Will Book Publishers Make Good TV & Film Producers?

Amazon, aptly named The Everything Store by Bezos biographer Brad Stone, is ready to embark into original programing with two new series hitting the internet this November. Ever mindful of its customers, Amazon asked users to vote for their favorite shows from 14 pilots. The winners, Alpha House (a political comedy starring John Goodman, Amy Sedaris and Wanda Sykes) and Betas (a comedy tracking the exploits of a group of friends launching a startup) will air on November 15th and November 22nd, respectively, streaming on Amazon Instant Video, a feature available only to Amazon Prime users.

Three other pilot winners, all children’s shows, are still in production. If these shows prove successful, it looks as though Amazon is poised to compete with Netflix in the original, online programming space.

Publishers have their minds on programming as well. This July, Random House announced the creation of its TV division, Random House Television, which will work to create programs based on its books. Likewise, Macmillan launched its own TV and film division, Macmillan Films, three years ago. Neither, though, has produced the breadth of content that Amazon is debuting this fall, and it raises doubts as to whether traditional publishers are ready to enter the world of film.

Amazon is quick to monetize its content, aided by its wide-reaching distribution system. No doubt its latest series will stream directly to Kindle Fire users, making the experience solely an Amazon-generated one. In this, Amazon has publishers beat.

But publishers are not without their assets.

Random House Television is working with FremantleMedia, a television production company owned by Random House’s multimedia parent company, Bertelsmann. Alloy Entertainment, the book-packager that brought us Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl (both the books and television series), has improved its production capabilities as well; Warner Bros. Television acquired the company last year.

It seems like these collaborations, though not yet widespread in the publishing industry, will continue. Publishers have the content Hollywood producers want-stories that already have loyal followers and people who will happily spread the word about a show. As a diehard Game of Thrones fan, I can’t name the number of friends I’ve converted to the show and in turn influenced to buy the books.

Publishers that hope to compete with Amazon in the online television programing and film will likely hone in on what they already do well, which is create and curate great content. It is this skill that is attracting screenwriters to Macmillan with hopes of transforming their unnoticed screenplays into novels. Because film producers are more likely to buy stories that have an established fan base, screenwriters hope that success at Macmillan can translate into success in Hollywood. It is a long road to movie production, but testing out a story in the less expensive book platform seems an effective model. And as more and more blockbusters hail from the book world, perhaps it’s time Hollywood producers took notice of what publishers have to offer. With flops like “Ironside” and “Betrayal,” it seems they could use the help.

Ellen Harvey is the associate/digital editor of Book Business and Publishing Executive. 

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