Cascades and Book Sales

As Ben East, a journalist for The National explains, book sales are increasingly being linked to their references on television and in the movies – even when the books are old and not very good.  Famous titles like Game of Thrones and Fight Club were out long before their movies were released, and neither of them sold nearly as well as they did after their film adaptations came out. Authors have learned that the secret to high sales isn’t the quality of the writing, but the “Now a Major Motion Picture” stamped on the front cover.

In the words of Mr. East:

“Increasingly, indeed, publishers – and authors – rely on film adaptations to sell novels. A look at the best-sellers of 2010 actually makes for rather dispiriting reading for those who would prefer fiction to stand alone as an art form: full of Stephenie Meyer, Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson books, there’s not one single novel in the UK top 20 that hasn’t been or isn’t to be adapted into a film.”

Ironically, film is the required medium to trigger cascades of book sales. This could be because the film reaches a wider audience (although this is hard to believe; more people are literate than have access to HBO) or because people consider the cost of trying a new show or movie lower than the cost of trying a new book. If this is true, than people use film adaptations as tests of quality before they buy the book, meaning that the adaptation’s quality should correlate directly with book sales. The problem then isn’t that readers are any less willing; it’s that they trust reviewers less.

I have found reviews on modern books to be far less reliable than they are on older additions. If you shop in a book store you would be hard pressed to find a novel without pages of “critical acclaim,” but the majority of these books are bad. So how is the reader to determine which reviews to trust when they don’t have time to read the first few chapters of all the books on the shelves? They can wait for it to come out on T.V. It only took one episode to convince me to buy the first Game of Thrones book.


3 thoughts on “Cascades and Book Sales”

  1. I also read the first (and second, third, fourth, and fifth) Game of Thrones book after seeing the TV show. In my case it wasn’t distrust that kept me from reading the books first, it was the fact that I had never even heard of the series. Keeping in mind I’m only one case, I think the problem is the first issue you raised: films reach a wider audience. If I want a new book to read, I usually have to go out of my way to find out about a good one. It’s rare to see ads for books, while movie ads are basically inescapable.

    Book reviews, either from professional writers or my friends end up being the most useful guide for me.

  2. Movies and television series definitely affect whether or not I hear of a book, and make it more likely for me to read it. However I don’t quite understand what you mean by modern reviews being unreliable. There are a number of sources which aggregate reviews and gives an overall sentiment on a particular work. Also useful is to check a best-seller list and see if anything strikes your interest. It would be a shame if the only novels you ever read were ones with a filmed adaptation. Reading books when you already have a clear picture of the world is, to me, far less enjoyable than organically creating your OWN interpretation on what characters look like, how they sound, what a town looks like, etc.

  3. I definitely think books become more popular after they are adapted into a film due to the level of exposure. Finding a good book requires a lot of intention and purposeful work, whether it’s surfing the shelves in a book store, reading reviews, or scouring web sites dedicated to books. On the other hand, it takes almost no effort to learn about a movie: it’s simply a matter of turning on the TV and watching commercials or picking up a magazine. After a film adaptation of a book is released, no work is required to find that book. All you need to do is buy it.

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