Losing one’s sense of shelf

“Ruined? They’re fine, sitting right there on the shelf.” – James M. Cain

It’s often argued that a movie adaptation, however awful, doesn’t do anything to the original book. But what about to its sales? Mike Sterling reports on a recent drop-off in the Watchmen trade paperback sales:

Oh God, I hope you’re the only person calling it that. Anyway, Tom’s referring to my constant experience with comics sales as tied to their movie tie-ins…in particular, that if there’s a sales bump, it’s almost always before the film’s release, to be followed by a paucity of sales following the release. In my case, Watchmen, formerly a consistent seller, peaked prior to the film coming out, and then stopped selling at all since then.

There are plenty of reasons for this. Other bookstores carrying the book (though it doesn’t look like they’re selling any either), interest dropped off after overexposure in mass media, the local potential audience is saturated, or whatever, and it takes time for demand to build up again. And I’ve been in contact with stores in other parts of the country where Watchmen is still selling, so maybe it simply varies region by region.

I don’t have numbers or even chart rankings right in front of me, unfortunately…the “archive” section of Diamond’s website doesn’t seem to be working at the moment…but for May 2009, the Watchmen TP is near the bottom of the Top 300 Graphic Novels sales list. Again, it’s probably just oversaturation…a ton of copies entered the marketplace over the last few months…so a dip in orders is to be expected. If things are still the same in a year or so, and we still haven’t moved many copies, then that may be a point where worry should set in a bit.

Has bad publicity on the film — it received mixed critical reviews, even from fans, and was overall a box-office disappointment — hurt the original book? It would be interesting to take a look at unsuccessful movie adaptations and their subsequent effect, if any, on book sales. I suspect there are a lot of factors to consider, like the age of the book and how well it was selling beforehand, as well as the many factors Sterling mentions above. Maybe successful adaptations result in a similar drop-off. Maybe there is no correlation at all. But it would be interesting to see some actual figures.

One thought on “Losing one’s sense of shelf

  1. Just anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of people saying they went out and read Watchmen after seeing the movie (or, in some cases, possibly before seeing the movie). And personally I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a drop-off in sales after pretty much everybody who wanted a copy thanks to the movie got one.

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