Publishers planning full-scale assault

Publishers pumped when pics help push page-turners

HOLLYWOOD – Novelist Max Allen Collins — author of “Saving Private Ryan: The Novel” — is nothing if not opportunistic.

When he learned last year that Disney was planting its “Pearl Harbor” tentpole on Memorial Day weekend, he began composing a book for the occasion.

The result — “The Pearl Harbor Murders,” in which fictitious torch singer Pearl Harada washes up dead on a beach in Hawaii, prompting real-life “Tarzan” author Edgar Rice Burroughs to set about solving the crime — joins a deluge of Pearl Harbor books out next month.

There are Pearl Harbor memoirs, coffee-table books, movie tie-ins and kids book. Three even share the same title: “Remembering Pearl Harbor.”

Michael Bay’s gun-blazing epic film, and the fusillade of publicity that comes in its wake, is a rare bonanza for publishers.

While books play a vital role in studio economics, there’s just one way for Hollywood to affect a publisher’s bottom line: when a major film primes the sales pump by generating widespread interest in a particular subject or title.

Random House and Vintage, respectively, sold more than a million copies of tie-in editions of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” and Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient.”

And Macmillan moved a million copies of its “Age of Innocence” reprint after the Martin Scorsese-directed adaptation hit theaters, though the film eked out relatively little at the box office.

“A movie doesn’t have to be a $400 million movie to work in book terms,” says Esther Margolis, prexy of Newmarket Press and a publishing consultant at Columbia Pictures. “It just has to strike a chord with readers.”

Few topics have translated so fluidly from the screen to the page as war stories.

Historian Stephen Ambrose, who served as a consultant on “Saving Private Ryan,” watched two of his WWII books return to bestseller lists when that film came out.

And this summer, in what may be the most ambitious film tie-in campaign to date, Simon & Schuster is shipping four books and a barrage of audio titles by Ambrose — a million units alltold.

These will coincide with the stratospheric publicity buildup for HBO’s Tom Hanks — Steven Spielberg series based on his bestseller “Band of Brothers,” which includes a June 6 preem in Normandy, France.

That exposure is manna for publishers whose marketing budget is a tiny fraction of typical Hollywood P&A money.

But they’d still rather keep Hollywood at Bay.

As S&S spokesman Adam Rothberg sees it, books like Ambrose’s “D-Day” and Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” don’t owe their popularity to the movies.

It’s the books, he says, “that have opened the way for Hollywood to get back into World War II as a viable movie genre.”