The Financial Implications of Adaptation in the Art and Publishing Industries

Published: 2019/12/05 Number of words: 3156

Literature Review

The Adaptation Industry

Adaptations are not a new occurrence. Dramatists, writers and artists, from before the time of Shakespeare, have re-purposed material for their own generations. Hutcheon defines an adaptation as an “extended, deliberate, announced revisitation of a particular work of art” (2006, p.170). Hutcheon is referring to the product of adaptation, although in addition to this, an entire industry has sprung up, formulated by revisiting and exploiting art, especially novels. During the past few decades, analysing adaptation for its artistic merit has grown in popularity and this is reflected in the increasing academic research on the subject. In October 2008, a new journal dedicated to adaptation studies was published by Oxford University Press. This indicates that there is an area for research which needs to be studied in conjunction with research in culture, theatre and literary studies. As illustrated by the increase of scholarly publications on this topic, the growth of the adaptation industry presents a developing cultural phenomenon that cannot be ignored (Reynolds, 1993). There has been much debate and study regarding adaptations from novels to film, which can be seen in publications such as the critical anthology, The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen (2007) and Books in Motion (2005). As well as the academic debate, adaptation as a genre in its own right is being classed as an art in Hollywood; screenwriters are eligible to receive Academy Awards for ‘Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium’ (Leitch, 2008). Despite the popularity of novel to film adaptations, there has not been much discussion about novels to musicals or about adaptations from the perspective of the publishing industry. This is surprising, as most adaptations are based upon novels.

Critics and theorists in the research area of comparative literary studies agree that adaptations are positive, as stories and concepts are (re)used and (re)formatted in line with trends and tastes in popular culture. Fiction is used so frequently as a basis for adaptation into other mediums that ‘it is hard to think of a well known work of fiction that has not at some time been adapted for performance on the stage, television or film’ (Reynolds, 1993, p.3). Although this has become accepted as the norm, it raises the question: why is adaptation so popular? One answer is longevity; audiences and consumers become familiar with stories, and once popular, the stories tend to live on for generations. Publishers have identified this and are now using it to their advantage; steps are being taken to ensure that the audience is made aware of the existence of the original novel. Owning the rights to works of literature that have been adapted can ensure the survival of a publishing house, as extensive sales of adapted novels could recall them from the backlist. With new technologies of print available, publishers are able to satisfy new audiences and develop their publishing catalogues from revenue generated from the backlist.

Researchers and scholars in media communications state that the boundaries between the different business functions in the entertainment and media industries are increasingly becoming blurred. Lacey (2002) adds to this debate by highlighting that ‘there is obviously a great deal of overlap in these industries as many media organisations aim to own a portfolio of companies under the banner of what can loosely be called the entertainment industry’ (2008, p. 7). Adaptations from literature could be an interpretation of this overlap. As Hutcheon (2006) mentions, adaptations have been circulating for many centuries, although the way in which stories and concepts are being adapted and readapted for today’s audiences surpass anything that Shakespeare may have been used for. Adaptations are no longer the retelling of stories from one medium to another; they have become money-making phenomena within the entertainment industry, siphoning as much revenue from a single audience as possible. It is unlikely that consumers of books would make significant repeat purchases of the same novel, so adaptations have become the foundation of a range of extension strategies for publishers.

In order to place novels in the context of the adaptation industry, scholars and researchers in the area view the book as a portion of the media, especially now that many international publishing houses are part of larger multimedia conglomerates. In examination of this, Murray writes, ‘so thoroughly has book publishing become absorbed into the media sector the wonder is that a conference exclusively devoted to book culture takes place at all’ (2003, p. 229). As the media and entertainment industries use the same content in different guises, it is almost impossible to leave books out of media franchises. Publishing can be seen as the first step in sourcing content so that it can be used by other companies within the conglomerate. Despite publishing being of significant importance to the parent company, generally it only accounts for about 10% of the revenue (Murray, 2003). While overall it accounts for 22% of the UK media market, publishing is one of the fastest growing international businesses (Richardson, p. 5, 2007). Therefore publishing should not be discounted from cross-media franchises.

Marketing of Cross-Media Products

Feather & Woodbridge define bestsellers as:
Newly published books which sell in large quantities, and whose sales are recorded in lists which are published in the newspapers and the trade press and through various databases used by the trade (2007, p. 212). In order for a new title to be catapulted from being merely another book on the shelf to becoming a bestseller, editorial and marketing departments within publishing houses work closely together to ensure that new titles are given the best start in what is a crowded market. Other than increasing sales, another reason for publishers to invest heavily in marketing is that a favourable impression is given to retailers. Book retailers are assured that publishers are doing their best to advertise their titles to consumers. Retailers will be more likely to stock the heavily marketed books as there will be more of a guarantee that they will sell (Brassington & Pettitt, 2004). Reviews in the trade or national press could be described as indirect marketing or, in the terms of Baverstock (2008), ‘free’ marketing. An addition to free marketing strategies is that of association with other products. In this case, the adaptation industry is of benefit to publishing, as marketing can be conducted via cross-media promotion.

Adaptations and content reformatting to other mediums could be deemed to be another form of marketing, rather than simply a new interpretation of art. Aarseth writes that ‘risk-averse producers and investors seek to capitalize on marketing by co-launching concepts through multiple media’ (2006, p. 203). This marketing model of using all available media for the same content is being frequently utilised, which builds up cross- media franchises in today’s markets, and subsequently, cross-media promotion. The original format will have an audience which will grow as other mediums are introduced, involving the original concept, and thus ensure further cross-media marketing. Aarseth states that the producers who use this strategy are risk-averse, whereas other critics would highlight this as being a well thought out ’marketing assault’ – a strategy which makes good business sense, obtaining further revenue from an established market (Alpert & Jacobs, 2004).

In terms of cross-marketing, publishers may not have to invest further capital into the marketing, as the adaptation will do the work for them. Marketing and promotion of the adaptation is planned and, indeed, paid for predominantly by the producer of the adapted work, which gives new dimensions to the term ‘free’ marketing. Therefore, publishers could expect to see a rise in sales while the promotion surrounding the adapted work circulates. Adaptations, especially visual adaptations of novels, support each other; just as the novel can affect the reception and response of a film, so can cross-promotion affect the reception of the novel on which it is based (Carlin & Jones, 2007). In the case where an adaptation is not well received and potential readers are put off, adaptations are a disadvantage for the publisher.

When an adaptation is released, it is not uncommon to see a new edition of the novel it was based on with the matching artwork from the adaptation on the front cover; this is what Carlin and Jones (2007) refer to as the primacy of cross-promotion. In publishing, this is one of most well-used strategies in cross-media promotion. Consumers are made aware of the adaptation from new book covers and in-store promotion posters. Other direct marketing methods advertise that the adaptation has been based on a novel, thereby enticing the new audience into purchasing the novel. An example of this is the 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire. Random House published a new edition of the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup (2005),on which the film was based, with the movie artwork on the cover. This resulted in a surge in sales of 300% (Freidman et al., 2009). Although this type of promotion benefits both parties, it is not always free to the publisher, as sometimes licence fees to use the artwork are required. In addition to publishers paying licence fees, some marketing campaigns for adaptations are collaborative; as both parties benefit from the marketing, both contribute to the cost (Friedman et al., 2009). The Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire is an example of a musical franchise where this happens. The first two novels in the series had similar artwork to previous novels by Maguire, but after the release of the musical in 2003, the Wicked series was republished to match the artwork used by the musical. This will be explored further in the chapter of comparative case studies.


For many years, branding and the positioning of brands within different industries and markets has become one of the key strategies for large firms and a well-debated subject among marketing theorists. Tollington (1998), as cited by Brassington & Pettitt, states that a brand is ’a name and/or symbol used to uniquely identify the goods and services of a seller from those of its competitors, with a view to obtaining wealth in excess of that obtainable without a brand’ (2004, p.182). Branding is essential in today’s marketplaces if products are to survive; there are continuously new products coming onto the market all of which are vying for market share. ‘Brands often have clearly defined images or “personalities” created by product advertising, packaging, branding and other marketing strategies that focus on positioning a product a certain way or by certain groups of consumers adopting the product.’ (Solomon et al., 2001, p. 5) Companies sometimes use aggressive marketing strategies in order to position and brand their products. Advertising is so fierce that it is now almost impossible not be targeted by some sort of marketing campaign.

Publishing has not been exempt from branding and marketing positioning strategies. The branding of authors is extremely important, as publishers need to compete with the extensive marketing conducted by other entertainment and multi-media industries (Royle, 1999); especially as publishing has shifted from being a product-led to an increasingly market-led industry. In retail outlets today, it is not unusual for authors’ names to be emblazoned on the front cover in bold lettering, considerably larger than the title of the book (Reynolds, 1993). This helps to propel the author into the view of the consumer by effective branding. Brassington & Pettitt state that:

An organisation that uses branding effectively is in a powerful position with the retail trade in gaining shelf space and cooperation. It can also be in a better position to engender consumer loyalty, whether to an individual product or to a range. All of this helps to make branding a very active and strategically important area in marketing. (2004, p.191)

If a publisher is able to advertise that it has a strongly branded author under its umbrella, it aids them in establishing strategic relationships with retailers, literary agents and other related businesses. This indicates that publishers like other businesses, understand the importance of branding and know how to use their assets to their best advantage.

It must be noted that the branding of authors in this context refers mostly to trade publishing, especially in the mass-market fiction genre. Within the education or academic markets, branding is associated with the imprint or the publishing house. For example The Oxford English Dictionary is popular because it is an Oxford University Press publication, not because the person(s) contributing to the dictionary are well known. Consumers do not usually associate publishing houses with a brand when making a purchase, as ’traditionally, branding is regarded in publishing only in terms of individual titles and authors’ (Forsyth, 1997, p.50). There have been numerous studies examining whether a publishing imprint has an effect on consumer buying behaviour. Research published in Publishing Research Quarterly (Winter 1999) conducted by Royle et al.,states that 56% of consumers said that they had some awareness of publishers’ brands while only 4% thought that the imprint was a deciding factor in their purchase. This confirms that author brands are extremely important in the publishing market place. It is unlikely that consumers will buy more than one copy of a bestselling novel for themselves, and so, in terms of single titles, publishers should not expect repeat purchases (Forsyth, 1997). Consumers make repeat purchases when they continuously buy from the same author; therefore publishers must make a great deal of effort to ensure that the author brand is visible to encourage these repeat purchases.

Branded authors are not only good for selling books. Subsidiary rights are big business in today’s media markets; capitalising on this would be a worthy investment and many producers in these industries have identified these lucrative opportunities. Authors have become media savvy as royalties from subsidiary rights can generate further revenue; what Eliot calls ’the intensive farming of literary copyrights’ (2003, p.37). Literary agents have become fierce in negotiating top deals for their authors, continuously striving to sell literary works in as many packages as possible to generate maximum income. These packages allow cross-media franchises to be built, branching from the novel to musicals and subsequent adaptations. Subsidiary rights allow for brands to develop and transcend mediums, which effectively assists in building consumer loyalty and repeat purchases over time (Desmond, 2002). Publishers used to control some or all of the subsidiary rights, as these were another source of income for them. Now, subsidiary rights, especially for film and dramatisation, are retained by literary agents who can sell them for higher sums. It should be highlighted that the ’farming’ of rights is not a new venture. Eliot (2003) argues that since the eighteenth century, booksellers have practiced investing in new editions in order to generate profits as these attracted new copyrights. This procedure is similar to what literary agents do with subsidiary rights today.

Although, generally, publishers no longer benefit directly from the subsidiary rights, sales with regard to dramatisations and the increased exposure that adaptations can produce will almost certainly lead to more sales. Also, if an author becomes a brand due to an adaptation, there will be the consumers’ anticipation of the author’s next book. The adaptation is the publishers’ stake in the franchise; this in turn, would strengthen the brand of the author. Gregory Maguire was a successful author with a portfolio of many novels for children and adults. However he did not gain ‘star status’ until the musical premiered on Broadway and his novel was cross-promoted with the musical. All book stores in New York City, especially those in Times Square, strongly advertised the book with the musical’s matching artwork. This demonstrates how the publisher generated, not only further sales of the novel through cross-promotion, but also the prospect of selling new and existing products which are all synonymous with the musical and the Gregory Maguire brand. This will be further explored in the case study.

As previously mentioned, the strength of an author brand goes beyond just sales, as once familiarity with an author has been achieved, publishers or agents can add value to the brand, (Royle et al., 1999). Agents can demand higher advances or negotiate more favourable terms for their authors, and publishers can also make deals which tilt further in their favour because they ’own‘ a valuable asset. Royle et al. state that, ’having a brand name author now constitutes major leverage against competitors, and can significantly affect financial performance when so much emphasis is placed on specific titles’ (1999, p.5). This is good news for publishers and agents once they have contracts with these authors. However, problems could occur if the author decided to the leave the publisher or literary agency. An example of how branded authors are profitable property is that of Pan, which is now a part of Pan Macmillan. In the 1950s, the recently opened company became extremely successful when it published the Bond novels by Ian Fleming. This accounted for one-fifth of its total sales (Reynolds, 2004). If Fleming had left Pan for another publisher, one fifth of Pan’s revenue would have left with him, and it may not have had the financial muscle to replace that revenue with titles by other authors. Therefore although brands are an integral part of the publishing industry, contingency plans for the collapse of a brand should also be considered by publishers and literary agents.


The subject of adaptations as art and as a vehicle for franchises is becoming increasingly popular for academic study and within the entertainment industry. Cross-media marketing of adaptations allows publishers to not only to focus their own marketing activities, but also ensure that revenue supports new titles. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of products that have been adapted from other mediums. Consumers enjoy experiencing the story in different ways and they embrace media franchises. Also, the franchise created by adapted literature not only generates new sales for the novel it was based on, but also helps to create a brand for the author. As consumers of trade fiction recognise the author brand more than the publisher brand, it is imperative that publishers utilise this to their advantage. Through the use of subsidiary rights they can generate revenue, not only from the increased sales of books but also from royalties.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055