Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
Likenesses of Pope John Paul II are shown at a souvenir stand near the Via della Conciliazione in Rome, the main boulevard to the Vatican, earlier this month.
updated 4/23/2005 9:43:52 PM ET 2005-04-24T01:43:52

While the election of Pope Benedict XVI met with jubilation in Vatican City and around the world, the new pontiff has yet to become a bestseller in the souvenir trade.

A U.S. company selling religious books and pictures has seen a flurry of requests for items featuring Pope Benedict XVI, and publishers say there has been immediate demand for his many books. But vendors around the Vatican this past week had few or no items featuring Benedict _ given that he'd just been elected _ and manufacturers of religious items in Italy said there had been no requests to make any in the days after his election. Pope John Paul II, meanwhile, continues to sell.

"We think people are very fond of the old pope, and we're waiting to get to know this one," said Letizia Falasco at Creazioni Falasco, which makes everything from religious medals to key chains. "I think people are still a little skeptical because they don't know him."

Some souvenir shop owners around the Vatican said they expected to get some Benedict items by Sunday, in time for his formal installation as pope. They said they had not heard from suppliers and had not tried to reach them to find out whether they would come in time.

Shops displayed the new pope's books prominently in their windows, but the photos, medals, key rings and postcards inside still showed his predecessor, John Paul.

A few people came in asking whether Souvenirs Traspontina was selling images of the new pope, clerk Carlo Bernardi said.

"I told them that no, we weren't clairvoyant," Bernardi said.

Estimates on religious memorabilia sales are hard to come by, but by most accounts it is a small market. Falasco said her company has sales of $2 million a year, of which 5 percent only comes from papal items. Creazioni Falasco probably represents 2 percent to 3 percent of the Italian market for religious items, she said. Other companies would not cite sales figures.

Experts say Benedict may be more of a marketing challenge than his predecessor, whose broad appeal translated into a princely demand for pictures and keepsakes with his likeness.

"It's a matter of whether the new pope is going to reach out as much and connect to the various constituencies around the world as much as the previous pope," said Roland Rust, chairman of the University of Maryland's marketing department.

"He's a powerful symbol no matter what, but connecting as a personality creates another dimension."

But it could just be a matter of time before demand picks up for items with Benedict's likeness, said Richard Pomazal, a professor of marketing at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

"Obviously, the former pope was around for 25 years," Pomazal said. "Pope Benedict is new and apparently not the 'in' thing."

John Paul's death also means that items featuring him are destined to become collectibles, said Phillip E. Pfeifer, a professor of marketing at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.

"I think we're still going to see John Paul a lot," agreed Roberto Stiller, who has been running his souvenir stand near the Vatican for 30 years. "He was a great one."

Still, within hours of his election Tuesday, several books by the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger jumped onto the bestseller list of Amazon.com, including "Salt of the Earth," "The Ratzinger Report," "Introduction to Christianity" and his memoirs, "Milestones," which covers his life through 1977. Many of the books were not immediately available because of high demand.

Eight of his books were listed among the Web site's top 25 bestsellers.

At the religious Libreria Ave bookstore near the Vatican, manager Umberto Livadiotti said his stock of 50 books by the pope sold out within a few hours of the announcement that he had been elected. But he didn't expect it would last long, partly because the books by the new theologian pope were not easy reads.

"They're not within everyone's reach," Livadiotti said with a smile.

In the United States, at the Catholic Supply of St. Louis Inc., a global clearinghouse of everything from Church-related books to clerical apparel and school uniforms, the election of the new pope touched off a flurry of requests, the store's Lara Traina said.

The limited supply of books and pictures of Benedict were gone within minutes of his appointment, Traina said. Calls flooded in Tuesday with orders for color pictures and prayer cards of the new pontiff, prompting the store to order thousands of the items. Catholic Supply sells items bearing official portraits of the popes, reprints of photos obtained directly from the Vatican's press office.

Traina scrambled to update Catholic Supply's Web site with the news that Ratzinger pictures and prayer cards "will be available within days of the new Pope's election."

"I haven't run the numbers. I've seriously been so busy," Traina said. "But it's safe to say we have thousands of holy cards on order."

But Falasco, whose company is based in the central Italian town of Loreto, said she was in no hurry to put out items featuring Benedict and estimated it would take about a month to make medals bearing the pontiff's likeness.

"But a client called today to ask for medals of John Paul II," Falasco said.

On Thursday, Falasco got a few orders for Benedict items, but "people were ordering with much caution," partly because of the slow economy, she said.

At another factory, Gorgoni Plastek in southern Italy, an employee said the company has received no calls.

"I think there's going to be a gradual transition," Antonella De Metrio said. "There's a tie of affection with the old pope."

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