The link between Hollywood and publishing has never been stronger, agreed participants in Friday’s “Books to Blockbusters” panel at Book Expo America. But that link has also never been more fraught with complication and risk.

Moderator Peter Bart, editor-in-chief of Variety, began by asking whether the rights acquisitions biz is in a “down cycle.”

Fox film chairman Tom Rothman asserted, “This is an extremely vibrant time for books. What it is not, perhaps, is the era of the big-money auction.”

This year three or four of the leading best picture Oscar contenders, are lit adaptations, according to Rothman. His list included Fox’s “Master and Commander,” which he spent 12 years getting to the screen.

Panelists noted that such a long development haul is important to keep in mind. Producer Peter Guber left Warner Bros. for Sony before “Bonfire of the Vanities” was released and opined that the passage of time between publication of the book and release of the pic was key to the latter’s failure.

Popular on Variety

“There was no vision keeper, so the central Zeitgeist of the book got lost,” he said. “The siren song of celebrity is so strong … it became a packaging process. Brian De Palma didn’t have a bead on the book.”

CAA’s Robert Bookman observed that high-stakes auctions are rare because of studios’ appetite for proven commodities.

“With so many of the books we go out with, we have to struggle to find one buyer,” he said. “More and more I’m getting the feeling (from studios) that ‘We’ll buy this if there is an element attached, like a director or screenwriter.’ ”

Mused Bart, “A partnership used to exist among the publisher, the producer and the studio. Can that happen today?”

Synergies do happen on occasion. Rothman pointed to Fox’s purchase of Michael Crichton’s “Prey.” That book was optioned by Fox after Harper Collins, also a News Corp. company, slipped the studio a copy of the manuscript. But the panelists agreed that such teamings are unusual.

BEA, which is owned by Daily Variety sister company Reed Exhibitions, wrapped Sunday.