Oliver Stone's $155-million movie Alexander, which opens November 24 and stars Colin Farrell as the conqueror and Angelina Jolie as his mother, was tagged early on as an Oscar contender by USA Today and the Hollywood Reporter, though the buzz hasn't been quite so positive lately. And while many publishers have jumped on the bandwagon with dozens of new and reprinted titles about the Macedonian general, chains and independent booksellers are divided about the size of the market for such piggybacking books as well as the film's likely impact.
Borders and Barnes & Noble noted that book sales are less dependent on the film's commercial performance than on its $60-million marketing budget—not to mention publicity surrounding the History Channel documentary about Alexander that aired in early November; an Ubisoft video game based on the film that's due in late November; and the October DVD release of the 1956 film Alexander the Great (MGM) starring Richard Burton. "If the movie's a success, that's great," said Barnes & Noble merchandising v-p Bob Wietrak. "But even if it's not a success, people who are interested in it will come to the store and look for books about the person and the time period. We saw that with Troy. The books did very well and the movie wasn't perceived as a huge success."
Booksellers across the board said that the two titles most likely to benefit from the timing of Stone's film are
Steven Pressfield's The Virtues of War (Doubleday, Oct.) and the official tie-in,
Robin Lane Fox's The Making of Alexander (R and L, dist. by Consortium; Nov.). At Barnes & Noble, Pressfield's novel appeared on front-of-store stanchions in October and was placed amid an end-cap selection of Alexander titles that included
Paul Doherty'sThe Death of Alexander the Great (Carroll & Graf, July) and
Lewis V. Cummings'sAlexander the Great (Grove, July).
Borders's world history and military history book buyer Ann Cassidy agreed that, "A lot of this market is generated by the film, but it's not really dependent on the success of the film." This year, with the release of the movie Troy in May, the Olympics in August in Athens and this film in November, Borders tried to do an entire Greek year from April through December. Since October 1, the chain has featured large stand-up displays, end-caps and bays with about 20 titles on the subject displayed face-out.
In addition to Lane Fox's official tie-in, Borders spotlighted Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past (Overlook, Aug.; 35,000 first printing) by
Paul Cartledge, who served as the academic consultant for Becoming Alexander, a documentary on both the historical figure and the making of Alexander that will begin airing on the Discovery Channel on November 24. The chain also featured Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness (Random House, Nov.) by
Guy MacLean Rogers and Alexander: The Conqueror (Da Capo, Sept.) by
But many of the independent booksellers that PW spoke with took a wait-and-see approach out of concern that, in the words of Lynda Fitzgerald, events coordinator for the 10 Barbara's Bookstores in Chicago, "there's so much out there that people are not going to know what to buy." Likewise, the seven Joseph-Beth stores don't plan to display Alexander the Great books on a special table. Though the mini-chain has stocked up on the Lane Fox and Pressfield titles, as well as the Modern Library edition of
Plutarch's The Life of Alexander the Great (Apr.), there was too much competition from holiday merchandise for the titles to merit their own tables, according to marketing v-p Michele Sulka.
At Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C., buyer/manager Sarah Goddin said, "If the movie doesn't do well, you just don't get the same ripple." (Children's movies appear the exception to the rule: While the recent The Polar Express [Houghton, 1985] with Tom Hanks was widely panned by critics, it has increased sales of the book.)
The national chains, meanwhile, are hoping that the spark of history interest ignited by the release of Alexander will continue to burn. Cassidy suggested: "Next year, HBO's Rome series starts, and ABC is also doing a miniseries on Augustus. I'm anticipating that people are going to work their way through Greece and move on to Rome."