After a documentary has been filmed and edited, and the clips have been swept off the cutting-room floor, the final product often reveals only the tip of the research iceberg. In fact, the quantity of information culled for a non-fiction film or TV project could easily fill a tome or two – a concept that is beginning to occur to savvy publishers.
Companion books can offer both extra publicity and profits for whomever holds the publishing rights, and at a minimal additional cost. The trick is to hold onto those rights and then exploit them as much as possible. ‘The difficulty arises when rights are held by a party who doesn’t exploit them,’ says Peter Kaufman, president and publisher of New York-based TV Books. ‘That happens time and again, both in books and in other media.’
However, more and more producers, broadcasters and distributors are waking up to the opportunities available through ancillary markets, and book publishing is a prime example.
Producer Thomas Lucas (of New York-based Thomas Lucas Productions) readily agrees that getting involved in ancillary markets is the thing to do these days. ‘It’s natural to think that possibly a lot of the research you’ve done and the material you’ve collected might lend itself to becoming a book.’ He jumped at the chance to create one to accompany his latest project, Voyage to the Milky Way, a two-hour special produced for Washington-based distributor Devillier Donegan Enterprises and PBS.
Halfway through production, Lucas saw the makings of a book, though he initially envisioned an image-rich version for the coffee table. ‘That was my idea originally, and it came from having images that seemed to lend themselves to being in a book.’ DDE, which is working on several projects with TV Books (Stealing Time, Red Files), put Lucas in touch with Peter Kaufman, and together they decided on a text-focused companion book that included lots of images.
Over at U.S. cablecaster A&E, the process works a bit differently. ‘We’ll target a couple of shows and then build some kind of a pitch for that show to be a book,’ says Jonathan Paisner, A&E’s manager of consumer product development. A handful of publishers receive a pitch kit, which includes ‘what the guts of the show is, why this is a good show and why this could make a cool book, in addition to some of the marketing support that we might be able to put behind [it],’ he explains. ‘We sort of package the whole project for a publisher to take on and get moving.’
Over the past three years, A&E has become much more proactive in pursuing publishing deals for its programs, Paisner says. The cablecaster has done several companion books, including Civil War Journal (Rutledge Hill Press), a three-book series based on the series of the same name, and American Justice (TV Books), which includes landmark cases from the show. Currently in the works is a book called Days of Infamy (Hyperion Press), based on Military Blunders, an upcoming History Channel series (26 x 60-minute), set to air in August. The book will be released in September.
The producer might seem to be the obvious choice to author the companion piece, but Kaufman firmly disagrees. ‘There are two reasons why the producer shouldn’t write the book,’ he says. ‘Sometimes the producer can’t write. I will go explicitly on record and say that to all of the producers. But also, sometimes the producers are too busy to write, and that’s the greater danger.’
For Milky Way, Lucas recommended Donald Goldsmith, a consultant to the project, to write the text. In Kaufman’s opinion, this was an ideal situation. ‘The best model for our business is to suss out a consultant to the project who is either a published author or expert in the field – a historian or a journalist or a policy-maker or a scientist, you name it – and to work with that person who is, in effect, both an expert and a writer.’ For Days of Infamy, Paisner says publisher Hyperion found an appropriate writer, who he then approved.
That isn’t to say that the producer is necessarily excluded from the book’s creative genesis. Lucas says he made suggestions along the way about the book’s organization, content and cover, including the selection of images and the accompanying captions. And, from his perspective, that was good enough. ‘I’m a producer, not a book publisher or a book author, so I have a stake in the process, but I don’t have as much stake in that as I do in the look and the feel and the content of the film. I can let go a little bit.’
Distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. For example, TV Books uses the U.S. and Canadian sales teams of London-based Harper Collins Publishers for distribution in North America. ‘Every place that sells books basically will carry one of our books, and that’s retail,’ Kaufman says. When appropriate, books are also distributed through specialty stores and catalogs, he adds.
The ideal situation is to have the books available for sale as close to the air-date of the program as possible, which allows for maximum promotion opportunities. By the May 19 launch of the Milky Way special, the book had been promoted on air, linked on the Web, excerpted in several magazines and reviewed, Kaufman says.
There are always exceptions to the rule, however. Days of Infamy, for example, will come out about a month after the launch of the series. ‘It’s okay in this case because the show will continue to run for several weeks. So, it was less of an issue to really rush this out in time,’ Paisner says. And although the companion books to the Civil War Journal were created after the shows were made, it allowed for a different approach. ‘They basically took the transcripts [of the show] in their entirety and edited them so they were more appropriate for the book presentation. . . . It became a pretty interesting use of the medium,’ Paisner adds.
Advances and royalties are worked out between the publisher and the rights holder, which could be the producer, broadcaster or distributor. In some instances rights are jointly held. For example, Joan Lanigan, DDE’s VP of legal and business affairs, says all of DDE’s contracts with producers include a provision about ancillary products.’Those rights and revenues are shared among all the partners in the television production.’ According to Kaufman, average royalties range between 7% and 15% of the list price (standard for all books, non-fiction or fiction), and advances are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
For the Milky Way book project, the parties agreed that Lucas would receive the advance and royalties, and then divide the money among PBS, DDE, the author and himself. Lucas says the publisher provided a US$15,000 advance, which he turned over to the author as a show of good faith. In his opinion, the advance was small relative to the advances provided for other books. ‘TV Books claims that lots of authors are willing to do it for that much money, but it’s not that much. So, you have to find an author who is willing to do it for that much.’ Lucas says a standard advance is generally US$20,000 to $50,000, but acknowledges that Goldsmith will receive a share of the royalties, ‘so it might be worth it for him in the end.’
At A&E, Paisner says producers ‘participate on the back-end of getting a portion of the advance monies, getting a portion of the royalties.’ But he wants to make sure that their focus stays firmly on the programming side. ‘We’re basically paying them to create a television show. We don’t want a situation where they’re spending time and energy creating a book at the expense of creating the television show.’
Aside from the money, branching out into the book world holds other benefits, namely brand-building for the broadcasters. ‘It’s additional income, but almost as important is that it extends the franchise,’ says Michael Cascio, A&E’s senior VP of programming. ‘The engine of success is still the television show. The other things are brand extensions that may be very lucrative or may be moderately lucrative or may be marginally lucrative, but they serve another purpose, which is to get us out there to reach people in different ways.’
For the producer, a companion book provides an additional, tangible expression of his work. ‘It’s possibly profiting more on the work that we’ve put into this, in ways that might be easy in fact,’ says Lucas. ‘But it’s also the desire to see some of what you’ve done extended into other media venues.’
Overall, companion books offer an attractive risk-to-reward ratio. ‘It becomes an opportunity cost more than anything else.’ Paisner concludes, ‘the cost of putting our attention towards this for whatever the time is than something else.’