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The New Guard

Publishers Saunter Into the Online World of Books to Movie Tie-In Marketing

EMarketer estimates that by the end of this year, spending for online video advertising will increase by 82.2% to $410 million. Something of a wunderkind in 2006, online video has received an enormous amount of press lately – most notably due to YouTube (and Google’s $1.65 billion interest in it). Regular readers of the news online are aware that video is now integrated more frequently – think NYTimes mini-reportages, and Google Video Ads – like the faux documentary about Napoleon’s GI disorder – pop up all over the place. As television continues to tank, it is predicted that by 2010 online video will be a $3 billion business.

Even with this boom in online production and spending, Ad Age reported that movie studios spend only 3% (compared to the U.S. industry’s overall average of 5.7% as measured by eMarketer) of their marketing budgets on online ads. But Hollywood is slowly getting into the game and over the next four years is expected to increase its online spending to 8% – with more elaborate websites and online portals being created for films (hosting trailers, interview clips, games and more).

Books have long chased the sought after movie tie-in, riding waves of publicity and amplified sales following a film’s release, but it is only recently (as studios dedicate more money and resources to online and new media departments) that publishers are appreciating how ripe the online world is for “cross-pollination” opportunities.

“Increasingly, there are a multitude of options that make it easier for the two to work together,” David Gale, EVP New Media & Specialty Film Content MTV Productions said. “Whether it’s just a line at the bottom of the movie poster that says ‘read the book’ or publishers saying ‘see the movie’ – to studios using excerpts from the book and running co-branded marketing campaigns that live online where communities can interact – I think that absolutely things are happening.”

Running With Synergy

Movie studios are generally assumed to be dismissive of books as promotional partners (and with a revenue ratio of $400 million to $1 it’s easy to see why), but Matthew Shear, VP Publisher of St. Martin’s disagrees. “Movie studios DO care about books,” he says. “Especially books that are successful prior to the movie’s release.” With numerous big pictures out this fall – including Running With Scissors, Little Children, and the upcoming The Good German – St. Martin’s is hot with movie tie-in fever. Shear said that Sony used the phrase “from the bestselling book” extensively when promoting Running With Scissors, generating a significant amount of buzz. “When the trailers began to run, our sales began to skyrocket,” he said.
Although in many cases authors are sidelined (as Joseph Kanon, ex-publishing exec and author of The Good German put it – “I’m not really a player in all this; people, understandably, are more interested in George Clooney”), Shear said that Augusten Burroughs was extensively involved in the making and promotion of RWS, since the book was autobiographical. Christopher Schelling, Burroughs’ agent, pointed out however that “Augusten is the exception to the rule” and that movie studios aren’t always so inviting. Burroughs and RWS writer/director Ryan Murphy spoke every day for months, Schelling said, because the studio “recognized that the book was an ad for their movie.”

Partly because of his unusually close ties to the film, and partly because of his advertising background (Burroughs worked writing ad copy for 17 years) Burroughs’ own author website – www.augusten.com – is an exceptional example of the seamless synergy that can exist between book and movie promotion online. The site is full of information about both the book and the movie, with interactive elements like a video interview with the author, and prominent links out to the movie site. When Sony/Tristar produced a trailer for RWS last spring that ran at the end of Nip/Tuck (director Murphy is also creator of the series), Burroughs embedded it on his website (recently revamped by coveted designer Drew Prochaska). Although some publishers noted that it can be unnervingly difficult to get permission from studios to include trailers and film stills on their own sites, Schelling said that Sony agreed immediately. “It was all painless,” he said.

In the RWS edgy non-fiction vein, upcoming MTV Films/Paramount picture Freedom Writers (based on the 1999 Broadway Books composite diary/memoir by inner-city teacher Erin Gruwell) also lends itself to cross-promotion & co-branding efforts.

MTV’s Gale said that there is a big campaign to use the book as a marketing tool for the movie. In conjunction with the movie’s release in January, a movie tie-in of the book, along with two ancillary titles – Teach With Your Heart (a memoir by Gruwell) and The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide – are being released. Online, websites for both the movie and the Freedom Writers Foundation are visibly interlinked. “It depends really as to whether the book is the source of the material in terms of whether to integrate marketing efforts,” he said.

Lost In the Mire

Risa Kessler, Consultant to Paramount/Viacom Consumer Products said that there is now a “new guard” on both sides of the fence that understands the importance of coordinating marketing efforts online. With “Halo Marketing” an increasingly sought after strategy – products/brands/etc. aligning themselves with other products and brands consumers care about (essentially what tie-ins have always tried to achieve) – Kessler says that publishers and studios are working much more closely with each other than in the past. “It’s a military operation,” she said referring to the precision and intensity with which campaigns are coordinated and launched, with most planning beginning 12-15 months before a movie opens.

Most publishers say they are working more directly and collaboratively with movie studios than ever before. Russell Perreault, VP Publicity at Vintage/Anchor, said, “We’re working more closely with the studios because there are more and more films.” Online, Perreault feeds studios information – author bios, interviews, etc. – for their sites, which they use at their discretion.

On the Vintage site, there is a “Screening Room” (www.randomhouse.com/vintage/screen) that lists all of the movies currently in production with links to movie sites, movie stills, book buying info, interviews, etc. (B&N has a similar “At the Movies” section on their site that lists the books behind recently released films). Perreault said that Vintage doesn’t usually host trailers on their site since they are “found all over the place;” they choose instead to link back to studios.

Although a valiant effort utilizing important components, the Screening Room can be difficult to find since it is hidden within the Vintage site and doesn’t rank very high on search engines (ditto B&N’s “At the Movies”). Similarly, as thorough as Burroughs’ website is, like most author sites, it’s difficult to tease out when searching for a title alone – for example, when Googling “Running With Scissors” the site doesn’t appear within the first 100 hits.
The inevitability of author, title, and publisher websites getting lost in the internet mire has many in the industry throwing up there hands with a “well, no one comes to our websites anyway” attitude. Although most publishers interviewed had a general idea that Search Engine Optimization is important, only a handful seem to be investing in key words, and other SEO techniques as a preemptive measure to establish a solid search ranking before the books become movies (see page 7 for more information).

VP Pub Shear said that St. Martin’s does invest a little in keywords for books, but there aren’t any major efforts. “I think that there are enormous opportunities to take advantage of films based on books, and to do more online,” he said. Although excited at the prospect of new and innovative ways to cross-promote, Shear said that they still tend to rely on movie companies’ big promotions to jump start their own sales, since (at present) they have the ability to reach a much greater audience both online and off. On the other hand, Bridget Marmion, Corporate VP Director of Marketing at Houghton Mifflin says that they reserve URLs early on, and that there usually isn’t any competition from movie studios in terms of domain names, search ranking, etc.

Still, reliance on the studios to blaze the way is common. Newmarket’s Esther Margolis, who has longstanding relationships with numerous studios said that it is now very common for each movie to have its own internet marketing team , which welcomes cross-marketing efforts (especially in the case of licensed books/movie tie-ins since they stand to profit), and encourages publishers to post links to their sites, etc. But, when trolling through publisher and author websites it is apparent that few do link, and even fewer do it well. “It’s just a time crunch,” Margolis said. “It has a lot to do with staffing, at least that’s what it is with us. And, obviously, communication is a big key.”