The fact that the first full-length trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was viewed 128 million times on television and the Web within 24 hours of its release is just one indication of the anticipation building for the next film in the Star Wars saga, set to his theaters next month. “There’s as much buzz leading up to December 18 as I’ve ever seen before,” says Scott Kappler, v-p marketing at Books-A-Million, which began celebrating the latest Star Wars release in the spring by installing a seven-ft.-long corrugate Millennium Falcon display in all of its stores. “It hangs over our pop culture area, which is really a Star Wars area this year,” Kappler says.
Retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Costco, Target, and Walmart are putting Star Wars–licensed merchandise in prime spots in their stores as the film approaches. Amazon has a dedicated Star Wars Store for toys and games, apparel, and collectibles, and spokeswoman Lori Richter says the e-tailer is seeing an increase in Star Wars sales this year.
Several independent booksellers are reporting growing interest in both new and backlist books related to the franchise. Sales of Star Wars titles in the BookKids section at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., are up almost 400% versus last year at this time, according to Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s and young adult book buyer. “Obviously there are a lot of great new titles to feature,” she says. “The Golden Book retellings of the original trilogy stories have been especially popular.”
BookKids has a large Star Wars section year-round and is featuring an upfront display this November. “We want to capitalize on the excitement,” Dietsche Goel says. “Star Wars is a staple of what we sell for kids. It’s always pretty steady, and at the book fairs kids really gravitate toward it. But there’s definitely a huge growth in interest now.”
Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., carries a lot of Star Wars titles as part of its normal assortment in both the sci-fi and kids sections. All five Powell’s locations feature about 20 Star Wars titles at front of store and on endcaps in the children’s section, including a mix of new titles and slightly older releases that the new-and-used chain doesn’t have in its used inventory; Powell’s plans to add the movie tie-ins after December 18. “It’s too great an opportunity to not take advantage of,” says Shawn Donley, new book purchasing supervisor. “The fans put their dollars where their passion is, which is cool.”
Prairie Lights in Iowa City hasn’t seen much of a sales increase yet, according to sci-fi buyer Terry Cain. He echoed other booksellers when he noted that one of the key questions surrounding Star Wars publishing going forward is not the impact of the film but the fact that the Del Rey novels are not considered part of the official Star Wars canon under Disney, as they were before Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. “It’ll be interesting to see how sales will be going forward,” Cain says. “There’s been lots of concern by the fans.”
Sworn to Secrecy
The movie tie-in program has been kept under wraps by Disney out of concern for spoilers. Stories have circulated of editors and designers locked in tiny rooms at publishing houses, working on titles that the rest of the staff, even those charged with promoting and selling the books, are not allowed to see. In fact, Disney Publishing Worldwide, which publishes Star Wars titles itself and oversees its licensees’ efforts, declined to be interviewed for this story, as did some key publishers, at Disney’s behest.
Most of the tie-in books for the film are being released on December 18 or later, a departure from typical film licensing efforts, which hit store shelves two or more weeks prior to the movie premiere in order to capture peak demand. Del Rey’s official movie novelization, by Alan Dean Foster (who ghostwrote the 1977 novelization of the first film, under director George Lucas’s name), will be released January 5. But many observers say the delay in publishing key titles is not likely to have a negative impact in the case of Star Wars.
“It’s been both a challenge and so much fun to work on this program,” says Rosanne McManus, associate publisher at Studio Fun International, which will release two tie-in titles on December 18. Before then, its recently published Star Wars Movie Theater Storybook & Lightsaber Projector, based on the original 1970s films, has quickly become the top seller in that series.
“The secrecy adds more layers of difficulty,” adds Ben Ferguson, CEO of Bendon, which has rolled out more than 30 Star Wars coloring and activity titles since September. “But it has certainly raised the level of interest for the film and raised awareness for the launch. So it’s a positive. Our products are being supported across nearly every retailer. Star Wars is always a strong brand, but the popularity and the sell-in and sell-through now, due to the film, are definitely growing.”
Seeding the Market
Although key tie-in titles are embargoed, a number of Star Wars books have come out this fall to help readers get ready for the film, along with new additions to existing Star Wars series.
Starting on what’s known as Force Friday, September 4, when the first licensed products were revealed, DPW and several licensees debuted a publishing program called Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens, encompassing a total of 20 titles focusing on characters and events from previous movies. The array included young adult novels from DPW’s Lucasfilm Press; DK’s Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know; and Studio Fun’s Star Wars Droid Factory. Other licensees releasing titles as part of the publishing program included Del Rey, Marvel, Egmont UK, Phoenix International, and Topps.
Several retailers report robust sales for the Journey titles. Tattered Cover in Denver hosted an event just after Force Friday for Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, according to Heather Duncan, director of marketing. “We sell Star Wars–related books, comics, toys and games, and gift items, and they are selling well right now,” she says. “I anticipate increasing sales through the holidays and after the movie comes out.” The bookseller has Star Wars displays in all three of its larger stores and plans to keep them stocked through the holidays.
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and Redondo Beach, Calif., which supplied books for the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Anaheim in April, also had a launch party for Absolutely Everything, according to Maryelizabeth Yturralde, event coordinator at the bookstore. “Star Wars is our most consistent and enduring popular culture product,” she says. “Part of it has to do with the way they have connections in the community.” Mysterious Galaxy works with the local affiliate of the 501st Legion, a volunteer costuming group that provides people dressed as Storm Troopers for events.
Mysterious Galaxy has a permanent back-to-back bookcase for pop culture titles and is currently devoting one entire side to Star Wars. “We’ve been doing a little bit of an expanded mix,” Yturralde says. “We haven’t brought in a lot more, because we have a sense of what our audience wants. I personally love the Lego Star Wars titles, but in our store there’s more interest in stories.”
Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul also enlisted its local 501st Legion to promote Star Wars at the Twin Cities Book Festival in October. “Those kinds of events, and the books, really are a draw for kids,” says general manager Joan Trygg. She reports that the Journey YA novels are doing well, as are ongoing series such as Tom Angelberger’s Origami Yoda and Scholastic’s Jedi Academy. “We’re starting to add in a lot of the new titles, mainly tied to the movie,” she says.
Star Wars licensees are taking advantage of the opportunity to promote their recently published non-movie tie-ins and deeper backlist titles.
“Everybody’s excited about Star Wars all over again, so the backlist is heating up,” says Steve Mockus, senior editor at Chronicle Books in San Francisco. He notes strong interest for newer titles such as the Darth Vader and Son boxed set, Star Wars Imperial Handbook, and the reissue of Obsessed with Star Wars; Chronicle has also sold more than 100,000 of its new Star Wars Epic Yarns board books. As for deeper backlist titles, Barnes & Noble is prompting Wookie Cookies for the first time in years, Mockus reports.
Quirk Books in Philadelphia, which has published six Shakespearean interpretations of Star Wars since 2013, is participating in a number of retail promotions this year, according to Brett Cohen, the publisher’s president. “The film certainly is giving the brand renewed interest and even elevating it, and we’ve been selling at a high level anyway,” he says. “Will there be Star Wars tables during the holidays? Yes. Will there be more space for Star Wars at retail? Yes. There will be in-store co-op all over the place.”
The movie is helping expand distribution for some new and backlist titles. Page Edmunds, associate publisher at Workman, notes that wholesale club accounts featuring backlist titles in their movie displays, include BJ’s, which is highlighting Workman’s Star Wars Fandex, and Sam’s Club, with Star Wars Scanimation. “They’ve carried them in the past, but the movie is bringing them back into the forefront,” Edmunds says.
Similarly, Studio Fun is selling to GameStop for the first time, Quirk is taking the unusual step of talking to mass retailers, and Chronicle is seeing Bed Bath & Beyond promote How to Speak Wookiee. “We’re seeing a surge of interest, especially from specialty retailers, due to the film,” Mockus says.
On the day the movie officially debuts, select tie-ins will appear in stores, including titles such as DK’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary and Incredible Cross Sections, Abrams’s The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a number of titles from DPW, and new releases from other licensees.
The film is likely to continue driving sales of non-movie tie-ins as well, with children’s titles as one of the key beneficiaries. “The movie is introducing Star Wars to a whole new generation of families,” says Cassie McCann, Studio Fun’s marketing manager. “They may have the toys, but they haven’t seen the saga. This really represents the first introduction.”
“We think little kids who won’t see the movie will latch on to some of our backlist titles,” says Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher of nonfiction and licensing for Scholastic. “We’re already seeing younger and younger kids come into Star Wars.”
Publishers and booksellers believe that, unlike with most movie tie-in programs, the Star Wars franchise as a whole will continue to expand after the film is released. Some publishers are even increasing their marketing budget for Star Wars in the first three months of 2016, which is not typical at that time of year.
“We think it will be one of those opportunities that grows each day until the release of the film, and then continues to grow after the movie comes out,” Ferguson says. “Rather than seeing an initial push for the film and then trailing off afterward, we think this will be the exact opposite.”
The release of the movie will finally give publishers, like fans, an opportunity to see what content will be available for future storytelling. “Everybody can’t wait until December 18, because the floodgates will open from Lucasfilm, and all the assets will be available to make great books,” McManus says.
Several publishers hope to add The Force Awakens to their existing Star Wars series in the coming months. “We don’t know all the characters yet,” Mockus says. “But I’m sure they will factor in a major way in future publishing.”
Meanwhile, new Star Wars content and marketing opportunities will abound going forward. Not only are there more movies coming to extend the Star Wars saga, including Episode VIII in 2017, but Disney will release one-off films as well, starting with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story next year.
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