The cable industry has discovered that the book-publishing
world can be a real page-turner.
Several networks have already established relationships
with publishers, turning out tomes based on their own series or specials, while some have
even undertaken forays into original fiction -- and there's no end in sight.
"Part of ESPN's business vision is to have ESPN
available wherever the consumer watches, reads, listens and enjoys sports," said Judy
Fearing, the network's senior vice president of marketing.
ESPN has built upon its successes in TV, radio and magazine
publishing with its deal with Hyperion (the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Co., which
also owns 80 percent of ESPN). Titles have included The ESPN Ultimate Guide to Football
and a series of X-Games books.
"We are very bullish on the book business, and we will
continue to be so in the future," said Seth Jacobsen, director, software and books
for Nickelodeon. The network is "200 books strong and growing" since it started
publishing in 1992, he added.
Expanding brand awareness is cited as the main purpose for
entering the publishing world.
"Our job is to expand the brand off-channel into
revenue-generating businesses," said Donald Silvey, senior vice president,
programming enterprises for MTV: Music Television and VH1. "Books are an avenue out
there that appeals to our audience."
An MTV Books logo has existed at Simon & Schuster
Inc.'s Pocket Books unit since 1995; the imprint currently numbers about 20 tomes,
most based on such series as Beavis & Butt-Head, The Real World and
"We do a lot of consumer research, and we were told
that this was something that our customers were really interested in, and it also
reinforces our brand," said Wendy Stahl, vice president of marketing at The Weather
TWC has a licensing agreement with Simon & Schuster for
a series of books aimed at seven- to 10-year-olds, the first two of which -- Hurricanes!
and Lightning & Thunder! -- were published in August.
"They're geared to an age at which children
usually start to learn about weather at school," Stahl said.
Jonathan Paisner, manager, consumer-product development for
A&E Television Networks, said his company's publishing efforts began as marketing
and promotional vehicles for specific programs, with companion books out a few weeks
before a show aired.
"The Biography books were a departure from
that," Paisner added. "It was a natural extension as a trademark and a brand,
developing a line of books to reach new audiences and/or having the existing audience
reach a different level of experience with the brand."
The Biography series, published by Random House
Inc., has resulted so far in a number of books on such legends as Katharine Hepburn, Al
Capone, Mickey Mantle and Martin Luther King Jr. Most are departures from the series.
"We basically throw away the list of shows that
we've done because that becomes an artificial boundary," Paisner said.
Even titles that do profile subjects from the series
"are not based on the program in any way -- they're written completely
independent of the programs, so they're not derivative," he added.
That is the rule much more than the exception.
"We have some very talented resources for whom
television is just one creative outlet," said Larry Lieberman, vice president of
strategic planning and business development for Comedy Central, which has published books
based on its series Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist and The Daily Show.
"It's not just repackaging a story that was told
on-air: It's a whole new story that's best told in a book," he said.
"It's important for a book to be a solid product
that can stand on its own," he added. "It's ridiculous to just take
something that you've done on television and put it on paper. I think that's
both naive and disrespectful to the publishing world."
Comedy Central is primarily partnered with Pocket, but
Lieberman continues to work with a group of publishers.
"This network has been involved in publishing projects
that I wouldn't repeat," he admitted, "situations where a manuscript is
brought in and published under Comedy Central's name. You can't just do
Originality is also the byword at MTV. Its Beavis &
Butt-Head series features original text and illustrations, and its TheReal
World and Road Rules titles "provide more in-depth information about the
kids on the different series, stuff that happened that was never aired," Silvey said.
"You're looking at 22 weeks' worth of
filming, which results in 22 half-hour shows, so a lot gets edited out [of the
programs]," he added. "The books end up being sort of like 'fanzines'
for the shows."
MTV has even gone one step further, into completely
original fiction, with its publication of Floating by first-time novelist Robin
Troy. Two more original titles are due in the spring.
Sci-Fi Channel is also getting involved in original
fiction, according to Ellen Kaye, USA Networks Inc.'s vice president, enterprises.
A publishing agreement with British publisher Orion led to
10 co-branded books, including six Sci-Fi True Life Encounters books and three
original fiction tomes under the umbrella title, The Guardians. Beginning this
fall, all of them will be published in the United States by TV Books.
"Obviously, the one natural way to go is to take some
of our original programming and publish books based on that product, and we are looking at
that," Kaye said.
Some networks also employ their books in a more
philanthropic manner. A&E Network, for example, has partnered with Lerner Publications
Co. to produce a line of Biography books aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders, with
subjects including Madeleine Albright and Rosie O'Donnell.
"Initially, those are being offered only to schools
and libraries, but we'll probably go to retail next year with the paperback,"
Paisner said, adding that A&E also plans to produce younger versions of those titles,
aimed at six- and seven-year-olds.
He admitted, however, that the network's motives
aren't completely altruistic.
"Biography doesn't really mean much to
kids, so we are trying to introduce them to the Biography brand, learn what it is
and develop other products alongside it," including CD-ROMs and games.
Nickelodeon also has some experience in the
community-outreach area, via The Big Help Book: 365 Ways You Can Make a Differenceby
Volunteering, based on an initiative at Nick to encourage kids to volunteer in their
The book publishers often handle marketing efforts,
although some networks get involved on that end, as well, with ads during programming, in
magazines and on their Web sites.
"We bring all of our resources to bear in promoting
all of our licensed product," said Kaye, adding that Sci-Fi cross-promotes on its
home-video releases where appropriate -- an approach also taken by MTV and A&E.
While none of the networks has promoted its books directly
with cable operators as a means of increasing subscribers or rewarding existing
subscribers, several said plans are afoot to do just that.
"We are always interested in working with cable
operators," Jacobsen said, "and we're always looking to provide them with
books as prizes."
"We are exploring new ways to expand our relationship
with operators through merchandising," Paisner said. "It's been done with
home video and, to a degree, with CDs [compact discs], and something similar may happen
with our books."
Sales are not the only way to measure a book's
success. "Certainly, we want them to sell well," Fearing said, "but we also
feel that it's important to put out a quality product that strongly reflects our
"Creative recognition is really important,"
Lieberman added. "I want to build one book at a time and develop franchises, like
publishers do with emerging authors. The first book for a show that is critically
recognized can be really valuable, whether or not it's a best seller."
And there is no slowdown in sight: This year's titles
include ESPN's SportsCentury (chronicling key moments in each decade); an
expansion into books based on live-action characters by Nickelodeon; and more Daily
Show, Dr. Katz and South Park books from Comedy Central.
MTV Books' imprint will be expanded to include titles
about recording artists, while sister channel VH1 is gearing up to publish books based on
its Pop-Up Video, Storytellers and Behind the Music series.