Are Tie-Ins Crowding Out Original Fiction?

A writer-friend of mine was lamenting the fact that, in this
ever-more-competitive publishing world, tie-ins are crowding out
paperback original fiction off the shelves (particularly sf/fantasy novels) in three

1)publishers are buying less material that doesn’t have a
"pre-sold" audience
2)books that ARE published are being pushed off the
shelf very quickly to make room for new tie-in work that comes out in regular
3)backlists of original fiction are crowded out by the back-list of
tie-in work, which are re-issue and re-stocked every time a new tie-in in a series comes out, which can be often as monthly. She cited the hundreds of STAR TREK titles and twenty-five MURDER SHE WROTE
books as examples.

It’s probably true that, in today’s tough market, a publisher is more likely to take a risk on a tie-in — which comes with a pre-sold audience and a ready market — than with an original novel by an unknown author. But I don’t know that its any different than movie makers being more likely to greenlight a sequel to a hit than an original film…or for a network to prefer CSI:SEATTLE to just another cop show. Sure, corporations are risk-adverse and prefer going with proven commodities… but original movies are still getting made, original shows are still getting produced, and original novels are still being published.

That said, I stopped by a Barnes & Noble today and couldn’t help noticing that 75% of the paperbacks on the "New Science Fiction" table were STAR TREK, STAR WARS or other tie-in/licensed books. The LA Times reports today that Pocket Books now puts out 20 books a year in their various STAR TREK lines…and plans to do so through at least 2007.

Since Pocket Books began issuing "Trek" novels in the late ’70s, for example
(Bantam and Ballantine published a handful of originals and adaptations earlier
in the decade), more than 500 "Star Trek" titles have hit the nation’s
bookshelves, selling tens of millions of copies.

Your thoughts?

8 thoughts on “Are Tie-Ins Crowding Out Original Fiction?”

  1. But don’t all tie-in novels by definition go through the same publisher? I can’t see the owners of Star Trek or Star Wars allowing multiple publishers the rights to the tie-ins. So wouldn’t that mean that only one publisher does Star Trek, one does Star Wars, one does this series or that series, etc?
    The volume is due more likely to the fact that the large number of interested tie-in writers allows a larger volume of tie-ins to come out for any given show/series than original novels. Multiple writers could be working on multiple tie-ins for multiple series storylines at the same time, whereas a single orignal author by definition can only crank out one or two original books at the time.
    I doubt it’s as much a publishers’ conscious decision to favor tie-ins as a matter of simple mathematics.

  2. On my last visit to Barnes & Noble I noticed the same thing. The tie-in series took up 3/4 of one side of the aisle. There was an entire bookshelf dedicated to Tolkien. A whole shelf for what is essentially three books. The rest of the SF/Fantasy section was dominated by small number of big name authors. It was a bit depressing to see how few books there were by authors I hadn’t heard of.

  3. Successful media tie-ins can lead to sales of original fiction by the same author. Star Wars author Matt Stover’s backlist is probably hopping off the shelves right now.
    Media tie-in readers like to look around while they’re picking up the latest novelization of their favorite show/movie. I get a lot of Star Trek fans who bought one of my books on impulse while cruising the SF aisle.
    SF shows and movies get a lot of flack from the genre purists, but I doubt I would have ever read Frank Herbert’s Dune if I hadn’t seen the movie first.

  4. I’ve noticed this in sci-fi for years. Not that I buy much of it, but the amount of room for sci/fi fantasy is one of the smallest and it’s mostly taken up with Buffy/Angel/Star Trek/Wars novels.
    This is only now coming to mystery. Murder, She Wrote was the only real consistent tie-in until a couple years ago. Now we have the CSI’s (I think NY will have one this year), Diagnosis Murder, Law & Order, with Monk coming soon. I even think that Without a Trace will get one this year, if I remember correctly.
    Given all this, it might be a problem in a few years. But right now I still see plenty of variety at Barnes and Borders in the mystery market.

  5. My thoughts are that you’re crowding my ass on the mystery aisle with your damn books, so much so that my next one will jump over to literature just to get some breathing room between you and Grafton.

  6. Tie-ins but one of the shelf-space limiting factors that make me a bookstore browser but increasingly an online buyer. (Wall o’ Tolkien, anyone? I already own LotR and The Hobbit, so have no particular use for the two dozen different editions available.) I don’t read tie-ins, even if they tie into a show or movie I like. I’d rather read something with no whiff of committee. I can understand the appeal of the tie-in gig to a full-time writer, from a cash and sales perspective, since it doesn’t preclude writing original material. I wish they’d have a dedicated tie-in section of the bookstore (since they’re almost shelved that way now); one of numerous layout changes I’d make if I had my druthers.

  7. I have to wonder if something similar applies to other genres as well. It strikes me that the “once a month” schedule of sci-fi / fantasy / mystery tie-ins is similar to the sheer volume of, say, romance releases. Granted, the audiences are different (though I would posit that there are some overlaps in genres that can draw in a more romance centric crowd – Buffy, for example), but I have to think that the business model is essentially the same: meet the demand.
    In the case of sci-fi / fantasy / mystery tie-ins the product being marketed isn’t the books so much as the characters, world, what have you. It appears to me that marketing a character would be a lot easier than marketing a writer. If one writer can’t deliver a Star Trek novel, another one can.
    If a publisher owns a character or a setting they can pump these things out a lot more profitably than original (by which I mean, uninspired by a pre-existing property) fiction.
    In the case of romance I imagine it is more the subject matter that is the hot property. These things are extremely formulaic. Harlequin pumps out something like 40 new romances a week, and they’re gobbled up by their readers.
    In both instances there is a pre-existing market that will buy it just because of what it is. And I think that’s the crux of the situation. If the demand wasn’t there the books wouldn’t be getting published.


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