For what seems like forever, book authors and their publishers have treated Hollywood as a glorified cash machine. In the long-gone days of the silver screen, Ernest Hemingway once summed up the relationship in his trademark way. “You throw them your book, they throw you the money,” he said, “then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came.” In the digital age, movie and television producers surely deserve better treatment than that.
As book sales languish, especially adult fiction, authors and publishers must wonder where the next generation of readers will come from. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu may provide the answer.
Porter Anderson, editor in chief at Publishing Perspectives, has recently noted several important ways that the exchange between page and screen is evolving. He joins me with a take on the difficult choices facing content creators and content consumers.
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Christopher Kenneally: A recent essay that you published on Publishing Perspectives caught our eye and sort of continued a thread that we began almost a year ago in a discussion at BookExpo. That is the evolving role, the evolving relationship, that page and screen have – the book publishers and authors on the one hand and the screen producers of all types – movies, TV, and of course the services like Hulu and Netflix – on the other side. It all derives from this need that publishers today have for, as you put it, to bring more digital life and profit to their content.
Porter Anderson: Yeah, exactly. I think the message for this year to our publishers is first, get yourself a producer. Find somebody that you like, somebody whose work you like, get very close, and keep that person really close and be really nice to that person. Because as we know, it’s a production company that takes a property into a studio. Unless you’re in a very strong position, you don’t just walk right into 21st Century Fox and tell them I’ve got what you need. You actually get to Ridley Scott, and his production company walks it in, because he knows what they need.
This is the relationship that I’m trying to encourage for our publishers. Because as you say, the need to move more deeply into the digital space is growing very fast, and it also is basically a train that we don’t want to see leave the station without the book publishing industry right on board.
CK: It raises some important questions for publishers, though, because in a traditional publishing house, they’re accustomed to looking for certain things from a submission – good story, characters, plot development, and all that kind of attractive points. For the screen producers, they want that, but they want more, I think.
PA: They do. They need a lot of range. And for one thing, they want to take it away from you immediately. As our good friend Josh Malerman, who is the author of Bird Box, has told me recently, one of the lucky great traits he’s discovered in himself is that he’s happy to have his book taken away from him by the screenwriters so that they can work their magic on it. He’s not one of the authors who lies awake all night thinking, what are they doing to my book?
But this is actually one of the stages of the process that I think many publishers are going to need to come to terms with more quickly than perhaps in the past – and many authors are going to – in that what Hollywood is looking for is going to be guided so abruptly at times by trends and is going to need so much adjustment in many points in order to match those trends.
What’s happening with the streaming platforms – with the streamers, as we call them – Netflix and Amazon Prime and the others, is that they are following the audience, as you know, through great data research and their algorithmic ability to tell what people want. They are following their audience’s interest very closely, at a much faster rate of production and reaction than Hollywood has been able to make in the past. That will mean, I think at times, that a property coming out of a great publishing house that at one point in our history would have been made as almost an iconic treasure and very carefully and respectfully guarded, may get pulled out of shape more than it might have in the past, simply because Hollywood is that responsive to its audiences today.
View the full transcript here.