Popular Books = Popular Movies?

Carolyn Kellogg examines whether a book’s popularity translates to box office success on the LA Times Jacket Copy blog, in response to Deadline‘s Mike Fleming’s post theorizing that the success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy bodes well for the English-language film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Kellogg says not so fast; the movie Eat Pray Love suggests differently. This enormous hit as a book translated into a merely “satisfactory” movie at the box office, despite a strong opening weekend. Kellogg concludes that this lack of success proves movies can never fulfill readers’ expectations (she doesn’t take into account the success of the Twilight series in both book and movie form, however).

Relativity Media, the company behind the film based on Nicholas Sparks’ forthcoming book, Safe Haven (Grand Central, 9/14) clearly disagrees. They are sinking money into promoting the book a full year before the movie’s release (perhaps nobody told them that Sparks is already a best-selling author).

But can movies rely on a book’s devoted fans? A look at the numbers shows that a film requires a much larger audience than a book to become a success. According to Gilbert’s web site, Eat, Pray, Love has 7 million copies in print after four years, making it a blockbuster. On the other hand, the movie has sold nearly 8 million tickets in just two and a half weeks, rendering it merely satisfactory. (Ticket sales arrived at by dividing the movie’s gross by average ticket price, as reported by TheNumbers.com)

Title recognition may help in marketing a movie based on a best-selling book, but the movie must connect with audiences on its own to succeed.

The more important question for the book business is the reverse; how a movie affects book sales. The tie-in of Eat, Pray, Love hit lists shortly after its release and quickly became the top-selling book in the country well before the movie arrived. In 2008, the tie-in edition of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road became a best seller even without the movie it tied in to, which ended up being delayed for over a year.

In both cases, it was not the quality of the movie that sent people to the book. We probably don’t have to look very deeply for motivation; buyers may simply respond to a familiar title reappearing front of store with a brand new jacket featuring Hollywood stars, regardless of whether they see the movie.

Note: The issue is different for comics and movies, as Robin Brenner explored in an earlier post on EarlyWord (Comics to Film: Who Boosts Whom?).

Comments are closed.