U.K. shows hit the books

Television fare leaning heavy on paperbacks

LONDON — A new chapter is opening up in the relationship between books and showbiz in the U.K. Every one of the top 10 hardback non-fiction bestsellers in Blighty last year was written by an entertainer, with smallscreen actors, presenters and reality show contestants occupying eight of those places.

Such is the value of a book tie-in that inhouse publishing execs have a real say in the development of TV series from the get-go and may even influence whether the series gets a greenlight.

“From the first moment you are thinking about a program, you should also be thinking about the book,” says Mark Lesbirel, RDF’s director of consumer products.

This was the case with “Kirstie’s Homemade Home,” with the book about Kirstie Allsopp renovating a tumble-down cottage being developed alongside the Channel 4 series.

So important are books to TV producers, with whom publishing rights have resided since a change in the law six years ago, that the leading indie shingles have divisions to exploit these and other ancillary rights.

Adrian Sington, chief exec of DCD Publishing, appreciates the contribution a good book can make to the health of a TV indie.

“If you get a good nonfiction title you can generate six- or seven-figure advances — that is as much as any other TV rights an independent producer may own,” he says, adding that his division, which also handles merchandising and licensing rights, and DVDs, generates as much revenue as the six TV production labels in the DCD group.

“It is a significant amount of revenue, so it makes sense to have someone harvesting those ancillary rights, and (the publishing division) also has extraordinarily high margins,” he says.

Recent successes for DCD include deals with HarperCollins for documentary series “Stephen Fry in America,” which aired on BBC1, and “Alan Whicker’s Journey of a Lifetime,” on BBC2.

The relationship also works the other way. Sington has just brokered a deal between HarperCollins and DCD shingle September Films to use real-life stories from books that HarperCollins has published in one-off docs.

Despite the symbiotic relationship, the two businesses do not operate entirely in sync.

The “Whicker” series aired in March but the book doesn’t appear until the fall because the publisher wants to take advantage of the pre-Christmas market.

Book sales can triple during that period, according to Kevin Morgan, content director at ITV Global Entertainment.

Luckily, the fall is a good time to launch a show and the best time to publish a TV tie-in book, which can capitalize on the fact that the program is on air just as the gifting season is ramping up.

But the stars don’t always align.

As a broadcaster and a producer, ITV has to juggle the demands of feeding its schedule and extracting the most from its rights.

ITV’s “Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World” is a case in point, with the demands of shooting in the Arctic Circle dictating a spring launch for the show.

Morgan is confident, however, that Connolly’s popularity and the intention of the publisher, Headline, to promote the book in the fall will take it back into the bestseller list, which it topped when the program aired in March.

Despite the timing, Connolly’s series is an example of a successful TV-book tie-in, with the book adding detail and background, a DVD offering additional material and a video diary on the website giving viewers further insights.

Connolly’s international profile also helps promote publishing rights abroad, which the U.K. producer generally retains. This is where a publishing partner with a global reach, such as Headline, can pump up the revenue.

As with everything else, the economic downturn has made itself felt and after several years of rising advances, the value of deals is now slipping back and publishers are becoming more selective and risk-averse.

“The competition is much more fierce for a fewer number of top programs,” says Eric Huang, category publisher, brands and licensing, at Penguin Group. “Everyone is trying to cherry pick what they believe to be A list, whereas before you would definitely go into what you would consider to be a B list, just for a solid mid-list publishing program.”

However, he is pitching for shows where the launch strategy is to publish the book first, then follow-up with the TV series.

“A lot of producers feel that if their program is rooted in a publishing program it somehow it makes it more worthy,” Huang says.

Such strategies strengthen a publisher’s hand.

“More and more we are able to influence — to a degree — the storylines, episodes and characters,” he says.

That said, publishers know that the golden goose remains the TV show, says BBC Books’ editorial director Albert DePetrillo, whose recent TV tie-ins include “Torchwood: The Encyclopedia.”

“We try to be as accommodating and organic as possible in the process of putting the book together. We are always of a mind that the book starts with the TV show,” he says.

Books should broaden the experience for the viewer, he says, as well as adding to the bottom line of both partners.

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