- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

Christians have a growing passion for the myriad of merchandise connected with actor/director Mel Gibson’s blockbuster movie that chronicles the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.

Pins, pendants, bracelets, necklaces, key chains, books and mugsare among the hottest licensed products related to “The Passion of the Christ,” which raked in nearly $118 million during its first five days at the box office.

“We had no idea that [the movie] was going to have such an impact on our current culture,” said Bob Poskitt, owner of the Christian Bookshop in Annapolis, Bowie and Gaithersburg. “It went from being a Hollywood project to something people could identify with.”

Mr. Poskitt’s stores began selling the movie’s licensed merchandise last month. The official $25 coffee-table book “The Passion,” which includes photos from the movie set, is sold out. His stores also carry some of the official jewelry, the movie soundtrack and other related books.

The movie’s licensed merchandise from Christian gift and jewelry manufacturer Bob Siemon Designs can be found only in Christian stores. The company, which sells merchandise at about 5,000 Christian retailers in the United States, didn’t want its 25-to-30 movie-related products to be sold at mainstream stores like Target.

“We want to make sure the message behind the products gets communicated,” said Dwight Robinson, director of marketing for Bob Siemon Designs. “We’re not just about selling as much merchandise as we can.”

The products try to incorporate elements from the movie. For instance, “Isaiah 53:5” is inscribed on a pewter cross pendant and on a nail pendant. The company has sold 100,000 of each pendant since Feb. 15.

On some products that are big enough the biblical verse is written out: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

“This was a terrific opportunity for people to share their faith,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s a way for people to remember the movie or help share their faith with someone else.”

In January, Bob Siemon started selling witness cards, which have movie images and scripture passages. Since then, 1.5 million have been sold, Mr. Robinson said.

The official coffee-table book, published by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., has been flying off shelves across the country.

The first 150,000 copies hit Christian and mainstream bookstores the first week of February.

Without any advertising or promotion, the books immediately began to sell, said Dan Balow, executive director of Tyndale International Publishing Services.

“By the end of the first week most of the retailers had sold half of their inventory,” Mr. Balow said. “We knew this was going to be big.”

Since last month, an emergency 15,000 copies have been printed and an additional 250,000 copies will be in stores by next week.

Mr. Balow said there is some risk involved in printing this many copies of the book.

“You want to be able to ride the wave and meet the demand, but it may go away as quickly as it came,” Mr. Balow said.

After the initial hype from the movie dies down, officials at Bob Siemon and Tyndale expect steady sales in the weeks leading up to Easter on April 11 and business to pick up again when the movie is released on DVD later this year.

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