The original Star Trek television series ran only from September 1966 to June 1969, but it launched an entertainment and publishing franchise that will celebrate its 35th anniversary on September 8. Over its lifetime, Star Trek has generated more than $3.5 billion in retail sales of licensed merchandise, with publishing, collectibles and interactive games the top three product categories. Pocket Books estimates there are 85 million copies in print of the more than 450 titles it has published since taking over the license in 1979. Early tie-in partners included Ballantine, which produced books such as the original Star Fleet Technical Manual, and Bantam, whose titles included a group of novels launched in the early 1970s when the TV series was gaining a cult following in syndication. Pocket's involvement started with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first of nine films for which it has published tie-ins. Pocket now releases more than 40 new titles a year based on Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager about three-quarters of them fiction and will launch a new series, Enterprise, starting this fall. Formats include original novels and novelizations, as well as "nonfiction," comprising encyclopedias, novelty books, language titles such as The Klingon Dictionary, and books on tape (from sister company Simon & Schuster Audio) such as Conversational Klingon. Other publishing houses involved with the property include DC Comics' Wildstorm imprint for comics and graphic novels, Brady Publishing and Sybex for strategy guides, and Lone Eagle Publishing for a book on Star Trek music. Fantastic Media, Fabbri and Titan are among the companies producing periodicals in the U.S. and Europe, including a weekly collectible mini-magazine called Fact Files, published in the U.K. and Germany.
Extending the Story
Original mass market fiction, of which two titles are released per month, forms the backbone of Star Trek publishing. While it doesn't backlist as readily as nonfiction, it supplies fans with continuous story lines. "I look at the fiction almost as a magazine program," says Scott Shannon, Pocket's v-p and associate publisher, science fiction and media, explaining that each month's titles remain on the shelf in wide distribution for about six months to a year. "It's hard to develop a strong mass market backlist program," he says. "How do you keep 500 separate titles on the shelf?" Content rotates among the four television series. "It's in no scientific fashion," Shannon says. The schedule depends mostly on which series have the best stories in the pipeline, although every season's list features one or two books associated with each TV incarnation to keep regular readers happy. "Wedo have fans who only like Star Trek: Voyager, for example."
All four TV series are currently off the air in first-run episodes, but that does not affect the sales rate for the books, which remain steady regardless of whether new episodes are available. In fact, sales rose a bit after The Next Generation went off the air, as fans looked to the books as the only source for new stories. "We sell tons of original series books," Shannon comments, "and it's been off the air for 32 years."
Authors of Star Trek novels range from well-known sci-fi writers such as Kevin J. Anderson to brand-new authors, and include a number of Star Trek actors, such as William Shatner (Captain Kirk from the original series), John de Lancie (Q in The Next Generation) and Robert Picardo (the holographic doctor in Voyager).
Pocket approached Shatner 10 years ago about being an author, and many of his titles, which include Preserver and Spectre, have become bestsellers. Most of the other actors came to Pocket, Shannon said. Andrew Robinson, for example, who played Garrick the Cardassian tailor/spy on Deep Space Nine, brought Pocket A Stitch in Time, published in 2000. "He wrote the book himself and is a great author," Shannon says. "It's the definitive Garrick story."
Starting in the late 1990s, Pocket and licensor Viacom Consumer Products began taking the publishing program in new directions. In 1996, Pocket got permission from Viacom to publish a summer crossover title, the first book to feature characters from more than one Star Trek series. It became one of the bestselling Star Trek titles ever, up to that time, and Pocket now publishes one or two a year in this series (called Invasion) for a total of six to date.
In 1997, Pocket launched a series of completely original stories that take place in the Star Trek universe but feature characters that have never appeared on TV. "It took a while for everyone on our side to become comfortable with that," says Risa Kessler, Viacom's publishing representative. Called Star Trek: New Frontier, the series, written by Peter David, is among Pocket's current bestselling initiatives.
E-book-only titles offered a second opportunity for all-new characters. Pocket's near-monthly Star Trek S.C.E. digital novellas follow the stories of the Starfleet Core of Engineers. "It's been very well received, well beyond our expectations," says Shannon of the series.
He points out that stories based on original characters add a freedom not possible in a traditional TV tie-in, where the plots are new but the characters must remain true to what happens on screen. "Their real lives are on TV and not in books," Shannon explains. "The clock has to be reset at the end of the day." In these completely original books, on the other hand, characters can develop and grow. "The characters are mortal," which adds an element of suspense, Shannon says. "You always know Captain Picard [from The Next Generation] is going to live."
The same flexibility can apply to TV-based novels after the show goes off the air. For example, when Deep Space Nine ended in June 1999, fans wondered about the future of the characters and the resolution of loose ends. In response, Pocket relaunched the DSN novels last spring with more complicated stories and the potential for characters to change, something that would not be allowed if TV episodes were still being created.
One Star Trek format that has not worked is young adult fiction. Pocket published 10 books for 14- and 15-year-olds, featuring younger versions of famed Star Trek characters. Shannon points out that the series already has a large readership among teenaged sci-fi fans, who often skip YA fiction and move right into adult sci-fi, as Shannon did when he was a young reader. "Why would I want to read about a young Captain Kirk when I could read about the real Captain Kirk?" Shannon observes.
As for nonfiction, one of the tent poles is The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, which is in its third edition and sells "thousands and thousands of copies each year," according to Shannon. "There's no book quite like it in fandom," he adds, citing its use by TV staffers who have technical questions about the world of Star Trek. Other nonfiction titles include companion books to each series, episode guides, atlases, dictionaries and technical manuals.
"There aren't that many more killer books to do in terms of nonfiction," Shannon says, noting that the rate of new releases has slowed from years past. Still, Pocket continues to release fresh ideas, such as the upcoming Star Trek Starship Spotter, a book containing shots of and technical data on 35 ships.
Novelty titles range from humor books (The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition) and crafts titles (Star Trek Paper Universe, which shows how to create origami starships) to The Star Trek Cookbook. This fall, Star Trek: Celebrations will show readers how to plan parties incorporating ceremonies seen in the shows.
"I love the fact that there's so much depth in Star Trek that you can go from funny to very serious and everything in between," says Pamela Newton, Viacom's
v-p, licensing and marketing. Mentioning The Klingon Hamlet, which features Shakespeare's play side-by-side with its translation into the Klingon language, she asked, "Where else but in Star Trek? It's a testament to our fans and how much they love this property."
Stores' Success Varies
Barnes & Noble's inventory includes 400 active Star Trek titles, with mass market novels typically outselling nonfiction and novelty books. "Writers with longevity and a strong following do best," says spokesperson Debra Williams, pointing to Peter David and actor/authors William Shatner and John de Lancie as examples. While the advent of a new television series does not have much effect on sales, films cause a spike across the board.
Borders maintains a Star Trek related list of 294 active titles. Spokesperson Jenie Carlen reports declining sales over the last several seasons, particularly in cloth formats, although mass market titles have held their own. Borders buyers are looking forward to the sales potential associated with September's Enterprise debut and cited Star Trek: Celebrations as a favorite pick for fall.
Mass merchant Kmart, which has a small sci-fi selection, focuses on new Star Trek paperbacks. "We're not a destination for sci-fi, but we do offer it within the mix," says spokesperson Susan Dennis.
Independent sci-fi booksellers carry varying amounts of Star Trek, but most sell relatively few copies (which is true of other media tie-ins as well, in many cases). Berkeley, Calif.-based Dark Carnival, whose mission is to carry the most complete sci-fi selection possible, features Star Trek and Star Wars in two full bookcases in its tightly packed 1,700-square-foot store. Despite the wide selection, however, owner Jack Rems reports slow sales. While some customers purchase every new title, he says, a typical month's sales amount to three or four of each new novel and five to 20 backlist books. "We've long been of the impression that they must be selling a ton of them somewhere else," Rems says.
Chris Aylott, co-owner of Space-Crime Continuum, a Northampton, Mass., store specializing in sci-fi, mysteries and role-playing games, does not carry Star Trek, although he did when the store opened in 1995. Customers tended to buy sparingly to fill in their collections, so he opted to devote the space and money to better-selling titles. "There is absolutely no connection between the Star Trek fan and the literary science-fiction fan," says Aylott.
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego carries all Star Trek titles and sells five copies of each new mass market novel, on average, according to manager Patrick Heffernan. (Hardcovers generate slightly higher sales.) He reports that the books do better when new episodes are airing currently, tie-ins connected to Star Wars and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer are outperforming Star Trek and he expects to see sales rise as the first books based on the new Enterprise series come out in September. Heffernan echoes other independent retailers when he points out that although some die-hard fans buy all new Star Trek titles in his store, most of his customers prefer sci-fi books not associated with television or films. Readers of media tie-ins, including Star Trek, he says, tend to shop at the chains.
Pocket typically promotes Star Trek a few times a year, such as at holidays or when a new William Shatner title is released, with techniques running the gamut from distributing signage or buying into chains' placement programs to poster-with-purchase giveaways. Retail chains do their own promotions as well; Barnes & Noble sometimes features its selection in an endcap or on a tabletop with signage, such as when a film comes out, while Borders promotes its sci-fi mass market fixture frequently in-store and also sets up movie-related endcaps and displays.
Pocket normally publishes a novelization for each Star Trek movie a 10th is scheduled for late 2002 as well as YA novelizations and/or "making of" books. But the real value of the films is to raise awareness. "It puts Star Trek into the eyes of so many people," Shannon says. "It gives us a reason to go into our accounts and say, 'Look, here's what's coming.'"
As for the anniversary, Pocket considered doing a special-edition book, as it had in the 25th and 30th years, but it opted to focus on the upcoming Enterprise and feature film. Individual stores are likely to arrange their own events; Carlen says some Borders outlets will probably host parties, movie screenings or discussion groups.
Why has Star Trek publishing remained strong for so long? "We produce good product and we tell good stories," Shannon says. "And it touches something. When you watch Star Trek you immediately feel at home with the characters. It's almost magical, the way they've been able to develop Star Trek."
Other Sci-Fi Media Tie-ins
Many long-lasting sci-fi entertainment franchises are supported by licensing efforts and, for most, publishing is a leading category. Here's a snapshot of some current programs.
With more than 350 titles and 60 million copies in print, Lucas Licensing's Star Wars program approaches Star Trek's in scope. The first Star Wars book was published by Ballantine in 1976, six months before the 1977 release of the original film. This was followed by novelizations of the next two movies (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980, and Return of the Jedi, 1983) and other books. Random House published children's titles.
After a break in publishing activity from 1985 to 1991, current licensee Bantam debuted a trilogy of original novels by Timothy Zahn that took up where Return of the Jedi ended. The first, Heir to the Empire (June 1991), landed at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, demonstrating a robust market for Star Wars fiction, said Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing, who credits publishing with rejuvenating the property during the long hiatus between the original films and Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).
To date, Bantam has published more than 40 original novels for adults, with seven titles released each year in paper and cloth. In addition, Ballantine and DK are on board for nonfiction, Dark Horse for comics and graphic novels, Scholastic for middle-grade readers, Random House for children's and Chronicle for novelty titles.
Lucas and Bantam have undertaken two new fiction initiatives since the release of The Phantom Menace. One series (New Jedi Order) takes place five years after Return of the Jedi, while another relates to the action and characters depicted in The Phantom Menace, a time period that was off limits prior to the film. The second two movies in the prequel trilogy are set for 2002 and 2005; 2002 will mark Star Wars' 25th anniversary.
While there are no new episodes of the television series Babylon 5, which first aired in fall 1993, the Sci Fi Channel runs the originals and licensor Warner Bros. has a feature film and new TV series in development. Dell was the original publishing licensee; its first book, Creating Babylon 5, came out in 1994. Just before the Bantam Doubleday Dell merger, the license moved to Ballantine, which began publishing fiction and nonfiction in 1997. It has introduced 12 mass market novels so far, at a pace of three a year, as well as trade paperback nonfiction. There are 800,000 copies of Ballantine's Babylon 5 books in print.
Farscape, licensed by the Jim Henson Co., is in the early stages of publishing. In the U.S., Tor Books released its first Farscape novel, House of Cards, in May 2001 and has two more in the pipeline for this fall and next spring. It is also releasing illustrated companions for the show's first two seasons starting this fall. These follow the publication in the U.K., starting in autumn 2000, of the novels by Boxtree and the illustrated companions by Titan Books. Farscape premiered on the Sci Fi Channel in March 1999 and is currently in its third season.
Gene Roddenberry's 'Earth: The Final Conflict'
Tor Books is the publisher for this property, conceived by the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. The show will start its fifth season in syndication this fall, while the Sci Fi Channel begins airing first-season episodes in August. Tor's initial Earth: The Final Conflict novel was published in 1999, with another released each fall and spring since then. Upcoming for 2001 and 2002 are Heritage by Doranna Durgin and Legacy by Glenn R. Sixbury.
Stargate SG-1, based on the film Stargate, premiered in fall 1996 and currently airs on Showtime and in syndication. Penguin imprint Roc Books is the publisher and has released four titles to date, one each year since 1998, including a novelization of the premiere episode and three original stories. The novelization is the bestselling title, according to Stargate licensor MGM. --K.R.