Publishers have reason to rejoice when their backlist books are developed into films, television shows or videos. While entertainment producers look to established literary properties as inspiration because of their built-in audience recognition, already developed characters, and readily available storylines, publishers often benefit from the relationship as well. Publicity for the entertainment vehicle can cause sales of the original books to jump, sometimes exponentially.
Penguin Putnam saw advance sales of its new titles in Dan Greenburg's 20-book series The Zack Files, which launched as a TV show on Fox Family in October 2000, increase 35% per title, according to Doug Whiteman, president of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. This year, the launch of a public television series based on Brian Jacques's Redwall books increased sales of Jacques's paperbacks, published by Penguin Putnam's Ace imprint, by 82%.
Kids Can Press's Franklin books had been in print for 11 years before that animated series debuted on Canadian television in fall 1997. When the show began, there were 12 million copies in print of all Franklin titles worldwide; as of May 2001, that number had increased to 35 million. The series launched in the U.S. on CBS in 1998, moving to Nick Jr. the next year. "Television has benefited the property tremendously," said Valerie Hussey, Kids Can publisher, president & CEO.
Books that become films can also experience increased demand. Whiteman cited the 1998 movie Madeline, which resulted in nearly doubled annual sales of Viking's Madeline books that year, after the publisher promoted them against the film. "It was one of the most successful tie-ins we've done," Whiteman recalled. Similarly, Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, published by the company's Puffin imprint, slightly more than doubled its sales upon the 1996 release of that film.
Sales of the paperback edition of Farrar, Straus & Giroux's Shrek increased more than 400% upon the release of the DreamWorks film of the same name, which features the main character from the 1986 William Steig picture book but has a much different storyline. The film has generated more than $200 million at the U.S. box office since its May release and a sequel is already in the works. "The movie had an immediate impact, even though the book really has nothing to do with the movie," said Michael Eisenberg, v-p, associate publisher and marketing director at FSG Books for Young Readers. "But still, people were curious about the book." Meanwhile, Penguin Putnam's DreamWorks imprint has sold more than 500,000 copies of its four movie tie-in titles.
The same situation can occur for movies based on adult-targeted books. Wal-Mart spokesperson Karen Burk noted that James Patterson's Along Came a Spider ranked among Wal-Mart's top 15 titles for nearly a month when that movie came out in April. The same title achieved the number-one spot on Barnes & Noble's bestseller list.
"Sometimes films will drive customers back to the book," said B&N spokesperson Debra Williams, mentioning Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as an example. The book was widely considered stronger than the film, she said, which led moviegoers to seek out the original.
Entertainment does not always drive book sales, however. "It depends on the kind of entertainment and it depends on whether it catches," said Whiteman. "It's not automatic."
"It's about where a book series is in its life," explained Michael Jacobs, Scholastic's senior v-p, trade division. While the company's Animorphs books were already at their peak before the launch of the television show and did not see much of a boost from it, Jacobs said, the opposite was true for Clifford. "Clifford was a wonderful character and much beloved, but it was a property that was ready to be developed more," he explained, noting that the 40-year-old book series has seen sales increase two and a half to three times since the Clifford television program debuted on PBS last fall.
Some entertainment vehicles tend to have little effect on book sales. "Home video can have some impact, but that's few and far between," Whiteman said, noting that book sales remained steady when Putnam's then-sister company Universal Studios released The Little Engine That Could as a direct-to-home-video in 1989.
As a general rule, sales of books that are supported by a film spike briefly before or immediately after the release of the movie. For a television series, there is often an initial rise in sales, followed by a slow decline to a plateau that is higher than before the show.
Marc Brown's Arthur—which saw sales increase 500% over the previous year when the PBS show premiered in 1995—is emblematic of this pattern. Maria Modugno, v-p and editorial director at lead Arthur publisher Little, Brown, reported that her company's Arthur sales, which took off astonomically when the show debuted, have declined about 10% annually, still leaving sales significantly higher than pre-show levels. (Random House and McGraw-Hill Children's Publishing also publish Arthur titles.)
In some cases, sales increases can continue for an unexpectedly long time. Louise Pelan, v-p and publisher of Harcourt's children's division, saw demand for Mick Inkpen's Kipper books, which Harcourt had published continuously since 1991 at a mid-list level, rose 200% after Kipper's premiere on Nick Jr. in February 1999. As with Arthur, Kipper annual sales have dipped somewhat since then but remain much higher than before TV. One title, however, the pop-up Where, Oh Where, Is Kipper's Bear?, has generated annual increases each year on top of a 280% spike immediately after the show.
Worldwide unit sales of Franklin books grew 14%, from 3.6 million to 4.1 million, from 1996 to 1997, when the television series went on the air in Canada; rose another 12%, to 4.6 million, in 1998 when it premiered on CBS; and increased 51%, to 6.2 million, in 1999 when it moved to Nick Jr., according to Hussey. Sales continue to rise; in 2000 unit sales approached 6.5 million and sales in the first four months of 2001 were already 50% of 2000's total.
As for films, Pelan said Mary Norton's The Borrowers, which Harcourt has published since 1953, saw a 160% increase in sales due to the 1997 movie of the same name; sales remain 80% higher today than they were before the film.
Entertainment support also helps increase demand for related titles. Houghton Mifflin reported that the upcoming Lord of the Rings film trilogy—New Line will release the first this December—has dramatically increased sales of The Hobbit, a book for younger readers that features a few of the same characters and the same world, Middle-Earth.
Kate Klimo, v-p and publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, noted that Universal Studios' How the Grinch Stole Christmas film last year had ramifications far beyond the original Grinch book. "All of Seuss benefited enormously from The Grinch," she said.
One of Random House's biggest film-related success stories was a tie-in with the 1997 movie I Know What You Did Last Summer, based on a Lois Duncan novel. In conjunction with that film's home video release in March 1998, Random repackaged and repromoted Duncan's backlist of about a dozen books in the movie's film noir style, according to Beverly Horowitz, v-p and publisher, Bantam, Doubleday, Dell and Knopf/Crown. Sales tripled that year and have remained strong since.
Films can even have a coattails effect on books with no connection except subject matter. Pelan at Harcourt said Eve Bunting's S.O.S. Titanic, published in 1996, witnessed increased annual demand of 558% in 1997 due to the film Titanic. "We were just stunned with the impact the movie had," said Pelan. "Retailers were scrambling for anything related."
Williams noted that Barnes & Noble often uses a popular film as a hook for a display of educational nonfiction titles. For example, it merchandised a range of books on dinosaurs to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Jurassic Park.
In rare situations, entertainment can boost book sales well in advance of its debut. Such is the case with Houghton Mifflin's Tolkien franchise. "We've had a fairly long heads-up," said Clay Harper, Tolkien project director. "We've had since 1999 to beef up the shelf presence of all of Tolkien's work. In the last three and a half years we've been rolling out a couple of books per season to freshen up the line in anticipation of the increased audience for the [Lord of the Rings] novels themselves."
Sales of Tolkien books have doubled in each of the last two years, while the first five months of 2001 have surpassed 2000's total. "We expect our sales to triple this year from last year," which would put dollar sales solidly into eight figures, said Harper. The first movie tie-in edition—an omnibus Lord of the Rings trilogy featuring movie-related cover art—hit stores last month.
Repackaging and Promotions
The availability of a film or television series frequently leads to additional publishing in the form of tie-ins featuring entertainment-related artwork, which are differentiated from the originals by price point and distribution channel. In many cases, sales of the original books experience more of a lift from the entertainment release than do the tie-in titles, which are more dependent on the popularity of the film or TV series. The originals benefit simply from increased awareness and exposure.
Harcourt took advantage of the Kipper television debut to relaunch its entire Kipper publishing program. Since 1991, it had published a pop-up book, three picture books and four concept books; six months after the show went on the air in 1999 it released the pop-up book, the concept books reformatted as board books, the picture books in paperback, four TV tie-ins, and the original Kipper storybook (originally published by Little, Brown). Pelan noted that the sheer number of titles created a buzz at retail and led to increased presence in stores.
Typically, publishers call attention to a television show with a cover burst on the books. For films, where possible, publishers reprint the original title using movie stills as cover art. "Movie tie-in cover art makes a big difference," reported B&N's Williams, "especially if there's a big star involved."
Studios are happy to work with publishers to reprint their titles with film-related cover art. "Putting the key art into bookstores gives us more impressions for the movie," said Virginia King, executive director, worldwide publishing, Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising.
The presence of entertainment tends to spur increased cross-promotional activity. Golden Books has released home videos based on its classic Pat the Bunny and Poky Little Puppy books, which led to joint book/video displays at retail, especially in mass channels. "[Retailers] carry [the book] day in and day out, but this gives them a reason to promote it," explained Amy Jarashow, director of retail marketing. "That's really the key to getting the incremental sales from the property."
In August, Candlewick will be promoting Lucy Cousins's Maisy, which airs twice a week on Nick Jr. and three times a week on the cable network Noggin, with an exclusive, limited-edition video created by Universal Home Video. Available to Candlewick customers, it includes three Maisy TV segments and short musical interstitials.
Deborah Sloan, Candlewick's executive director of marketing, notes that both the Nick Jr. and Noggin exposure have helped drive additional sales of Maisy books (of which there are more than 40 titles). Thanks to Noggin, Maisy unit sales for 2001 are ahead of last year at the same time. (All told, 1.1 million Maisy books were sold in 2000.)
In large part, potentially significant TV- or film-driven increases in book sales are due to wider exposure for the property, accompanied by wider distribution for the books, both tie-in and original. "[Entertainment] takes the [property] into new markets where it couldn't live before," said Jacobs. "There's an opportunity to reach a broader demographic that may not shop in bookstores."