Film studios are not the only ones to benefit from the hoopla around the Oscar nominations; publishers get a bounce, too. Every year the Best Adapted Screenplay award focuses the public's attention on five films based on books that are considered to be the best example in their category. (Not to mention the 22 other tie-in titles that Barnes & Noble has adorning its endcap and table displays February 6—29.)
An Oscar nomination has a far-reaching effect not only on the film but for the tie-in book as well. Millions of people worldwide will watch the awards ceremony on TV, and all this attention gives publishers yet another opportunity to keep the books in stores.
This year's nominees for adaptation contains a few surprises. The gritty, urban-nightmare film City of God is based on the Spanish novel Ciudad de Deus by Paulo Lins, available only in Spanish, from publisher Tusquets. Another maverick contender is American Splendor, based on the books by cartoonist Harvey Pekar. The mainstream competitors are The Lord of the Rings, Mystic River and Seabiscuit. Some may find it surprising that the superb adaptation of Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog was not included, or John Collee's tour-de-force adaptation of two Patrick O'Brian novels into one epic movie, Master and Commander.
However, the prize for highest sales figures goes to The Lord of the Rings—25 million copies of Tolkien's novels sold over the last three years between Houghton Mifflin and Ballantine. Anthony Ziccardi, Random House senior v-p for sales and marketing, and Clay Harper, Houghton Mifflin's Tolkien projects director, pointed out that the Oscars are just another phase in the ongoing LOTR phenomenon. For both houses, the campaign started more than three years ago, with the release of the first Peter Jackson film. Houghton Mifflin has been enjoying a cycle over the last years whereby it releases the one-volume paperback with a tie-in cover in the spring; the latest movie art on the individual novels in September; and the licensed books in November. Houghton Mifflin's publishing of Tolkien- and movie-related books is so extensive that it has created a dedicated Web site, www.Lordoftheringstrilogy.com. There are 18 licensed titles—half dealing with the art of and making of the movies, and the other half with the actors and characters—selling in aggregate 1.4 million copies over those three years. HM's separate editions of the novels in the trilogy featuring the original covers sold 5.9 million copies over the period; the house has sold almost as many copies of the books with tie-in covers. The single-volume paperback tie-in was reprinted 13 times in 2001, selling 1.5 million copies.
Bridget Marmion, Houghton Mifflin's marketing director, noted that other promotional efforts are helping to extend LOTR sales, such as the exhibition of costumes and props from the movie, coming to Boston on August 1, and a bookstore tour by actor/author Andy Serkis promoting his book Gollum, about playing that character in the films. This is in addition to the forthcoming DVD release of the movies and the 50th anniversary of the publication of Fellowship of the Ring in October.
In the nonfiction world, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is also a publishing phenomenon, selling 500,000 copies before the movie came out and another 500,000 copies after. Ballantine has released hardcover, trade paperback and mass market editions, as well as the illustrated screenplay featuring photographs by the movie's star Jeff Bridges, which has sold around 50,000 copies. Ziccardi does not think sales will jump because of the Oscars, but instead expects steady sales throughout the year.
HarperCollins is taking a different approach, explained Kristen Green, assistant director of publicity: "When Mystic River won the Best Film of the Year award from the National Board of Review, we took out an ad proclaiming 'Read the Best Film of the Year,' and printed stickers for the cover. We also handed out copies of the mass market edition at the New York Film Festival closing ceremony." The house also mailed copies of Dennis Lehane's novel along with the Oscar ballot to Academy voting members. Green said HC is poised to produce different stickers should Mystic River be so honored at the Academy Awards.
American Splendor is a different tale again. Two books by Harvey Pekar were published years ago, but just before the movie was released, Fine Line alerted Ballantine that it should look at the books again. Ballantine acted quickly, acquired the rights, published the two books in one volume with tie-in art and crashed the title through production. It paid off. Ziccardi said the numbers were modest at first, with 15,000 copies in print, but he expects sales to double over the next few weeks and to reach over 50,000 copies by the end of the Oscar season. However, the real reward for Ballantine is that it has just signed Pekar for another book, to be published this fall, about his experiences making the movie.