Don’t Drop the TV Tie-Ins

Don’t Drop the TV Tie-Ins

By Alison Bone, August 02, 2005, Bookseller

The TV tie-in market is a hard nut to crack, but when it works publishers can find they have a lucrative property on their hands. Three of 2004’s top 10 non-fiction bestsellers were TV tie-ins: Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat, Michael Palin’s Himalaya, and Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners.

Kate Adams at Penguin surprised some people when she shelled out a six-figure sum for the book accompanying McKeith’s TV series, a programme which had not yet been aired featuring a small, bossy Scottish woman performing colonic irrigations with disconcerting glee.

A sure-fire recipe for success? It wasn’t immediately apparent, but Penguin earned back its advance very quickly as sales of the book went through the roof. Coupled with McKeith’s cookbook, Penguin has now sold more than 1.2 million copies of her titles and, with two more books coming out next year, deserves a pat on the back.

You are what you publish

The lifestyle area of TV tie-in publishing is one that has boomed recently. Books such as You Are What You Eat, What Not To Wear (Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine’s eight titles have total sales of more than 1.1 million to date) and How Clean Is Your House? (more than 363,000 copies sold so far) have changed the dynamic of TV tie-in publishing.

“Books up until this point saw the object of the exercise to be supplying lots more information than was seen on television,” Trevor Dolby, HarperEntertainment m.d., says. “This latest incarnation distils the programme into the book. The package has changed, and all credit to Penguin–they should be applauded.” Dolby believes that books like these are successful because they appeal as gifts: “Giving someone How Clean Is Your House? is basically telling them they are living in a filthy hovel, but it is presented as a jolly jape, and so isn’t insulting.”

HarperEntertainment is using the same model for the book it is bringing out in November, the Richard & Judy Wine Guide. “This takes away lessons from You Are What You Eat, but also reflects the values of ‘Richard & Judy’ and the discursive nature of their programme.”

Adams has made it look easy, but even Penguin can sometimes falter. Old faithfuls Kim and Aggie, who did so well with How Clean Is Your House?, failed to hit the mark with Too Posh To Wash: The Complete Guide to Cleaning Up, which has total sales of around 15,000 to date; dirty people are apparently not as fascinating as dirty houses.

Changes to scheduling, or the TV show failing to pull in the audiences predicted, can also mean the considerable advances required to snap up a celebrity author start to look very risky. Stuart Biles, BBC Books m.d., says: “Without a doubt advances are going up. Publishers see TV as a way to generate highly profitable titles for their lists, and they are paying a lot of money–sometimes over the top by some way.”

Charles Walker, agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, who covers Optomen Television, is clear that scheduling changes can prove very tricky for publishers. “These are perilous waters and it is difficult to be prescriptive. Lead times are short, transmission dates can change, productions of TV series can be delayed or halted by acts of God or man, and even when all has gone well, the transmission can be overshadowed by an unforeseen event, all influencing the tie-in book.”

Biles agrees: “The controller of the channel has the absolute say on when the programme is broadcast, and while this is completely right, it can be extremely awkward.” Last-minute changes are particularly irksome when a book is created with a view to the Christmas gift market, and the series is then moved.

Biles looks back ruefully to the publication of The Crusades by Terry Jones, a big history book linked to a TV series originally scheduled for the autumn. “We put it forward into all our Christmas catalogues, only for the series to be moved post-Christmas.” Fortunately, Jones is a name in his own right, but Biles says the difference between the sales the book made when it was published in the autumn, and the sales it would have had if the series had aired then, is considerable.

But things are getting better in this respect, at least according to Dolby, who says that as TV producers are waking up to the money-making potential of tie-ins, they are becoming more amenable to working with publishers in a true spirit of collaboration. “If you pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for a book you can’t go screwing with the schedule. We put into our contract now that if a programme falls out of an important slot–for example if it is deemed to be a gift book and the TV needs to be between September and November–that we can renegotiate.”

Publishers’ access to potential TV tie-ins has also seen a boost thanks to changes to the Broadcasting Act. “The changes mean independent TV companies are in a stronger position when it comes to hanging on to ancillary rights in programmes,” explains Doug Young, publishing director for Channel 4 Books at Transworld. “In the past the BBC and Channel 4 have bundled publishing rights up with broadcasting, but now publishing rights are being sold separately.”

Channel 4 Books parted company from Pan Macmillan last year after a five-year partnership, and published its first book with Transworld just after Christmas. Although Transworld must compete with other publishers for the right to publish books linked to Channel 4 programmes, Young points to the insider knowledge the relationship gives him, and reveals a recent decision by Channel 4 only to trail books produced by the joint venture.

Young is particularly excited about an “amazing new series” Channel 4 is showing in the autumn, “Lost”, to which Transworld is publishing the tie-in. “Lost” has all the makings of a cult classic: survivors of a plane crash struggle to survive on an apparently deserted island, which holds many mysteries “including the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle”, according to its blurb.

Tie-ins to drama series, if handled right, can be very lucrative: Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell has sold more than 30,000 copies since it was published last March. Conversely, a lot of work can result in unimpressive sales: 30 Years of “Last of the Summer Wine”, published in 2001, has yet to make it into five figures.

“It’s obviously harder to do a book based on a drama series,” Young says, “but the advantage of ‘Lost’ is that it has lots of back story, which people will want to know more about, and there are lots of visual effects to talk about. The plot itself will have people asking lots of questions.”

The short lead times given for tie-ins can cause headaches for publishers, who often have to publish almost directly following delivery in order to tie in with broadcast. This can mean, Walker says, that a book has to be delivered piecemeal while the programmes are being made, which may mean the author needs to write the book while filming is still in progress.

Walker relates the story of Dan Cruikshank, author of Around the World in Eighty Treasures, having to email text and stills from the outer reaches of Java and Ethiopia and not always finding a computer that worked. “That’s why he’s clutching a notebook in every shot. He’s the most remarkable client.”

Legend has it that a publisher turned down doing the tie-in to “Titanic”, one of the biggest grossing movies of all time, fearing that the film would be unsuccessful. The tie-in market can certainly be difficult to judge, but are there any hard and fast rules that publishers can steer by to find a sure-fire tie-in success?

David Inman, co-founder of Boxtree and now m.d. of Hamlyn and Cassell Illustrated, believes the programme should be shown on a terrestrial channel, although points out there can be exceptions, such as “The Simpsons”. “Most people like there to be six 30-minute shows, and then it’s a question of if you can get a book out of the series.”

Walker has a few more tips: “Gone are the days when you can simply publish a transcription of a TV series and watch it become a success. Today, the book needs to be broad rather than niche; to be marketed well; to add value to the television–and the book’s author, who should also be the series presenter, must have strong appeal.”

Biles at the BBC is wary of revealing too many of his secrets, but does admit he snapped up the “Dr Who” series as soon as he was aware it was happening: “Given the background of ‘Dr Who’, and the fact the BBC were determined to reinvent it, all the indications were that it would be a runaway success.”

He continues: “You can identify all of the positive buttons for some programmes, but others are far less obvious. You have to assess the likely timing of the TV series, the likelihood that people will be interested in the series, and look at the market in general to see what is doing well.” Another important feature of a TV tie-in is that it must stand up as a book in its own right, with content that is engaging beyond the link with TV. Biles’ example of this convergence is the success of Auschwitz this spring.

Walker believes that while potential is often self evident, success is not. “I think we knew the Two Fat Ladies were going to be huge and certainly Jamie Oliver and Simon Schama were too. There have been other successful tie-ins which have been perhaps more left-of-field and influenced as much by word-of-mouth–famously Trinny and Susannah, which was not, I understand, self evident to the publisher (though that may be a myth).”

The general message from publishers is that the market for TV tie-ins is going strong. Young says: “Two years ago people said the TV tie-in market was shrinking but now the opposite is the case. If you look at the non-fiction bestseller list there is always a huge chunk that relates to TV.”

And it is not only the case that publishers are taking their cue from TV producers. “Channel 4 might see a certain category of books doing well, such as mind, body and spirit, and decide they want to do something on the subject,” Inman says. He points to “Spirituality Shopper”, about the man on the street’s quest for spiritual fulfilment, as a concept Channel 4 may have picked up on from high sales of m.b.s. books.

Dolby concludes: “There is a very vibrant TV tie-in market, but it’s very much that tip of really hot projects or really hot celebrities.” It is risky, Inman adds, but then everything is.

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