From page to screen and back again

Book publishers have fallen on hard times but a new crop of festive television adaptations is luring in new readers and boosting sales

By Kate Youde
Sunday 03 January 2010 01:00

A children's tale of a fearless mouse and a post-apocalyptic vision of flesh-eating plants may not have much in common on paper. But literary big-sellers The Gruffalo and The Day of the Triffids are among the books tipped for further increased sales after a seasonal TV boost.

Book stores, even after the demise of Borders and Woolworths, face pressure from supermarkets, but even internet sales are down. The says data from Nielsen Bookscan's General Retail Market, which indicates high-street performance, fell by 6.9 per cent last year and other indicators show total sales, including the internet, were down for the second year.

So, booksellers are hoping this year's TV schedule, which featured a host of new adaptations, will fuel demand for the original texts. Even though TV tie-ins account for only a fraction of overall book sales, retailers say they bring new readers to existing writers and can do wonders for their back catalogue.

Doctor Who fans were also busy pre-ordering Russell T Davies's Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale on Amazon after 10.4 million people tuned in to watch David Tennant's final episode as the BBC's Time Lord on Friday.

"A TV adaptation can be the best free advertising a book can get," said a spokeswoman for Waterstone's, which saw sales of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps treble in the week after a festive screening in 2008. "Frequent Jane Austen adaptations garner remarkable sales and reintroduce new generations of readers to her books. Where the effect is most obvious, though, is with relatively obscure classics and with contemporary novels."

Sales of Elizabeth Gaskell's "lost classic" Cranford soared by more than 500 per cent at Waterstone's in the four weeks during and after its BBC airing in 2007, compared with the four weeks before the serialisation. The bookseller expects another, albeit less dramatic, sales rise after the bonnet drama's recent return.

Andrea Levy's 2004 novel Small Island catapulted back into the Top 10 paperback fiction chart at Christmas thanks to a December TV outing. And, although retailers are not expecting the sort of sales garnered by such hit serial adaptations as Andrew Davies's Pride and Prejudice and Bleak House, they hope to shift extra copies of books featured over the holiday season. Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo has already sold more than four million copies worldwide but a Christmas Day animation attracted 8.8 million viewers, and has further widened its appeal.

Jasper Sutcliffe, senior buyer at Foyles in London, said January was slow and welcomed "any help we can get". He said adaptations raised awareness and brought in people who might not otherwise visit the shop. However, Foyles' customers often shied away from copies with TV tie-in jackets owing, perhaps, to a "slight snob value". ITV's 2008 Christmas dramatisation of Sarah Waters' Affinity led to a slight rise in sales of the novel at Foyles, but also boosted the author's general sales there.

On New Year's Eve morning, the day after the BBC broadcast The Turn of the Screw, the title topped Amazon's "movers and shakers" list. The index identifies books that have gained the most places in its sales ranks over the previous 24 hours, with Henry James's novella enjoying a 1,540 per cent rise. Two editions of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids made the list the day after the second part of the science fiction classic appeared on the BBC.

Joanna Briscoe's 2005 novel Sleep With Me was adapted by Andrew Davies for ITV's New Year's Eve line-up. The author said: "He's unlike any other scriptwriter in that he's a brand. If you have your book done by Andrew Davies, people will notice that." She added that having a novel adapted had "this slow incremental impact on your profile".

A WH Smith spokeswoman confirmed dramatisations, depending on their quality, can have a "big impact". The high street chain anticipates demand by buying additional stock and running promotions.

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