Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

July 12, 2010

Oh, the movie/tv tie-in…

I sympathize with publishers on this one, I do.  One of your literary titles has been optioned for a movie or TV mini/series – what luck!  Now the poor, overlooked book can reach thousands of new readers, brought in by the millions of film publicity dollars.  You rush the book into a new edition ready and waiting for its new audience.  Of course, the new edition had better be obvious to the movie-going public – you wouldn’t want to miss a sale to a customer who might not remember just exactly what the name of the book was, or the author.  You might need to tweak the title a little bit – better Away from Her than The Bear Came Over the Mountain, say.  You might provide some visual cues – a new cover design inspired by the film, perhaps.  You do what you need to do.  You publish a movie tie-in.

The movie tie-in works very well strictly to advertise itself.  But it works so much worse as an addition to one’s library.  This is plainly a fact in my mind as I spent much of last month trying to stealthily smuggle my book face-in wherever I go, for fear that someone might see the very embarrassing cover.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart’s airbrushed mugs make me feel as if I’m reading the latest issue of People, not a book.  This is bad luck on my part.  Unlike many movie-goers, I am perfectly aware of the title and author of the book a movie may be based on, and I have a privileged ability to special-order whatever edition I want through my bookstore.  But the sad reality is that once a movie tie-in has been published, it replaces the previous edition.  Too bad for you if you wanted something a little more subtle.

My issue with an edition like this Possession is unquestionably the celebrity faces which feature so prominently in the design.  This seems to be the Style for films based on literary fiction – I have unfortunate editions of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours on the shelf as well:

This is not, however, a universal design. It seems to be the case only when we’re unfortunate enough to get a film version where the stars are supposed to be a bigger draw than the source material. Case in point? Harry Potter books have always looked like… Harry Potter books.  Meanwhile, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, despite their massive following and iconic cover design (iconic enough that older literary classics have been redesigned to attract the Twi-trained eye), got the film treatment, presumably to sell to those of us who only considered watching the films for the eye candy.  The lesson here is that if you hear an interesting book has been optioned by Brad Pitt and will be released staring Robert Pattinson in 2012, BUY IT NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

I am sympathetic to the need for a movie tie-in, I am.  But publishers, please, try to spare us when you can!  Here are a few examples of tolerable tie-in covers:

Okay. Here we have the tie-in for Ruby Weibe’s Temptations of Big Bear. So here’s a step up from the airbrushed faces: we still have the movie’s star (Gordon Tootoosis) but he’s not staring us down. The picture they’ve chosen is fairly well-framed. Some thought to book design appears to have been made, rather than just importing the movie poster. Not too shabby.

Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of Murder could pass for a “regular” book if not for the “NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” banner across the top which, frankly, is pretty subtle.  No celebrities, and nobody gets higher billing than the author.  This works.

I think these are hilarious. Okay, maybe not the best way to help market the movie or TV show. As seen… where? Starring who? But if your goal is to sell books and not to market the movie, then why not a generic sticker? Anyone who saw the show is going to come looking for the book and an “AS SEEN ON TV” sticker is a quick memory aid.  It’s also removable, which is a plus.

On that note, it occurs to me that a collection based on movie tie-in covers might actually be kinda fun.  Private Library – any thoughts?  As some parting food for thought, here’s one place I think the movie tie-in was an improved design:

3 thoughts on “Oh, the movie/tv tie-in…”

  1. B.Kienapple says:

    I suppose the new edition is to attract a new kind of reader, perhaps a more reluctant reader, who’s seen the movie first and would be more likely to pick up the book if there was a visual tie-in. But, yeah, I don’t buy tie-ins because they look cheesy! 🙂

  2. rpriske says:

    I was under the impression that whenever there was a movie cover version that you could still get a non-movie cover version. That has certainly been my experience (I don’t think I have a single ‘movie-cover’ book in my library), but maybe I was just lucky and was always able to find an earlier edition.

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