Whither Hollywood?

Hollywood Hell

Vox Popoli commenter ZhukovG ponders the future of films based on best selling novels in the post-Big Five era.
Just my uneducated opinion, but it appears that in the future, if you put in the work, it will be easier to 'make a living' as a writer but much harder to 'make it big'.
I also wonder if this will hit the movie industry hard. Funding a major motion picture is much less risky if it's based on a big bestselling novel. But if top authors in the future are people with tens of thousands of fans rather than millions, it'll be enough to give a studio exec a nervous breakdown.
How will the old publishing paradigm's collapse affect Hollywood? What you've got there are two converged institutions coasting on the fumes of their depleted cultural capital. They have an incestuous relationship, and they're both hemorrhaging revenue.

Howard Tayler once told me that a property needs six million fans to justify a film adaptation. Sure, you get movies based on less popular IPs, but studio execs' job is to come up with reasons not to make movies. If your novel series has a fan base of six million, a film adaptation of the first book is pretty much guaranteed to turn a profit, so they pretty much have to option the rights.

It is indeed reasonable to expect that in the near future, a successful author will have a readership numbering in the tens, or possibly hundreds of thousands. His earnings will rival all but the current A list authors, in part because indies earn 5.6x higher royalties. However, he's unlikely to be a household name. There are already authors who anonymously make seven figures per year on Amazon.

But if you look at the quote I took from Nick's post, you'll see he's not predicting a total collapse of trad publishing. Instead, the Big Five publishers will turn into vanity presses for the A list. If you've played poker with Castle or are a prominent politician, you'll still get the red carpet treatment in NY and LA.

At least until the Chinese buy all the studios.

As it happens, lots of readers tell me they'd love to see a movie version of my space opera-horror novel Nethereal. Full disclosure: I'm a little shy of the six million necessary fans. But you can help solve that problem!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier


  1. I'm reminded of the pop music scene, where, when I was a kid, you'd hear the same 40 (more like 12!) songs every hour on the 3-4 AM pop stations you could get. Then came FM, many times more stations and album rock formats, and the death of radio stars followed by the death of video stars.

    At the same time, the precipitous decline in price and awesome increase in functionality of recording equipment made it so that $4-5K gets you a home studio vastly more powerful than anything the Beatles ever saw.

    So very few musicians have the vast audiences of the Beatles or Beach Boys, but a lot more musicians can make a living if they have the tech/marketing chops to put out and manage good music.

    The labels may still find the occasional Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga, but they seem like oddities against the vast backdrop of people cranking out music.

    Netherial as a movie would be an interesting challenge - unlike the Hobbit, it might actually need 6-8 hours spread over 2-3 movies to get it told. I'd pay to see it.

    1. Solid points. I have a number of professional musician friends, and your comments jibe with their experience.

      Re: Nethereal movie - thanks for the vote of confidence!

  2. Full disclosure: I'm a little shy of the six million necessary fans.

    I'm working to change that! Keep writing!

  3. Instead, the Big Five publishers will turn into vanity presses for the A list. If you've played poker with Castle or are a prominent politician, you'll still get the red carpet treatment in NY and LA.

    The challenge in this case is, who is advertising these A-list Vanity Press offerings so the proles can buy these Tomes of TradPub Wonderment?

    With no B&N, do the Big 5 ask Starbucks to place copies of their authors' works on tables and in stands on the counters?

    With people dropping cable, what is the point of buying ads for the latest crime-thriller-written-by-a-focus-group?

    With the New York Times and other fish-wrap suppliers trending to weekly ad flyer status, who will see the Best Seller List, the pithy reviews by elite critics, and that coveted Hugo Award badge?

    Such is the challenge of the Brave New World of Publishing. I suspect that the Big 5 will sit quietly in the train car, waiting for rescue, while the A-lister goes up and beat futilely on the stalled train engine.

    Not enough popcorn. Not enough salt.

    1. The Big Five are already seated in a burning room saying "This is fine." They'll be around--albeit in a diminished capacity--for a while, though. TV, radio, and newspaper ads don't sell books--not without Superbowl commercial marketing budgets. Without B&N, big publishers will fall back on Wal-Mart and Costco.
      Corollary: browse the book rack at your local superstore. That's who gets to survive the coming bookocalypse.

  4. Cookbooks, self-help, and purple-prose romance.

    The horizon ahead of the Big 5 and the A-listers IS bleak! BRRRR!

    Heh heh.


  5. It's possible for a movie to be made with 100 000+ fans. I'm thinking of pa negre which came from Emili Teixidor' childhood memoirs of the post civil war period of the same name. I'll have to check how many books were sold. Another book that was very recently made into a movie was Incerta Gloria. That's a phenomeononally popular book since it was published in the 50. Before he died he published his definitive revised version.
    I'll have check the number sold as well.
    So in Catalan 2000-5000 is viewed as a success; 10 00 is considered awesome 100 000 and you're a rockstar (aka Sanchez Pinol's vae victus first volume 135 000 copies sold) that one hasn't turned into a movie given the turmoil right now but i won't be surprised if the trilogy for a become a movie series
    So in the US I can see RKO type movies that'll buy small series and make the old fashioned 30 minute serialized shorts

  6. It's a lose-lose situation honestly. Even if a property has millions of fans (The Dark Tower) it doesn't mean all will turn out to view it. I know I certainly don't trust Hollywood with adapting any of my favorite novels.

    Truth be told though Hollywood and tradpub are both going down in flames. They've gutted their small tier to mid range projects that while sure don't fetch the big bucks helped to make a stable and healthy market for both.

    This is why small presses will survive the monopolies. They are diversified enough to weather the storm.

    1. Here's hoping the independent film makers can capitalize on Hollywood's tunnel vision. The door is wide open for them, and getting wider.