Do Movie Adaptations Impact Book Sales?

In a culture that has valued literature for centuries, adapting books for the big screen is becoming equally revered. We can now find quality stories in both TV shows and movies from streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. With recent adaptations such as Little Women, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, All the Bright Places, Little Fires Everywhere, and Big Little Lies, it’s no surprise that book lovers are elated: avid readers are often pleasantly surprised when their favorite books are adapted into a movie or TV series.

When I discussed this idea with friends and colleagues, most were turned off by the new movie tie-in covers. One friend, an avid reader who has read the entire Stephen King collection, even remarked, “I don’t want to see an actor and associate them with a character before I’ve read a single sentence.” There is another type of reader that we should consider—one who reads when something entices them, like when they see a movie tie-in cover while perusing an airport bookstore. The book isn’t something they were necessarily looking for, but they might be intrigued knowing it has been adapted to the big screen. In my personal experience, there are books I never knew existed until the movie came up in conversation, which led me to buy the book and see the movie.

Are these book adaptations impacting book sales? According to Huffington Post’s report on the 2012 Nielson Bookscan, the top selling books for 2011 were: One Day, The Help, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In some instances, books have unequivocal results from their adaptations, such as the Harry Potter series. The first movie was released in 1997, but the book itself still sold more than three million copies between 2008 and 2010.

Forbes reported that “film adaptations of books gross 44 percent more at the UK box office, and a full 53 percent more worldwide than films from original screenplays, according to research commissioned by the Publisher’s Association and produced by Frontier Economics. The report also found that 43 percent of the top twenty highest-grossing films in the UK from 2007–2016 were book-based and another 9 percent were based on comic books.”

Is this by design? While there is no doubt in my mind that Hollywood has a hand in the book publishing industry, I’m typically excited to see a story I love on the big screen. While I often have the opportunity to read a book and then watch the movie, I’ve never seen an independent book adapted to the big screen; that’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but the same marketing methods are either not used or executed enough to bring to my attention.

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