Blockbusters make bestsellers

SINGAPORE - When books are adapted into movies, it means big business for bookstores as the novels go flying off the shelves

Box-office smashes also make bookstore registers ring. When a book hits the screen, sales may leap from zero to several thousands for a long-forgotten story.

Take The Hobbit, the classic 1937 children's novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Sales of the comic tale about a band of dwarves setting out to rob a dragon were less than 100 copies here a week, even after The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy in the noughties, based on Tolkien's longer saga for adults.

Then director Peter Jackson decided to take another stab at Middle Earth and publisher HarperCollins re-released the classic novel as a movie tie-in edition.

Not a word was changed of the text, but the cover now featured art from the new film trilogy. Since December's release of the first movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this movie tie-in edition has sold a whopping 13,000 copies in Singapore stores alone.

"A movie tends to really market a book to people that might not normally read, or perhaps read a book or two a year," a spokesman for HarperCollins US explains via e-mail.

This is why once the film rights are sold and long before casting is confirmed, publishers will re-issue novels with cover stickers that say: Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.

Adds Ms Laura Christie, international sales director, Asia, of HarperCollins UK, in an e-mail interview about The Hobbit: "The film adaptation will have brought a whole new audience to the novel, especially children who weren't even born when The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy was released and who are now old enough to discover The Hobbit novel for themselves."

In other words, movies give books new and extended shelf life.

"Usually the sale of a particular title will decline abruptly or gradually after 12 to 18 months of its release," says a spokesman for MPH Distributors, which brings in several movie-tie-in books, including The Hobbit.

Among them is The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks, which sold 10,000 copies here in a year when it was first released in 2008.

Sales fell to less than 2,000 copies after that in the 2010 to 2011 period, yet the movie-tie-in edition released to coincide with last year's film sold more than 8,000 copies.

Similarly, the release earlier this year of The Great Gatsby movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and the zombie film World War Z starring Brad Pitt saw sales of the original novels of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Max Brooks skyrocket.

From only a few copies sold a week, a few hundred volumes started flying off the shelves.

Distributors Penguin Books sold more than 3,500 copies of the film tie-in edition of World War Z over three months compared with 1,300 copies of the title in the 12 months before the movie.

"For really big movies, sales can more than triple," adds a spokesman.

Bookstores here keep track of movie releases throughout the year and place orders accordingly.

"We will always offer our customers both the original edition as well as the movie tie-in. We will increase the volume in the store once an official release date has been planned in Singapore," says Mrs Felicia Low-Jimenez, 34, merchandising division manager of bookstore Books Kinokuniya.

The store even orders movie tie-in editions of books when a release date has not been set for the movie here, for example, the film tie-in edition of What Maisie Knew by Henry James. The classic 1897 novel about a young girl observing the tensions in her family has been made into a movie starring actress Julianne Moore, and was released in the United States and United Kingdom earlier this year. No release date has been set yet for Singapore.

Still, stocks of the movie tie-in book are coming in soon, with Moore and co-actor Steve Coogan facing off on the cover.

"We anticipate increased demand even before local screening dates are released. Readers here are very media-savvy and they keep up with the upcoming releases online," says Mrs Low-Jimenez.

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