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Publishing Writing and Emerging Tech Blog

Who Benefits When a Book Becomes a Movie?

Turning books into movies is a hugely popular trend in the movie business right now. Production companies love it because so little risk is involved—a fan base is premade, the story has proved it connects with audiences, and it’s easier than generating a plot in-house. It seems like most recent big blockbusters are based on novels.

But do publishing houses benefit from popular movie adaptations of their books?

A collage of book covers turned into movies in 2017-2018

Historically, publishers didn’t benefit.

An article on publishers and movie deals from 2006 discusses how publishers really got the short end of the stick when film rights to books were purchased. For example, Scholastic made no money from the Harry Potter movies—their only revenue from the franchise came from the books.

Back in 2006, large publishers, like Random House, HarperCollins, and Penguin, were partnering with film and TV groups to turn their books into movies and shows. The Random House/Focus Features partnership in particular looked to address two issues they saw. They wanted to give authors more control over their film adaptations and ensure the publisher received portions of the profit. Random House and Focus Features decided to share the profits (and costs) of their movies 50/50.

But has that change continued?

Yes and no. The Focus Features and Random House partnership only produced two movies (Reservation Road, 2007 and One Day, 2011), but Random House Films and its TV segment pushed forward on its own—until it was bought out by Fremantle Media North America in 2016. Still, Peter Gethers, the publisher who created the film division of Random House, was positive about the merge. He stayed on as executive v-p when the purchase was over.

Currently, the feeling is that movie adaptations have a “downstream effect” allowing publishers to reach wider audiences. Penguin Random House’s Del Rey imprint says they sell “substantially more copies” than they did five years ago. And he claims they have movies to thank. Plus, there’s “The Art and Making of” books—collections of art, design, and stories from the sets of favorite movies, like Wonder Woman and the Harry Potter movies, which sell strangely well. And send their profits to their publisher.

Hopefully, publishers continue to push for better deals when their authors sell film rights.


Featured image credit: Time Magazine

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