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From book to film and back to book

Every year I write our UK Book Market in Review, and one of the sections is a month-by-month timeline that highlights the big books and authors of the year along with literary prizes and external factors that have a hand in driving the market. One of those external factors is film and TV adaptations, and there are SO MANY nowadays: by my count, at least 105 new films or TV programmes released in the UK in 2023 came from books, either directly adapted or inspired by. In the timeline for 2019, I listed only 45 book adaptations. Now, these numbers do come with caveats, in that creating the list is a manual process and I am not infallible, and it is possible that I have become more thorough in my research in the intervening years, but with the number more than doubling, there’s definitely more to it than that.

My expertise may lie in books and not in film and TV, but I think it’s safe to point to streaming services as a strong factor in the increase in adapted content, and in how easily that content can be made available across countries. (It’s worth highlighting that for the UK timeline I generally focus on English-language adaptations unless it’s high profile/cinema release so the streaming offerings across languages will be even vaster!) Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus was the bestselling book of the year that had an adaptation, which was in fact delivered on a streaming service, although next in the list of top adapted books of 2023 was The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, so the big cinema releases remain in the mix.

Just as there are varied paths to the screen for adapted books, there’s also plenty of variety in how those adaptations can affect sales of the books. Below you can see weekly print sales in 2023 for a handful of the bestselling adapted books, and only two saw their highest week directly after debuting onscreen: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes had November release dates in common, so their screen boosts went straight into bigger Christmas peaks. Lessons in Chemistry actually saw the smallest impact from the adaptation, but the novel was already selling over 6k copies a week before hitting Apple TV+, so the more minimal boost is more reflecting that everyone was already buying it! The highest sales of the year were seen when the paperback was released in March, followed by Christmas.

Regardless of the pattern, those graphs show that adaptations expanded the audience for these books, and according to our Books & Consumers survey data, 6% of books bought in 2023 were discovered via film/TV adaptations. That might not sound like a lot, but it equates to nearly 21m book purchases. The area with the highest share attributed to film/TV is graphic novels, with more than one in five discovered through adaptations in 2023, and other genres above the market stat include science fiction, classic fiction, horror and YA fiction, all at 13-14%. Only one of the books featured above fits into those categories, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and for Suzanne Collins overall, 30% of purchases since 2012 have been discovered via the films. Even in the years when new Hunger Games films haven’t been released, that discovery method has stayed prominent, with the annual trend shown below. Certainly a benefit of film/TV adaptations: once they’re made, they can be watched any time! Which continues to introduce new readers to the original books, a wonderful cycle indeed.

For more on the UK book market and consumer, the UK Book Market in Review 2023 is now available. You can view a preview here, and please contact infobookresearch@nielseniq.com for more information.

Data in this post extracted from the BookScan UK Total Consumer (TCM) and the Books & Consumers survey, to December 2023.

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