With the growth of media conglomerates in the 1990s popular authors can now work with one company who markets or syndicates all their rights in book publication, film production and merchandising. This increased authors' revenue though collaborative cross-media marketing and timed release of new editions of the book, and versions of the film from cinema release to collector's edition.
Authors’ today face the new challenge of cross-media storytelling. Adaptations and spin-offs from their narratives are written for different media. Storylines originally published novels or short stories are retold in films, and the characters’ own stories extended though videogames or via websites.
The origins of these practices lie in 1900s when film companies approached publishing companies to purchase film options on their novel copyrights. Authors responded with varying levels of enthusiasm, some seeing the potential of the new media, others preferring to stick to what they knew and employ others to do the adaptation.
This project examined early attempts at co-operation between media companies and publishers in the 1920s and 1930s particularly in the sale of broadcast rights, film options and in the timing and release of book, film and radio tie-ins. It researched the connections between these industries and the role played by literary agents in promoting their authors within the media.
Focusing on British authors who had films made of their work between 1920 and 1939 and the project examined relevant correspondence of literary agents (i.e. A.P.Watt, Hughes Massie, Curtis Brown, J B Pinker & Son), compared the rate of pay authors received from the different media, researched the business practices by agents and authors during the period and examined the implications of this on the status of authors.
The selected authors were: Marie Belloc, Arnold Bennett, Agatha Christie, Elinor Glyn, A.E.W Mason, Baroness Orczy, Philip MacDonald, Edgar Wallace, and Hugh Walpole. Other authors were brought in for comparative statistical purposes.
The project consulted over 34 libraries and archives from Universities of Reading, London, University of Texas and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, British Library, Library of Congress, publishers' archives, the BBC archives relating to these agents, authors and to arts review programmes, the pressbooks and archives of British film production companies at the British Film Institute. In particular The Elinor Glyn Ltd archive held 46 boxes of financial and scenarios which enabled the project team to research the company's business practices and Glyn's personal income as an author and film director.
The research firstly focussed on case studies of on an author's work to ascertain the proportion of income from different media sources, sales of their work before and after film release and the extent of media coverage. Partial details were available for all authors. Secondly, it examined literary agents' correspondence for information about their policies in marketing and promoting an author's work and provided a basis for comparing different agents' operational practices and evaluating their success. Thirdly, the archives of the different media players - film companies, Society of Authors, publishers - were scrutinized for evidence of changes in policy on rights acquisition and sales, and cross-media promotion. Legal correspondence, contracts, financial correspondence and letters to agents provided the source material for an examination of rights management practices and how they changed in the 1920s and 1930s.
Professor Alexis Weedon
University of Bedfordshire
Professor Simon Eliot
Institute of English Studies,
University of London
Dr Vincent L. Barnett