This post is going to explore how books are commoditised by the media (regardless of their genre or literary status). Because, nearly anything can be advertised – and if it raises an author’s publicity profile, then that’s even better.
The condensation of words goes something like this:
Oral speech > written word > visual medium
Reading books is extremely unpopular, largely because they’re viewed as academic/literary. This means that they’re unappealing to the masses, and that too much brain power is required to read a book. Whereas you can watch a film or TV show regardless of your IQ, and still enjoy what’s happening.
How does merchandising happen?
So, we have big blockbusters, and we have serious art films. Then we have merchandise. Merchandise combines everything – spin-off to shows, dolls, costumes, toys, albums from songs sung, musicals, and just about everything else. The more heavily franchised something is, the more financially successful it becomes. The prime target audience tends to be children, because children are often dazzled by sparkly dresses and don’t have to worry about money.
The first commercialised film: Star Wars
Star Wars is said to be the first merchandised movie – with prequels, sequels, lego toys, action figures, and the Star Wars motion simulator rides in Disneyland theme parks. Since then, nearly every film series has done the same thing. Targeting children and young people does seem to be a recipe for success. Let’s look at a few popular franchises and see how they’ve gotten famous.
Some good examples:
Harry Potter has just about everything you could want to merchandise a series – quirky sweets, famous film locations such as Alnwick castle, Quidditch broomsticks, odd facts about Hogwarts for Top Trumps and Trivial Pursuit, and there’s even 4D motion rides and Butterbeer served, and you can even travel between parks on the Hogwarts Express. Universal Studios can make money out of just about any movie, such is their huge influence.
There are many reasons why Twilight has become very successful. Firstly, at the time it was released, teenage vampire and dark fantasy fiction was all over bookshelves. Secondly, its cast is fairly high-profile thanks to Robert Pattinson. And thirdly, the romance genre appealed to the masses.
The Lord of the Rings
Like Twilight, LOTR had Orlando Bloom to raise the status of the films with his sex appeal. But fantasy is something people can really get on board with – both geeks and ordinary folks love it. After a large following due to books, the films took off due to their wonderful special effects, GCI and graphics.
Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time. The Little Mermaid film, by Disney, had bouts of success with a Disney theme track, Ariel costumes and dolls, also by Hans Christian Anderson. But Frozen outdoes The Little Mermaid 100xs. The last time I visited Disneyland Paris, there were outfits for both Anna and Elsa, Frozen parades every 30 minutes, and the logo on every object with a price tag on it.
Frozen, Harry Potter and Twilight have three selling ingredients: social triangles, magic and a troubled past (Lord of The Rings is a bit of an odd one out). First, a trio of characters usually adds drama in either the form of a romance or a third wheel friend. Magic usually comes in the form of either costume or mystical creatures (usually both) that can be eventually sold on as plush toys. And a troubled past – whether it’s the death of parents, bullying or just being different – plays on the sympathy note.
Other fictional formats: comic books
Good grief, in 2016 there is absolutely no way of escaping the adaptation of comic book characters (much to the delight of cosplayers attending Comicon). The latest version of action movies, these films have witty side humour, actors and actresses oozing sex appeal and plenty of CGI.
An unusual middle ground: Alice in Wonderland
I’m going to use this story over Greek myths like Hercules and Cinderella, because Alice in Wonderland has one clear author: Lewis Carroll. I’ll admit that perhaps the novel’s adaptations have been more faithful than other tales, but this is in part because French Surrealists have snapped up the story, as well as Tim Burton.
Once again, after Disney snapped up the movie, the teacups ride in the Magic Kingdom, Alice plush toy and movie soundtracks came running along with the franchise. However, niche markets such as the Steampunk community, cosplayers and followers of the lomita fashion movement have seen its appeal – leading to Victorian and Edwardian clothing stores, independent teashops and even Alice-themed alternative events. The trouble is, though, that Alice doesn’t have a pretty factor; most of her appeal lies in her personality, and it’s usually adults who want to cosplay as her. The point being, that Lewis Carroll’s book has turned into a hybrid platform between niche and mainstream.