Fourteen of the 50 movies with the all-time largest U.S. box office totals are based on high-profile books from four series. The Harry Potter franchise accounts for seven of them, collectively generating more than $2 billion in U.S. ticket sales. The three Lord of the Rings films spurred ticket purchases of more than $1 billion, and the Twilight Saga (three movies to date) almost $900 million. The newest addition to the list, The Hunger Games, took in over $400 million in theaters this year. And the release of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will certainly add to these totals.
All four franchises were already bestselling book series prior to the films. Still, with their massive publicity and wide demographic appeal, blockbuster movies can boost the fortunes of the publishers upon whose books they are based.
“Both Harry Potter and the Hunger Games books were well established and hugely successful before the movies ever came on the horizon,” says Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic trade publishing, which publishes those two series in the U.S. Global sales of Harry Potter alone have exceeded 450 million units, with 150 million copies in print in the U.S. “But the buildup to the movie release can bring in new fans,” Berger says. “We get good placement in stores and the buzz from the movie leads to a bump in sales.”
Fourth-quarter 2012 sales in Scholastic’s book publishing and distribution group more than tripled over the same quarter the previous year, due to the release of the Hunger Games movie. “When a movie comes out based on a first book in a series, we see a spike in sales of the next book,” Berger adds. “New people are hooking onto the series and want to read on.”
Films offer the potential for tie-ins ranging from photo companions and movie editions of the original novels to formats for younger readers. “Movie tie-ins are a relatively small part of the franchise, with less than 10% of sales,” Berger reports. There are more than 50 million copies in print of the original Hunger Games trilogy, including more than 23 million of the first title, for example, compared with about two million copies of tie-ins to the first film.
But tie-ins help bring in new readers and excite existing fans. “The film tie-in titles serve as a bridge between the novel and the films,” says Ken Carpenter, v-p at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, U.S. publisher of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. “Titles like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide bring fans of The Hobbit closer to the characters and setting they know and love from the novel. They also get a look behind the scenes to see how the filmmakers bring the world of the book to life.”
Master publisher HarperCollins and its sublicensees, including HMH, have sold 150 million copies worldwide of Hobbit and LOTR books collectively over the past 75 years. Franchise sales increased tenfold for HMH as a result of the LOTR films in the early 2000s.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has published tie-in editions, with movie-based cover art and pullout posters, for all the Twilight films. With Breaking Dawn Part 2, it is in the unusual position of rereleasing the same novel as for Part 1, but with Part 2 artwork. “It’s the same book,” says Andrew Smith, v-p and deputy publisher. “But it provides our accounts with a new product that they can merchandise.”
In conjunction with Breaking Dawn: Part 2, LBYR is publishing a $40 gift book with pullouts, photos, and behind-the-scenes information on all the films, in lieu of the trade paper photo film companion format it released with the other Twilight movies. All told, it has sold a robust 1.8 million copies of its Twilight photo film companion series. Twilight books in all formats have sold 116 million copies globally.
“The appeal of the movie tie-in edition varies based on the film and the audience,” says Patricia Bostelman, v-p of marketing at Barnes & Noble. “Movie tie-in editions are very popular for films appealing to a younger audience. Several titles based on films are on our bestseller lists.” Meanwhile, backlist titles often sell well in advance of the movie release, she says.
Film releases provide a reason for book retailers to promote both tie-ins and the backlist. Barnes & Noble is supporting the Hobbit franchise in stores, online, and in conjunction with the Nook. Among its initiatives: featuring books along with collectible figures, paperweights, T-shirts, and wall maps. “B&N has created a destination display in stores and a boutique online,” says Bostelman. “We feature books and licensed merchandise during the full arc of the films, from theatrical opening to DVD release.” B&N also will feature the Hobbit books and merchandise in customer marketing, e-mails, and social media.
“Most accounts carry Tolkien on an ongoing basis,” says Laurie Brown, HMH’s senior v-p of sales and marketing, “but this multiyear film schedule enables massive expansion, both in terms of breadth and depth of product, and to some specific specialty channels (i.e., supermarkets) where Tolkien titles would not generally be found.”
For The Hunger Games, movie studio Lionsgate partnered with Barnes & Noble for in-store events and product giveaways, such as complimentary tickets to advance screenings and free-with-purchase Hunger Games Nook books to customers who bought a Nook device. The chain began promoting the book series about four months before the movie release, and brought in T-shirts, journals, bookmarks, and other products.
Film and DVD releases can bring books into nonbook retailers as well. “Our sales team works with the other licensees and the studio to get books into the licensees’ accounts,” says Smith, citing Hot Topic as one retailer that has supported the Twilight books. LBYR has also included inserts for the original books and some tie-in titles in Twilight DVDs.
In addition to Hot Topic, Target, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Claire’s, Nordstrom, and Fred Meyer are among the retailers that have tied in with one or more of these book-based movie franchises, hosting in-store events, offering exclusive items, and developing other promotional elements such as contests and giveaways.
“We were among the first retailers to support The Hunger Games by selling the largest selection of licensed merchandise, including T-shirts, action figures, and key chains, to coincide with the theatrical release,” says Toys R Us spokeswoman Adrienne O’Hara. The Toys R Us catalogue for tweens featured Hunger Games products in March, and 100 stores held midnight DVD release parties in August. “Bringing in the actual books has been and is part of our merchandising plan, in most cases. To support the launch of the Hunger Games merchandise at Toys R Us, we cross-merchandised the licensed products with the books, and they sold very well.”
Studios Take the Lead
Publishers work closely with the movie studios to promote the books with the DVDs or licensed products, release film news through their social media and online channels, or participate in other marketing initiatives. The specifics, including timing and scope, vary depending on a studio’s objectives.
HMH provided Warner Bros. with 600 copies of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion to be used as prizes in radio station promotions and as an introductory guide for media outlets, and supplied copies of all five of its tie-ins to Warner Bros. for other initiatives, such as a sweepstakes on Imax.com and a prize pack for Movietickets.com. It also included movie trailers and posters with 75th- anniversary materials for The Hobbit that were sent to bookstore accounts.
“Sales were amazing already, but the movie brings even more awareness to the franchise,” LBYR’s Smith says. “We’re able to work with the studio to let even more people know about the original books that started it all.”