, including "The Ginger Effect," "Ginger and Spice" and "Gentlemen Prefer Ginger."

"The box cover is the point of purchase for consumers of adult movies," Greg, a graphic designer who works for several adult production companies, says. "The box cover is the bread and butter of producers and distributors."

Despite the potential power of a well-designed box cover, Greg says the drive to break even and pocket a decent — but not stellar — profit leads to apathy about packaging and design.

Many gonzo producers, he reports, approach him with box cover budgets ranging from $400-$800.

"The real world price for a decent box cover, not including the photo shoot, is between $1,500 and $3,000," he contends.

That's money well spent, according to John Rutherford, president of COLT Studio Group. Beyond the impulse-sales aspect, Rutherford says, a good box cover also contributes to a company's overall branding strategy.

"We want customers to know from anywhere in the store where the COLT Studio Group merchandise is," Rutherford tells XBiz, adding that attractive box covers are a crucial component of the company's hugely successful cross-merchandising efforts.

Ironically, though, some within the industry say that many consumers and critics distrust well-designed box covers.

"I don't buy movies based on box covers. I just don't," adult DVD reviewer Big Dick Salmon writes at "It's a bad habit to get into, and you usually wind up getting tricked by a lot of air brushing and false advertising."

At, writer Keith Bryan ranks box covers high on his list of "10 Things I Hate About Gay Porn."

"You, my friend, are the target audience for the great bait and switch," he wrote. "Generally speaking, a video studio will highlight a particular actor, or scene, on a box cover, often in the most flattering light possible. Be warned, things are not always what they seem."

Scott Hoover, an industry veteran who works with companies such as Video Team, Evolution and Platinum Blue Productions, agrees that what's inside the box matters most.

"Box art is definitely a marketing tool," he agrees. "Great cover art will attract the buyer or renter, [but] the ultimate success of any DVD is the sex scenes and how hot the performers are and if the audience is really turned on by the performances. If it is wrapped in a brown paper bag but the word of mouth is good on the sex, it will sell regardless of the package. It's really about delivering good product and focusing the packaging to make it sell to your desired audience."

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