Monthly Archives: December 2012

All About Media Tie-Ins, Part 2

Publishers are nowhere near as enamored of movie tie-ins as authors are, and they weigh the profit potential of such books as critically as they do that of the thousands of other manuscripts submitted to them annually. They know that most movies do not translate well into books. There are also technical and timing problems with tie-ins that are daunting to publishers. For instance, the screenplay may undergo alterations, some of them radical, right up to or even during the shooting of the film. By the time filming is complete there is insufficient time before the release of the movie for a writer to write the novel and the publisher to publish it.

A notable instance of the timing problem occurred in the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Stanley Kubrick insisted on complete control over the writing and publication scheduling of the novelization. The author of that novelization was a chap named Arthur C. Clarke, and since Kubrick kept changing the script as he went along, particularly the wild and mystical ending, Clarke had to keep changing the novel. His publishers bit their fingernails to the quick as the days rolled inexorably toward the release date of the movie. Worst of all, the book tie-in deal was for publication of a hardcover first, then paperback. It had been assumed that the hardcover would be brought out before the movie was released, then the paperback would be issued to coincide with the release of the film. But because of the delays there was no lead time whatsoever for the hardcover. The publisher wanted to drop the hardcover and go straight into paperback, but Kubrick insisted on hardcover. Thus we had a case, unprecedented in anyone’s experience, of a hardcover novelization. The publisher did get his paperback edition out soon thereafter, but the situation was a mess and the book didn’t do anywhere as well as it might have if the timing had been better.

Kubrick, incidentally, plays a role in one of the more bizarre movie tie-in stories I have ever heard. It seems that a novelist named Peter Bryan George wrote a nuclear apocalypse novel called Red Alert. It was acquired for the movies by a producer who couldn’t put a deal together, so he laid it off on Kubrick. Kubrick adapted it, and rather broadly to say the least. Red Alert was a very solemn book; the adaptation was blackly humorous. He called it Dr. Strangelove. In fact, so different was the movie from the book that the producers decided to hire somebody to write the novelization. They hired Peter Bryan George, the author of Red Alert. So George novelized the movie version of his own novel! His novel had been published by Ace under the name of Peter Bryant; his novelization was published by Bantam under the name Peter George.

Another problem for publishers is the greed that has set in at the studios. Originally, tie-ins were regarded as free publicity for movies, and publishers regarded them as little more than list-fillers. For a modest payment to the studio a publisher would get the screenplay, stills, cover photo, and promotional material, and everybody was happy. Then the studios began to smell profit, and arranging tie-ins became a little less complex than building a space shuttle.

Richard Curtis

This three-part article may be read in its entirety here.


“With a Heavy Heart,” US Slaps Internet Conference Partners in Face

“It is clear that the world community is a crossroads in its view of the Internet and its relationship to society in the coming century,” said Terry Kramer, leader of the American delegation to a global treaty conference on telecommunications held in Dubai.  Then, after uttering this lofty declaration, Kramer refused to sign the treaty and his delegation boycotted the closing ceremony.  We don’t know what was served at the ceremony but the Americans left the other attendees with generous portions of egg on their faces.

The Americans bolted because they perceived that the conference’s resolutions, approved by 89 of the 144 nations, represented a threat to Internet freedom.  Yet, as the New York Times‘s Eric Pfanner points out, “Anyone reading the treaty… might be puzzled by these assertions. ‘Internet’ does not appear anywhere in the 10-page text, which deals mostly with matters like the fees that telecommunications networks should charge one another for connecting calls across borders. After being excised from the pact at United States insistence, the I-word was consigned to a soft-pedaled resolution that is attached to the treaty.

“The first paragraph of the treaty,” Pfanner writes, states that  “’These regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.’ That convoluted phrasing was understood by all parties to refer to the Internet, delegates said, but without referring to it by name so no one could call it an Internet treaty.”  The stated goal of the conference was to “narrow the digital divide” and make the Internet available to “more of the 4.5 billion people around the world who remain offline,” says Pfanner.

With unctuous hypocrisy Kramer delivered this slap in the face “with a heavy heart,” but to some it was more like a heavy hand, and though Pfanner doesn’t say so in so many words, it’s clear that the strings controlling that hand were manipulated by big media companies whose paranoid terror of censorship overrides every consideration of regulation, good will or good faith.

Once again – we’re thinking of our refusal to ratify the Kyoto environmental protocol – the United States has blown a huge opportunity to be a light unto the nations.  Shame!

Details in Message, if Murky, From U.S. to the World by Eric Pfanner

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital World as US Plays TeleTreaty Partners for Suckers


All About Media Tie-Ins, Part 1

Novelizations of movies, television shows and video games are among the most intriguing subspecies of commercial fiction. I say subspecies because they obviously cannot be spoken of in the same breath as Lolita or Portrait of a Lady; indeed, even commercial novelists look down their noses at novelizations as possessing not a shred of redeeming social value, as the literary equivalent of painting by numbers. On the spectrum of the written word, tie-ins are as close to merchandise as they are to literature.

There’s some truth in this. Tie-ins are kin to souvenirs, and in some ways are not vastly different from the dolls, toys, games, calendars, clothes, and other paraphernalia generated by successful motion pictures and television shows. Those who write them usually dismiss them with embarrassment or contempt, or brag about how much money they made for so little work. Yet, when pressed they will speak with pride about the skill and craftsmanship that went into the books and assure you that the work is deceptively easy. And if you press them yet further, many will puff out their chests and boast that tie-in writers constitute a select inner circle of artisans capable of getting an extremely demanding job done promptly, reliably, and effectively, a kind of typewriter-armed S.W.A.T. team whose motto is, “My book is better than the movie.”

How are tie-ins created? Their birthplace of course is the original screenplay. The Writers Guild of America Basic Agreement entitles the screenwriter to ownership of literary rights to his screenplay. When he sells his screenplay he may retain the novelization rights or include them, at terms to be negotiated, in the screenplay deal. Most of the time the screenwriter sells his novelization rights to the buyer—the film’s producer or a studio. The new owner of these rights now tries to line up a publication deal for the tie-in. He contacts paperback publishers and pitches the forthcoming film.

If the film has a big budget, terrific story, bankable actors, unique special effects, or other highly promotable features that promise a hit, publishers will bid for the publication rights, (In the case of television tie-ins, the producers almost always wait till a series is a hit before arranging for tie-ins. And one-shot movies of the week seldom trigger novelizations because of the brief period—one evening—in which they are exposed to the public.) A deal is then struck, the publisher paying an advance against royalties to the producer or studio.

The publisher then engages a writer to adapt the screenplay. It should be readily apparent that if the movie is indeed shaping up to be a hit, or the television show is already a hit, the publisher will be forced to pay such a high advance and royalty to the producer or studio that little will be left for the writer. That’s why novelizations are generally low-paying affairs, with modest advances and nominal royalties of 1 or 2 percent. Flat fees are by no means unheard of. And, because the competition among writers for novelizations is intense, few writers are in any position to bargain. But if the pay scale is so miserable, why do authors seek novelization assignments so ardently? Because they think it’s easy money. Sometimes it is. But it’s not like falling off a log, as we shall see.

Richard Curtis

This three-part article may be read in its entirety here.



Random/Penguin Good for Agents? No One’s Doing a Happy-Dance

In his press release announcing Random House’s merger with Penguin, Random CEO Markus Dohle promised agents thatYou and your clients will benefit from an extraordinary breadth of publishing choices, and editorial talents and experience.” Some leading literary agents are skeptical and one outspoken rep majorly begs to differ, reports Ella Delany in the Daily Beast.

“Publishers’ releases in the past have always said that nothing significant would change, and that all imprints would continue working independently as before.” says Georges Borchardt, one of the most distinguished authors’ representatives in the industry. What happened to such houses as Atheneum, Anchor, Lippincott, and Free Press? he asks.  All absorbed in the churning mill of merger and acquisition that has homogenized hundreds and hundreds of proud and great publishing companies into an indistinguishable soup.

Though some other agents are content to take a wait-and-see attitude, history would certainly seem to support Borchardt’s pessimism. A few years ago we gave a thumbnail genealogy that went like this:

Bertelsmann owns Random House Inc. and Random House Inc. owns Crown Publishing Group and Crown Publishing Group owns Broadway Books. You follow? But Bertelsmann also owns Random House Publishing Group which owns Little Random House. You still with me? Crown Publishing Group owns Crown Business, which incorporates Doubleday Business. Somewhere in there is WaterBrook Multnomah which incorporates Multnomah and WaterBrook Press. And let’s not forget Potter Craft, Back Stage Books, Lone Eagle Publishing, and Wendy Lamb Books.

If you’d like to see just how great the toll of mergers and acquisitions has been, you might want to look at the scorecard produced by Publishers Marketplace founder Michael Cader, which we described as  “an organizational chart for major publishers, their divisions, imprints, subsidiaries, affiliates, their sisters and their cousins and their aunts, along with charts for about a dozen smaller publishers with multiple imprints.

Even if you’re too young to remember companies buried in this graveyard, or too unsentimental to mourn their passing, it nevertheless makes for depressing reading and offers scant comfort for agents and their clients wondering how they will navigate the new landscape. Especially because smart money says there are more mergers on the way. Not long ago, Robert Miller, then president of HarperStudio (now publisher at Workman) projected trends that give agents little cause for optimism. Here are the highlights ( if that is the apt term):

  • Trend: The large publishing houses will continue to reduce overhead as profits shrink in the years ahead.
  • Counter trend: Publishers will be looking for mergers and acquisitions to compensate for those shrinking profits. The Big Six could be the Big Three within five years.
  • Trend: These companies will continue to focus more resources on fewer titles…Title count at the largest houses could drop by as much as fifty percent over the next five years.
  • Counter trend: Self-publishing will grow exponentially.
  • Trend: In terms of advances, the amounts paid for brand-names will continue to increase, with seven-figure or eight-figure acquisitions commonplace among authors with established track records.
  • Counter trend: The six-figure advance…will become a rare species within the decade.
  • Trend: Within five years, half of all reading will be done electronically.
  • Counter trend: There will be a resurgence of appreciation for well-designed physical books, as keepsakes, gifts, etc
  • Trend: As more consumers become e-book readers, demand will increase for the availability of e-books simultaneously with p-books.
  • Counter trend: Within five years, it will be common practice to give every p-book purchaser a “free” e-book version of that book at time of purchase.
  • Trend: Fewer and fewer books will be sold to publishers at “auction,” and that practice will disappear completely within five years.
  • Counter trend: Instead of auctions for the highest advance, there will be auctions in which a basic advance is established by the agent, with the auction winner being the publisher who bids the most in marketing committed to the book.
  • Trend: The agent of the future will become more of a business manager who handles every aspect of an author’s career.
  • Counter trend: Publishers will create free-standing departments whose services can be purchased a la carte by authors.
  • Trend: As the Boomers lose their eyesight and their children become teenagers, demographics will favor books for young adults over books for adults.
  • Counter trend: While auctions and advances diminish for adult titles, they could heat up for young adult material as publishers bet big in search of the next Stephenie Meyer.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Happy Outcome for Random/Penguin Merger? History Tells A Different Tale


What Happens at Your Publisher’s Sales Conference

TWICE EVERY YEAR, around mid-May and mid-December, a curious lull befalls the frenzied lives of literary agents, like those abrupt silences that occasionally muffle a party when everybody, inexplicably, stops talking at exactly the same time. I’ve experienced enough of these semiannual brownouts that I ought to expect them by now. Yet they always take me by surprise, and I can predictably be heard at these times barking to my staff, “Is there something wrong with our phones? Is this a mail holiday or what?” At length it occurs to me: it’s sales conference season. I then take advantage of this hiatus to catch up on paperwork.

Sales conference is the time when a publisher’s list of forthcoming books is introduced to the company’s commissioned sales representatives, who then go forth to the stores in their territories and line up orders. Since this is the point where the editorial process interfaces with marketing and distribution processes, it may literally be said that the fate of your book, and possibly your career, is cast at sales conference.

For the people who work at publishing houses, these convocations are red-letter days, major events in their corporate lives. For the past six months they have been sweating, suffering, beating their breasts, and rending their garments over the books they have acquired. Now they are going to pitch them to the folks who actually get them into the stores. This is a time of intense anxiety, for the presentation of the list is by no means a matter of handing the sales reps a set of proofs and saying, “Read it, it’s terrific.” Indeed, it’s uncommon for the reps to read any but the most important books on their publishers’ lists. Nor is it necessary.

If they don’t need the book itself, however, they do need information about it, and in the weeks leading up to the conference editors scurry frantically about the halls of their companies, rounding up cover proofs, advertising copy, promotional notes, author-tour itineraries, and anything else that will make their books look and sound irresistibly tempting to sales people, store buyers and distributors, and ultimately to consumers.


Print/E-book Bundles on the Horizon?

Michael Clarke, an executive at Silverchair Information Systems and a passionate music lover, is torn between vinyl and digital – squarely split down the middle. Vinyl to him means warm sound, beautiful packaging, tactility and the special rituals of opening record jackets, reading the copy, placing the record on a turntable and lowering the needle on it. Against these advantages he weighs only one for digital music: convenience. But that one completely balances the scales.

But Michael Clarke wonders why he has to choose. Why can’t he have both? Why can’t he buy the record and get the download too – at no extra cost? It’s not unprecedented. Blogging in The Solitary Kitchen, he writes : “What indie rock bands have figured out is that the purchase of music does not have to be an either/or proposition. They don’t make their customers choose between analog or digital. Whenever you buy a record from just about any indie band, it comes with either a CD or with a card that contains a URL and a download code so you can get a digital copy at no additional cost.”

Clarke doesn’t use the word, but what he’s talking about is bundling, and we think it’s the next big step in the evolution of the book business. We also think it’s the next war zone.

Bundling is an age-old merchandising technique in which customers are offered a discount if they purchase two related products. In the case of books, it’s a combo of two formats, print edition and e-book. Though the technical barriers to delivering both in one transaction are coming down, the real issue is how much to charge for the bundle. A little test we gave readers a few years ago will give you a sense of how challenging the concept is:

When you purchase a print book you should be able to get the e-book for…

a) the full combined retail prices of print and e-book editions
b) an additional 50% of the retail price of the print edition
c) an additional 25% of the retail price of the print edition
d) $1.00 more than the retail price of the print edition
e) free

The choices aren’t just economic but philosophical, reflecting just how aggressive a publisher wants to be and the various thresholds at which the publisher believes consumer resistance will melt. A good argument can be made for each, and as the bundling issue warms up you can expect to hear them all endlessly debated.

The time will soon come when publishers will have to choose one of the above strategies and put it into effect. Misjudging consumer attitudes could prove to be a big mistake and possibly a ruinous one. My own view? I strongly believe that the e-book version should be included free of charge with the purchase of the print edition. What do you think – and why?

Details in Bundling: Publishing’s Next Battleground.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World under the title Why Do We Have to Choose Between Print and Digital?


Curtis Agency, E-Reads Deploy Program to Neutralize Pirates

Photo: Wikipedia

Adopting advanced technology, Curtis Agency and E-Reads have teamed up to locate and take down pirated files of their authors’ books.

The system, developed by Muso TNT, protects against files uploaded by pirates to filesharing sites like rapidshare and megaupload. Files on these websites show up on Google search results and are therefore accessible to users who might otherwise purchase the files through legitimate channels.

The Size of the Problem

Though we have often contended that piracy is the number one threat to the e-book industry (see A Bootleg E-Book Bazaar Operates in Plain Sight), skeptics may not be aware of the extent of the problem. One company, torrentfreak, boasted that “The Internet is the largest copying machine ever invented,” and in 2011 ranked fiesharing sites according to traffic in the month of July 2011. The first figure represents unique monthly visitors, the second monthly page views:

1 4shared Cyberlocker 55,000,000/ 2,500,000,000
2 Megaupload Cyberlocker 37,000,000/ 400,000,000
3 Mediafire Cyberlocker 34,000,000 /330,000,000
4 Filestube Meta-search 34,000,000/ 280,000,000
5 Rapidshare Cyberlocker 23,000,000/ 280,000,000
6 The Pirate Bay Torrent index 23,000,000 /650,000,000
7 Fileserve Cyberlocker 19,000,000 /190,000,000
8 Hotfile Cyberlocker 16,000,000 /110,000,000
9 Meta-search 15,000,000/ 340,000,000
10 Depositfiles Cyberlocker 14,000,000/ 110,000,000

How Muso TNT Works.

Using the Muso technology, legitimate content providers authorize the antipiracy service to launch search engine “spiders” to crawl over the Internet and detect unauthorized files. A significant feature is that the search criterion is by author, not by title. As the spiders locate pirated files, they store the results on a password-protected login page for review.


When Is a Book Acceptable, and Who Says So?

THE ACCEPTABILITY PROVISION of a book contract can be summarized as follows: A publisher engages an author to write a book, stipulating in the contract that if the manuscript is not acceptable in the publisher’s sole discretion, the publisher may reject it and require the author to repay in full the advance he was paid on signing the contract. Until that advance is repaid, the publisher will not release the author from the contract, thus restricting the author from entering into a contract with another publisher for that (and perhaps any other) literary work.

Inherent in this provision are three potentially explosive elements. The first is that acceptability depends entirely on the arbitrary editorial judgment of the publisher. The second is that the author is required to repay every penny to his publisher when his manuscript is determined to be unacceptable. The third is that the author is restrained from selling his book to another publisher until his original publisher has been repaid, or at least until satisfactory provisions for repayment have been made. (And if there is an option clause in the original contract, the author may be prohibited from selling any other work to another publisher until satisfactory refund arrangements have been made with the publisher of the first part.)