Christmas shoppers, take note: If you've dropped a copy or two of a movie on a low-priced videocassette into your cart in the past few weeks, you're not just making progress on your shopping list, you're making history. So hold the findings presented recently at the International Tape Association's annual forecasting seminar, which identified as the new seat of financial power in the movie business not the box office, not even the rental counter, but the cash register where tapes are purchased. According to research presented by Joe Annechino, Orion Home Video vice president for business development, the end-of-the-year tallies will find that the movie studios and other suppliers of programming on cassette have earned more this year from their low-priced tapes than from their higher-priced cassettes directed at the rental market.

While the margin is small -- $1.95 billion in sales-priced receipts compared with $1.9 million earned from tapes priced for rental -- the spectacle of the sales market overtaking the rental-business ledgers represents yet another confirmation of the radical shift in movie industry economics that became evident when video revenues first outstripped the studio's share of domestic box office receipts several years back. And the trend shows no signs of slowing: The idea that sales-priced tapes would net more studio dollars than rental cassettes so soon seemed unlikely last year, when the market's high end still held a 20 percent margin over the sales side of the business.

In terms of consumer spending, however, rentals still rule the day: While tape buyers shelled out an estimated $2.8 billion to take their tapes home for good, renters spent roughly $6.6 billion on their one-to three-night stands. (The fact that studios don't receive any of the rental revenues -- they just sell the tapes to the stores that rent them -- accounts for the apparent discrepancy between revenues and studio profits.) All told, consumers spent $9.4 billion to buy or rent tapes this year -- up $1 billion from 1989, and $1 billion off next year's estimated combined sum. The bad news for the industry as a whole is that while consumers are buying more tapes, they are renting fewer; while cassette renters spent almost $3 for every dollar spent by tape purchasers in 1989, the margin is expected to shrink to 2-to-1 by the end of next year. The average VCR household, according to Annechino, will have rented a total of 40 tapes this year -- down from 43 in 1988.

Kids Today Many would-be -- and should-be -- dieters endure and excuse the excesses of the holiday season with promises of new attitudes and fitness regimes in the coming year. Enough of them invest in fitness tapes each January to make it the category's biggest month year after year. Now they can ply their children with holiday treats without remorse and look forward to video help for their families from the expert herself, Jane Fonda, whose first foray into juvenile gym class on tape will reach stores before the Christmas break has ended. Fonda shows up as host and consultant on "Fun House Fitness," a two-tape series from Fonda's own home label, Warner Home Video. Starring J.D. Roth, young host of the syndicated children's series "Fun House," the two 35-minute programs aim to tax tots' bodies and minds with exercises designed to engage viewers who need more incentive and inspiration than the premise of developing their own Fonda physique. In "Fun House Safari," designed for 4- to 8-year-olds, young viewers are invited to dance along with a series of "fitness-conscious animals" encountered in the Fun House Jungle. Aimed at children ages 7 and up, "Fun House Funk" caters to its slightly older demographic with dance routines that would look at home on MTV. Both volumes are due in stores early next month priced at $19.98 each.

Artistry in Linen The educational capabilities of the VCR, it seems, have only begun to be tapped. In time -- barely -- for holiday entertaining, a Southern California educator has formed her own company to produce and market an instructional videocassette that the rest of the world might not otherwise have known it needed. "The Art of Table Napkin Folding" ($19.95, NUVO Ltd., Chula Vista, Calif.) packs 23 "table-enhancing designs" into 34 minutes of on-screen demonstrations presented, the company notes, with an accompanying original music score without "distracting verbal instructions"; apparently there are still some artists who feel that art speaks best when it speaks for itself.