Big bucks at the box office don't always translate to big book sales

5 months ago by Jeremy Bloom in Features
Ready Player One (the movie)

When a big-budget movie is released, the book it's based on should sell well. Or, at least, that's what we thought.

It turns out that's not always true. We took a look at the biggest movies of the past six months and tracked how well their related books sold on Amazon. Did marketing hype lead to book sales? In some cases, the results were exactly as expected: Successful movies make people want to read the books they're based on. In other cases, not so much. Read on to see our findings.

The booms

"Ready Player One", the film, boosted sales of the Young-Adult (YA) novel of the same name. The film, released March 29, did well at the box office (Steven Spielberg as director certainly didn't hurt). Barely two weeks in its run, the film has already grossed $393,584,703 worldwide, according to Box Office MojoVariety reviewer Owen Glieberman summed up the movie as a "coruscating explosion of pop-culture eye candy."

Hype not only helped boost ticket sales, but it shot the book to #2 on Amazon's book sales ranks. The Kindle e-book version leveled up in early March, peaking just below the physical book on April 1 at #13.

"A Wrinkle In Time" - the book - has been a perennial best-seller for years, so it's no surprise that it was back on parents' and kids' holiday shopping lists this season with or without the accompanying movie (which didn't do as well as expected, both critically and commercially). But the movie's marketing certainly didn't hurt. Three different versions of the book charted on Amazon - the original edition, a box set, and a special movie tie-in edition.

R.J. Palacio's children's novel "Wonder", first published in 2012, has been a healthy seller for years. When the related movie was released on November 17, the book hit #1 on Amazon and didn't fall out of the top 5 until Christmas day. It's still charting today, albeit not in the top-10. Meanwhile, the Kindle edition peaked at #9.

Agatha Christie's marvelous tale of death in the dark, "Murder on the Orient Express", returned to the charts when the film was released on November 10 (and again when it came out on streaming/DVD at the end of February). Classics can come back, too, it seems, even in e-book form. 

Steven King's It, likewise, made a strong showing on the Kindle, peaking at #5 in September.

The busts

"Red Sparrow" opened February 2, taking in a modest $46 million at the domestic box office ($137 million globally). The book version didn't move much, spending 6 days on the charts and peaking at a not-so-impressive #71. But the Kindle edition spent 5 weeks with a high point at #12. This fits in with our recent findings that readers of thrillers gravitate toward the Kindle.

Surprisingly, "Blade Runner 2049" had no coattails for its book version. The original source book, Phillip K. Dick's dystopian novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" only had four days of charting on the Kindle, and none on paper. Neither of the novelizations - the 1984 original or the 2017 sequel - made the charts at all.

Neither did "Jumanji". The modern update for the videogame era, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle", wasn't exactly a typical Christmas movie, but when it opened December 20 it pulled in the holiday ticket-buyers to the tune of $403 million domestically. The related books didn't move, however. It is worth noting that the original was a children's picture book. There was a novelization made of the first movie, but it never registered on Amazon sales charts.

SciFi flick "Annihilation" opened February 23rd, with Natalie Portman starring. This first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy did a modest $32 million in ticket sales. The related novel only showed briefly on Amazon sales-rank charts, peaking at #37 three days after the movie's release.

These movies also didn't see related-book sale jumps on Amazon:

  • "Thank you for Your Service", by David Finkel
  • "The Circle", by Dave Eggers
  • "The Mountain Between Us", by Charles Martin
  • "Call Me By Your Name", by André Aciman

Jeremy Bloom

When Jeremy Bloom isn't writing about energy, the environment, or the amazing strangeness of modern life, you can find him drinking really good single malt whisky...

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