Walt Disney is one of the biggest global media conglomerates, with extensive movie, book publishing and TV operations, and of all the big media companies it may be the most successful at synergy between its component parts. This is partly because Disney animated films are a long-established brand, and each movie spawns a publishing program, originated by Disney Publishing and licensed overseas. Disney Publishing has also developed beyond this model, extending its global operations to magazines and other formats. Also, as both Hyperion and Miramax Books are relatively new publishers, they are perhaps more flexible in working with their film and TV colleagues than their longer-established competitors.
Bob Miller of Hyperion thinks "there are two sorts of synergy— 'synergy by decree,' which gives the word a bad name, and 'synergy by proximity,' which is the kind I am looking for." He offers the example of Our Story by
Jeff Goodell, the book about the rescued Pennsylvania miners, for which Hyperion and ABC bought the book and TV rights together. "It was a one-night movie, but it was a way for us both to get the material, and it became a bestseller." Another example is The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, which sold over 250,000 copies. The fictional diary was featured in
Stephen King's three-part ABC miniseries Rose Red, so Hyperion created and published the book, with on-air promotions courtesy of ABC.
Hyperion has a first look at Touchstone's films and has published two book tie-ins to the current King Arthur movie. Sales of such titles depend on the movie's success, of course, but if the publisher can sell significant foreign rights, then the risk is offset. Hyperion also publishes titles that the studio is developing, including
Steve Martin's Shopgirl and
Mark Frost's The Greatest Game Ever Played.
As Disney owns companies such as ESPN and has a partnership with Wenner Media, Hyperion is also poised to launch new publishing programs; it already publishes such books as The ESPNAlmanac and has recently hired
Chris Raymond to acquire top-quality sports books for the imprint. Wenner Books, a new imprint to be run by
Bob Wallace, will be developing books from Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and US Magazine. Early titles include The US Guide to CelebrityFashion (spring 2005) and The Rolling Stone Guide to the Best 500 Albums of All Time (fall 2005).
Usually, a gulf, literal and metaphorical, exists between studio and publisher on opposite coasts, but
Jonathan Burnham of Miramax Books enjoys an easier situation, as both publisher and movie company are in New York. "What surprised me was that I knew it would be great for a film company to have a publisher, but I was unprepared for the film side to bring me so much creative energy and input," he said. "Miramax also has offices across Europe, so I get a weekly report of the international bestsellers and new TV shows, which is incredibly useful." When book and film rights are acquired simultaneously, Burnham develops the manuscript, then gives the film executives what is effectively an early finished book.
Miramax Books also has a small, successful list of children's books published in association with sister company Hyperion Books for Children.
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl may be the most high-profile example; Miramax acquired book and film rights simultaneously, then worked alongside Hyperion to turn the tale into a franchise. Disney Publishing Worldwide's
Lisa Holton is equally pleased with the relationship, which combines "the weight, glitz and glamour of Miramax with the skills of a traditional children's publisher." Holton's brief is wide-ranging, encompassing creating publishing programs and licensing Disney animated movies as well as running Disney magazines. The recent publication of nine W.I.T.C.H. books by Hyperion in the U.S. is a triumph of synergy as the characters, created by a Disney magazine in Italy, are now being developed as a TV series for 2005. Another potent example of cross-fertilization is The Cheetah Girls, a paperback series featuring a multicultural group of girls, published under the Jump at the Sun imprint. The Disney Channel turned it into a TV movie, and Disney Records released a soundtrack that went platinum.
Disney Publishing has perfected the practice of company cooperation, as there is someone in every division in charge of synergy. Holton explains, "This person not only lets different parts of the company know what we're doing, but also negotiates and barters for free marketing and advertising. For example, our synergy person on W.I.T.C.H. negotiated getting the books featured on film trailers and DVDs, and in return he promised opportunities from us, such as advertising in books, magazines, and special promotions." Far from resting on its laurels as a group with obvious cross-fertilization possibilities, Disney is constantly seeking new routes to profit.