Folks who found a copy of Myst or Doom II in their Christmas stockings aren't the only ones feeling merry these days. Though the hard numbers aren't in yet, retailers of CD-ROM software are already saying that holiday-season sales have firmly established interactive discs as a new class of home entertainment. ''This was really a turning point for the CD-ROM industry,'' says Jim McCullaugh, editorial director of the trade magazine MultiMedia Merchandising.
A comparison of December's software sales shows a rise of 26 percent over 1993's, according to PC Data, which tabulates best-selling discs. Overall holiday retail sales remained at. ''My December basically doubled my November, which was awesome,'' says Dave Sparks, owner of Interact!, a Pasadena, Calif., CD-ROM store.
One reason for the industry's growth is sales of computers and CD-ROM drives. While 4.9 million U.S. homes had computers equipped with CD-ROM drives in 1993, that number more than doubled by Christmas '94, estimates Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. Nearly 8 million drives were sold between October and December alone, Adams says, not all to multimedia newcomers. Sparks counted ''a lot'' of first-timers among his customers ''dads coming in saying, 'Hey, we're getting a computer in a couple days. Want to make sure we have something to play on Christmas morning.'''
But a Grinch lurks behind this Christmas. ''The scary thing facing the industry right now is you can pop a disc in and have it not work,'' Adams says. That means an angry return to the store. ''Worse,'' he adds, ''(a buyer will) struggle with it for a while then decide to never pop anything in the CD-ROM drive again.'' Even if discs do spin, the industry isn't home free. ''For every copy of Myst, there are 10 titles that are really subpar,'' McCullaugh says. ''Consumers may buy some crappy titles and get a sour taste in their mouth and say, 'Is this all there is?'''