Books: A Week in Books

Sir Alex joins the showbiz economy
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The Independent Culture
THE GAP between sportsbiz and showbiz may have shrunk, but Thursday's launch of Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography at the Hilton in Park Lane still lured a crowd that would look more at home in a Directors' Box than a Soho boite. Next week, Pat Kane will review the Man Utd's boss's story. I just want to underline the paradox that sets this admirably old- fashioned Labour Party, family-values chap at the sharp end of rapid integration in the leisure industries.

Rupert Murdoch, of course, tried and failed to take over Man Utd. Instead, he bought the manager's tale. Both the Sun and the Times have run juicy extracts after a reported pounds 1m. deal. Just as important is the changing role of Sir Alex's publisher. Hodder & Stoughton moved into the W H Smith stable a few months ago. And Ferguson's yarn is the first mega-seller that Hodder has released since the acquisition. Expect to see Sir Alex piled extra high in every WHS.

So a football manager's memoir - a few years ago, the dankest backwater on any list - finds itself the focus of the cross-media embraces that now fix the fate of everything from biography to basketball. A new book by the US media consultant Michael J Wolf, The Entertainment Economy (Penguin, pounds 18.99), explains the thinking behind these Brand Battles with dismaying clarity. Scanning the scene from AOL to MTV, Titanic to Tomb Raider, Wolf praises outfits that create or buy the identities and narratives with widest appeal, and then squeeze every dollar or yen from them in all media - mini-disc to multiplex. Oddly, Wolf's US bias means soccer is the one "mega-media force" he overlooks, even though it offers just those "stories that move us" and "characters we can root for" that ensure, he says, a fast track to big bucks.

Wolf has seen the future, and it franchises. And Nobel laureates, no less than soccer supremos, must bow to the gods of brand-management. When Bertelsmann bought Random House, he writes, it acquired authors such as Toni Morrison, "whose value could dramatically rise with the digitisation of books and the growth in on-line selling". And there was I imagining that Toni Morrison's "value" might lie somewhere else. Silly me.

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