Getting kids to read: Take them to the movies

Yesterday the New York Times ran a story headlined: “To Reach Children, Publisher Tries Films”. It starts off:

When the children’s book series “The Spiderwick Chronicles” became a popular Hollywood film, its publisher, Simon & Schuster, enjoyed a subsequent lift in book sales — and little else. But under a new deal with the Gotham Group, a Los Angeles-based management firm, the next time Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing owns the film rights to a book — and that book is eventually turned into a movie — the publisher will be promised its own piece of the pie.

The article actually devotes more ink to the increasing number of tie-in deals being struck between publishers and film studios than it does to the effect movies have on kids’ reading habits. Nevertheless, there is a direct relationship between the release of a movie based on a book and subsequent sales of that book. Some books had aleady reached commercial success, such as the Harry Potter series, and the films only boosted their sales further. Other titles, though, had languished in obscurity for years, only to be rejuvinated by the release of a movie based on them. Sales of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass, first published in 1995, saw a 500% increase even before the film of the same name was released last December. Similarly, when the movie Polar Express was released a few years ago, sales of the original book jumped 50%, even though it was first published two decades earlier (and had received the Caldecott Medal).

This is not a recent phenomenon. Even sales of the best selling book of all time, the Holy Bible, saw an uptick after the release of The Ten Commandments fifty years ago. Publishers nearly always see a jump in sales of their backlist titles if the movie builds any kind of an audience. In the past however, authors and their agents typically negotiated film rights separately from the book deal. With the advent of the alliance such as that between Gotham and Simon & Schuster described in the article, the publisher will share in the revenue generated when its children’s books are turned into video games, comic books, or other properties. This type of tying arrangement is likely to help prevent the oft-foretold demise of literary pursuits by 21st century teens. Studies have shown that given exposure to interesting content, kids will in fact read. If their interest is piqued through exposure to a character or plotline, be it through a movie, video game, or website, chances are they will take a chance on the book of the same title. That has to be good news for both publishers and booksellers.

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Score: Teen Fiction 1, Video games 0

An encouraging piece of news appeared in Newsweek’s web edition on May 19:

Generation R (R Is for Reader)

The book business may be flat, but there’s at least one bright spot: the booming sales of books for teens–and no, it’s not all Harry Potter. Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren’t reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction (ages twelve to eighteen) is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children’s Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.

And one publishing executive quoted sheds some light on a trend that might be behind this development:

“because of MySpace, Facebook, blogs and authors’ and publishers’ Web sites, young readers are communicating interactively now with each other and with authors.” Another reason for the YA boom cited by Levithan and others is that teen books have become an integral part of today’s overall pop-culture entertainment menu. They segue into television series, movies, videogames, cartoons and the Internet. If teens see that, say, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is coming out in theaters, they’ll read the book in advance of the movie.

This is a trend that smart publishers will pick up on, and leverage the rise of social media to drive a huge market that lives on the net to become lifelong readers. Think of it: releasing a new chapter a week of an up and coming YA author’s latest novel in digital format, building audience and loyalty as readers post them on their blogs, on their Facebook page, create fan clubs, etc. THis is one use case in which free will lead to higher sales, because unless everyone has a Kindle (or possibly an iPhone), many readers will opt to go out and buy the book rather than read the whole thing on a tiny cellphone screen. Maybe this strategy would’t move the needle on sales of Harry Potter books, but there are plenty of lesser known works that could find a new audience using this approach. It could also breathe new life into publisher’s backlist.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/136961/page/1