Spring 2016

Just last year, around forty books became films (Vestal) with The Martian going on to win a Golden Globe. And after spending more than two years on the New York Times bestsellers list, Ransom Riggs’ debut novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children from Quirk Books, will be released this September as a film by Tim Burton. Rights are being bought left and right by big-name directors, and fans are seeing beloved characters come to life. Need we have to touch on the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, which basically has the next five years filled with blockbusters? 

martian peculiar

Although adapting books to films are firmly part of the publishing industry’s backbone, another mode of storytelling called transmedia storytelling also help the industry stay relevant as well. Commonly mistaken to mean the same thing, adaptations and transmedia refer to two different ways to tell stories. An “adaptation” means a text is altered or amended for filming (OED), while “transmedia storytelling” is using multiple platforms to continue a single narrative (Rutledge). Both positively contribute to publishing, more specifically the continuance of print, in different ways.

 

This article will hopefully convince you that, when it comes down to it, print won’t die due to both of these storytelling modes, as the move from screen to print offers a more enriching entertainment experience. While sitting through a two and half hour movie may be exciting (until your behinds hurt), sitting down with a book adapted from a film is often more rewarding as there is more room to dive into details not cinematically covered. And when it comes to transmedia, stories are built upon, worlds are expanded, and the experience continues regardless of whether or not the film (or TV series) finishes.

 

Within the last three decade or so, novelizations of films have entered the marketplace as regular promotion for a majority of major releases (Mahlknecht, 138). Often, films based on books are re-released with new covers depicting the recognizable movie poster, trying to attract audiences. “A look at the cover of any given novelization inevitably suggests the film more than anything else” (141); however, beneath the surface there is often a divergent from the final film material. As stated in Mahlknecht’s article, the writer of the novelization “rarely gets to see even a rough cut of the film than the studio commissioned him or her to novelize” (141). This allows for more creativity when crafting the story as the writer is not simply regurgitating the film on to paper. They also often differ from the films because, if the writer is privy to the script it is usually an earlier draft. Because these books are simultaneously released with the films, they include scenes that never made it into the final cut (Chicago Reader, Jones), giving readers a chance to experience the story in a different way. For Greg Cox, a longtime “film novelizer”, he often creates novels from very little information provided by the film company. For example, when creating a 300-page novel he is often only privy to a 110-page script (Hazlitt, Sloan). And even if the novel isn’t based on an earlier script, they still give readers a rewarding experience.

 

“Fleshed out with a greater attention to character backstory and more descriptive action sequences” (Vanity Fair, Suskind), these novels offer fans more connectivity to the stories they enjoy. Popular novelizer Alan Dean Foster, who has written the famous novelization of Alien is a perfect example of creating a story beyond a film:

 

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The opening scene of his novelization of Alien depicts the crew members in “hypersleep” on the way to Earth. Foster takes the opportunity to describe their dreams and flesh out their backstories—when they finally wake, the reader has more background on them than the film could provide. (Hazlitt, Sloan)

 

 

 

 

Reading a novelization of a film is also an opportunity to relive the excitement and enthusiasm experienced the first time around; something any fan would dive at (Vanity Fair, Suskind). There is also an appeal to novelizations because publishers already see a built-in audience. Katy Wild, the editorial director of Titan Publishing Group Ltd., says that, like the movies these books are simply another means of entertainment (Suskind), which people still seek out regardless of the digital age we live in. Some recent examples of novelizations that have taken off are the ones written by Greg Cox, who authored Godzilla, Dark Knight Rises, and Man of Steel; all of which sold steadily with much of their audience being ones who watched the films, with Man of Steel and Dark Knight Rises reaching best-seller status (Yahoo! Movies, Chaney).

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 5.39.13 PM ManOfSteel_final_cvr_US-1-610x1002 Godzilla-novel

 

large_9781742837765Another reason for doing novelizations is to attract readers of a different audience. Most commonly seen with films targeted towards children, publishers often create “junior novels”. A publisher that excels at this is Marvel Publishing Worldwide who essentially capture “a flavour of the overall movie to make a terrific product”, (David Gabriel, Sr. V.P of print, sales, and marketing) that is easily marketed to parents who begin to read to their children. This audience is also a fairly reliable one too, as out of the “top 20 grossing movies of 2012, 2013, and 2014…reveals that most of the films that were turned into novels…were sold as junior or young adult titles” (Yahoo! Movies, Chaney). Though not the most lasting, novelizations such as junior novels can nevertheless be relied on for at least some profit. Especially for when the anticipation for a film is high, novelizations simply market themselves (Hazlitt, Sloan).

 

Regardless of being in this tremendously digitally suffocating world, film novelizations continue to be produced and sold. But despite having successful novelizations like the Alien books series, the act of novelizing is often under scrutiny; especially, by critics who “generally dismiss them as routinely commissioned, worthless by-products of the film whose release they accompany” (Mahlknecht, 139). And though the argument for them being as such is completely understandable, there is no denying the success they continue to garner. Dewey Gramer, a writer with 11 novelizations under his name, describes the process as a “dirty business” with extremely short deadlines  (The New York Times, Kobel). Novelizers also have to deal with sudden changes given by the film production team, on top of the short deadlines. For example, while writing the novel for Godzilla, Cox would get phone calls about new scenes shot, and be faxed the script pages. Four months up until the release of the film, Cox was still waiting for changes to be made, which gives a sense of how unpredictable the process of novelizing can be.

 

On the other hand, when novelizations are not directly created by someone transcribing scripts into novel form, they have a better chance of avoiding the scrutiny strict novelizations receive. Touching on a point made earlier about novelizations being a means of finding out more about a film’s story and characters, some instance go even further to even expand on plotlines and give further backstory. When this happens it’s referred to as transmedia storytelling; stories continue to be told (from film and TV) on pages. Since we already discussed novelizations, what will be covered now is how graphic novel tie-ins perpetuate storytelling in ways that are even more meaningful than adaptations from screen to print.

 

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While novelizations give readers insight into details, transmedia storytelling continues stories giving readers even more. In the case of graphic novel versions of TV shows, they not only a way of giving fans more of what they want, but they create and maintain a connection with the readers. Take for example, the series end of Son Of Anarchy. The show’s creator, Kurt Sutter made statement saying that to keep the world of the show in the consciousness of fans, they would have to marry art and commerce (The New York Times, Alter). This in turn led to the creation of the the comic book series, Bratva and it speaks to the built-in audience discussed earlier as you know that fans will show up.

 

 

Another great example of transmedia storytelling through comics is the tie-in comics to the popular BBC American TV show Orphan Black, about one woman’s journey as she discovers she is part of a cloning conspiracy. With a premise like that, you could see how expanding beyond the world of the television screen is beneficial to the story building. The series publisher, IDW Publishing, spoke with one of its writers. She revealed that the show’s creators have developed expansive backstories to the clones on the show, and believed that the comic book medium would be a better way to tell these stories, that would not have worked as well on screen (IDW Publishing).

 

 rsz_screen_shot_2016-04-02_at_25813_pmOrphan-Black-1-600x323

 

With shows ending, like Sons Of Anarchy, and new shows quickly building a fan base like Orphan Black, transmedia storytelling is a sure way to further engage with readers / viewers. And although comic book extensions of shows still receive backlash “as mere merchandise rather than art” (Alter), it does not keep writers, illustrators, and publishers away. It is an extension of the creativity that TV culture has cultivated, and it’s attracting established writers. For example, “Steven Charles Gould, an award-winning science fiction writer, signed on to write novels inspired by James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar” (Alter).

 

With big name writers and publishers backing up the choice to create comics and novels based off of TV show and films, knowing that there is an existing fan base to tap into, the future of print doesn’t seem too disappointing. Despite the backlash for it being a means of cheap merchandise at airports, there is meaning in the novels and comics tied to films. With all the promotion done for films as well, these novelizations continue to sell themselves; both as a means of detailing stories and giving publishers to make more print books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

“adaptation, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Alter, Alexandra. “Popular TV Series and Movies Maintain Relevance as Novels.” The New York Times 4 Jan. 2015: A1. Web.  

Chaney, Jen. “What Does the Future Look Like for Movie Novelizations?.” Yahoo! Movies 18 June. 2014. Web.  

Clarke, M. J. “The Strict Maze Of Media Tie-In Novels.” Communication, Culture & Critique 2.4 (2009): 434-456. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Jones, J.R. “You’ve seen the movie — now write the book!.” Chicago Reader 18 Nov. 2011. Web.  

Kobel, Peter. “To Some, a Movie Is Just an Outline For a Book.” The New York Times 1 April. 2011. Web.

Mahlknecht, Johannes. “The Hollywood Novelization: Film As Literature Or Literature As Film Promotion?.” Poetics Today 33.2 (2012): 137-168. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Rutledge, Pamela. “What is Transmedia Storytelling?.” Athinklab. N.p., 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Sansbury, Jason. “Television Shows Turned Into Comics: Why Comics Excel At Keeping Stories Alive.” Nerds On Earth 24 Oct. 2015. Web.

Sloan, Will. “The Endangered Art of the Movie Novelization.” Hazlitt 20 Feb. 2014. Web.

Suskind, Alex. “Yes, People Still Read Movie Novelizations…And Write Them, Too.” Vanity Fair 27 Aug. 2014. Web.

Vestal, Shannon. “40 Books Becoming 2015 Movies.” MSN 5 April. 2015. Web.

 

Narang, Ni­tant. 2015. “Notes From The Un­der­ground: A Case Study of sub­Ter­rain” SFU Mas­ter of Pub­lishing Pro­ject Re­port, Fall 2015.

Presentation Notes by Monica Miller
January 18, 2016

Narang’s report is a case study of subTerrain, particularly in regard to their financial stability and the changing publishing landscape for magazines. His purpose was to identify the decisive factors that subT used in its rise to prominence, as well as “ongoing attempts to augment [subTerrain] for online consumption”.

It’s noted that lit mags help shape literary trends and conversations as well as giving unknown writers a chance to develop their voice. But while smaller lit mags can boast that a writer who is now a bestselling author got their start in the mag, they are also limited by this factor. Small lit mags, by their very nature, don’t have the clout to pull in current bestselling writers—they can’t compete with large literary magazines for big name writers. You wouldn’t catch Margaret Atwood writing something experimental for subTerrain nowadays.

What these small literary magazines provide for readers are “literary and cultural niches existing beyond the horizons of mainstream media” (Narang, 2015, pg. 9). This also means they provide a venue for smaller literary publishers whose books wouldn’t get excerpted or reviewed by large literary magazines, and can’t afford the cost of advertising to compete with multinational publishers.

Lorimer’s BC Magazine study (2005) also notes this circumstance in regard to newsstand prominence. “Canadian magazines have problems in common such as competition for space on magazine racks. This wasteful method of reaching readers favours those companies with the largest print runs, the most titles, and the deepest pockets to purchase favourable presence and placement” (Lorimer, 2005, pg. 4).

subT’s factors of rise in readership:

  • Member of Magazines Canada
  • Online website for collecting subscriptions and renewals
  • Writing contests
  • Involvement with creative writing programs
  • New USA distributor (as of 2014)

The importance of this paper for our ongoing discussion (in PUB 800 & MPub at large) is understanding the grant structure and how it affects magazines.

Narang is looking specifically at the Department for Canadian Heritage, and the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF) which is now in existence. Narang details the history of the granting bodies prior to the creation of the CPF:

  • 1849 – Post Office Act – how postal subsidies were distributed
  • 1994 –General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade became the World Trade Organization, affected the Postal Subsidy Program
  • 1996 – creation of the Department of Canadian Heritage
  • 1998 – creation of Publishing Assistance Program (PAP) – developed from the Postal Subsidy Program.
  • 2004 – PAP announces new formula: from reference-tariff regime (published payed a fixed subsidized postal rate) to percentage-based (on the % of your total annual circulation). Rate of subsidy decreased 2%
  • between 1999-2008 – average mailing rates for magazines using Canada Post increased 4 times faster than inflation. (report by Magazines Canada, attributed it to the loss in letter mail being transferred to increase cost of publications mail).
  • 2005 – PAP – slashed funding to magazines by $7 million
  • 2006 – Canada Post notifies Canadian Heritage of its intent to stop funding the PAP. Mandated to continue until 2009.
  • 2009 – Canada Magazine Fund & PAP combined to create CPF

First, the CPF now has three components: Aid to Publishers, Business Innovation, and Collective Initiatives. We’re talking just about the Aid to Publishers, which provides funding to eligible publications and publishers can use these funds for whatever they deem fit—distribution, editorial, business development, online activities, etc.

Narang did a decent summary of how the change from Publishers Assistance Program (PAP) and Canada Magazine Fund (CMF) to an amalgamation of the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF) affected small magazines. But it is important to know other things the CPF changes brought.

The new changes in 2009:

  • Didn’t just mean a 5,000 paid circulation minimum for small publishers
  • Capped total grants to any one title at $1.5 million, and the biggest magazines in Canada lost thousands (sometimes a million) dollars in funding. While this may not seem like a problem for a big magazine like Chatelaine or Maclean’s, this was done in one fell blow, meaning that these magazines had little to no warning to make up the funding losses.
  • Titles published by professional associations are now ineligible. Even if they used to receive funding under the CMF, PAP, or both. This means that if you belong to a society for mechanical engineers and they produce a magazine for their membership, they are not But a non-profit society that collects membership and produces a magazine, such as Canadian Geographic, is eligible.
  • Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 changes, some magazines actually benefited. Aboriginal, official language minority and ethno-cultural magazines had lower criteria. They must sell at least 2,500 paid copies annually. They are also exempt from the criteria of having at least 50% of total circulation copies through paid circulation.

The problem Narang raised with the CPF’s criteria for small magazines, is the misguided idea that smaller is synonymous with not successful. Just because a publication has a niche audience and narrowly-defined readership, does not mean that it is of poor quality.

Proving you have a readership is one thing, but many questioned how they came to the number of 5,000. Paid circulation is defined by CPF as “number of copies of a magazine or non-daily newspaper sold through subscriptions and/or single-copy and newsstand sales.” But the emphasis on paid circulation is a quantitative requirement, which Narang points out creates a “dissonance between literary publishers and funding bodies” (pg. 39).

According to Lorimer’s Benchmarks report (2015), “With respect to subcategories of titles, while sales to readers make a fairly consistent contribution to revenue (average is 13%), ad sales, fundraising and donations, and other income contribute more than 10% higher percentage for arts titles as contrasted with literary titles” (Lorimer, 2015, pg. 4)

Grants are not the only source of revenue, but when you have a niche product with high production values, you are still operating in a system that values economies of scale. The more you print, produce, circulate, the higher visibility to have. How can the smaller scale endeavours compete? Also, these magazines are running a business, so having an investor (in this case government funding) change support without warning affects their bottom line. Around the same time , there were some other issues with arts funding (not just magazines):

  • 2009 – BC Arts Council budged was slashed, cut 53% from 2008/09 levels.
  • 2009 – despite receiving three-year funding commitments from 2008-09 to 2010-2011, Gaming grants were frozen without prior warning
  • 2010 Provincial Budget – BC Gaming Commission contributions to the arts have been cut 58% from 2008/09 levels.

As Lorimer’s Benchmarks report (2015) attested, “Arts and literary magazines are branching out in their revenue-generating activities as shown by increases in participation in “other earned revenue” and in the overall amount earned” (Lorimer, 2015, pg. 3).

In light of the CPF criteria and the changing online landscape, Narang identifies some interesting ways subT is changing:

  • Selling copies to literary festivals at $1/copy, and giving the festival the equivalent dollar value in ad space (to increase their paid circulation numbers)
  • Increasing profile through social media, especially new ventures like Line Break on Tumblr
  • Renewal of their web presence (in progress) to better utilize 27 years of backlist content. Their website has already proven to be an important site for subscribers and writers.
  • Other grants (less reliance solely on CPF) – Canada Council for the Arts, BC Gaming Grant, BC Arts Council, City of Vancouver, etc.

One thing Narang doesn’t address, is that if the 5,000 paid circulation criteria is harmful to smaller magazines, what alternative could CPF use? Is there a quantitative figure they can look at? A magazine’s percentage of sales to revenue? Or perhaps their print circulation numbers as a whole, instead of strictly paid circulation? How can you quantify and convince the grant committee “that the magazine is indeed an art and cultural producer that serves and benefits the community … but subTerrain’s content, which is edgy, literary, and not to mention, niche, is often lost on the committee” (Narang, 2015, pg. 26)?