Disappearing videos -- Distributors pull classic children's videos like ''The Little Mermaid'' off shelves to create a demand for reissues

You expect your local bookstore to carry classic children’s books, even those first published decades ago. But don’t assume your video store will have treasured movies on tape — even if the films came out just last year.

In fact, some 200 well-known children’s videos are out of print. Kids’ titles suffer in particular because prolific producer Disney is also stingy: As a marketing ploy, the company often places a moratorium on videos, rereleasing each for a specific (and varying) amount of time, and then pulling it off the shelves for years to create demand for reissues. Right now, The Little Mermaid is no longer being shipped to retailers; Beauty and the Beast will be unavailable after April 2.

Norman Scherer, owner of the Video Oyster, a New York City mail-order supplier of rare tapes, says that before Christmas, parents desperate for The Little Mermaid paid as much as $200 a copy. Scherer notes wryly, ”Disney’s marketing strategy works quite well.”

So does Turner Broadcasting’s. When its 24-hour Cartoon Network premiered this October, many titles from Hanna Barbera’s library, which Turner bought in 1991, were discontinued. Now if you want to own certain episodes of Yogi Bear or Scooby-Doo, each tape will set you back $45.

In addition, smaller video distributors ”don’t have the budgets to keep enormous inventories,” Scherer says. ”It’s a new-release mentality.”

What to do? For a particular tape, try the public library. Or Scherer’s catalog can usually help you. Otherwise, you simply have to buy the video when it’s available. And treat your tapes with care: That copy of Lady and the Tramp under the couch, pizza-grease fingerprints notwithstanding, is worth about $85.