Friday, December 27, 2002

Publishers have the Hollywood tie-in covered
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

Literary purists cringe, but publishers know the easiest way to sell a book is with a new cover from Hollywood:

The Hours, Michael Cunningham's novel inspired by Virginia Woolf's 1923 masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway, became a best seller only after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Now it has another life: 250,000 copies with a film image of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman, who plays Woolf. The movie opens in select cities Friday.

Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale's memoir of a con man, sold 86,000 copies after it was reissued in 2000. Now 250,000 copies carry a cover that copies the movie poster. Top billing goes to Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. The movie opens today.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Chuck Barris' account of his schizophrenic life as a TV game-show host and CIA hit man, was out of print until this month, when 75,000 copies of the movie tie-in edition were released with actor Sam Rockwell on the cover. The movie opens Dec. 31 in Los Angeles and New York and Jan. 17 nationwide.

"Movie art on books isn't as aesthetically pleasing to some purists," says Carl Lennertz of BookSense, the marketing organization for independent bookstores. "But it's essential to increased attention, display and accessibility to a much larger potential readership."

Hollywood-inspired covers, he says, help "moviegoers, of whom there are more of than readers — a lot more, alas — make the connection to the book."

Consider A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar's biography of John Nash, a brilliant but mentally troubled mathematician. The original paperback pictures Nash on the cover. The movie tie-in edition shows Russell Crowe, who portrayed Nash in last year's movie.

The publisher continues to print both editions, but the cover with the actor is far more popular than the one with the actual subject of the book. With Crowe on the cover, 850,000 copies are in print; 160,000 copies show Nash.

This year, nearly all of the leading Oscar contenders were inspired by books, from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese's movie based on Herbert Asbury's 1928 collection of stories.

But Carol Fitzgerald of Bookreporter .com, a Web site for book discussions, says she fears that because of the economy, "people will make a choice to 'see the book' this year instead of reading it. Movies cost less, require a smaller time investment and deliver instant gratification."

If she had to choose one book she believes people will read as well as see the movie, it's The Two Towers. "Readers are invested in the trilogy," she says.

"People who read these books when they were younger tell us that they are circling back to them now and appreciating them more. They are the ones leaving the theaters and heading to the bookstores."


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