Page to television: A study of adaptations

Thanks to Game of Thrones, we've got television on our brains. To occupy some of our time in between episodes, we've spent the past few weeks mulling over one burning question: how do television adaptations influence sales of the books they're based on? We fastened our IKEA cloaks and dug deep into the data to find out.

Decorative image.

The television adaptations

Our study focused on nine television adaptations, listed from newest to oldest (based on the Canadian series premiere date): The Handmaid's TaleAmerican Gods13 Reasons WhyBig Little LiesA Series of Unfortunate EventsThe Shannara ChroniclesOutlanderThe Leftovers, and Hannibal. For each series, we concentrated on print sales for the titles that provided the source material for the television adaptation. For example, the first season of A Series of Unfortunate Events was adapted from the first four titles in the series, not all 13. The specific titles and print ISBNs we focused on can be found in the table below:

Television
Adaptation
Series Premiere Date (in Canada) Books Adapted From Associated ISBNs
       
The Handmaid's
Tale
April 30, 2017 The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
9780771008795
9780808598299
9780735253308
     
     
American Gods April 30, 2017 American Gods by
Neil Gaiman
9780062080233
9780062059888
9780062689733
   
   
13 Reasons Why March 31, 2017 Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
9781595141880
9781595141712
9780451479327
     
       
Big Little Lies Feb. 19, 2017 Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
9780425274866
9781410472038
9780399587207
     
       
A Series of Unfortunate Events Jan. 13, 2017 The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket 9780061146305
9780064407663
     
    The Reptile Room
by Lemony Snicket
9780061146312
9780064407670
     
    The Wide Window
by Lemony Snicket
9780061146336
9780064407687
       
    The Miserable Mill
by Lemony Snicket
9780064407694
       
The Shannara Chronicles Jan. 5, 2016 The Elfstones of Shannara
by Terry Brooks
9781101965603
9781101886052
9780345285546
     
       
    The Wishsong of Shannara
by Terry Brooks
9780808572404
9781101965610
9780345356369
     
       
Outlander Aug. 24, 2014 Outlander
by Diana Gabaldon
9780385658683
9780385671088
9781400026579
9780385683036
9780770428792
     
     
     
       
The Leftovers June 29, 2014 The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta
9780307356390
9780307356383
       
Hannibal April 4, 2013 Red Dragon
by Thomas Harris
9780425228227
9780440206156
     
    Hannibal
by Thomas Harris
9780440224679
9780440224679
     

Methodology

Our methodology was simple. Print unit sales were identified for all the ISBNs associated with each adaptation for a 24-week period that spanned the 12 weeks prior to (and including) the Canadian premiere date of the series and the 12 weeks immediately following the premiere. These sales were compared to print unit sales of the same titles for a 24-week period exactly one year prior.

For comparison's sake, we also displayed overall sales for each title's genre on a third axis (e.g., Fiction, Young Adult) to help us determine if peaks or dips in unit sales were characteristic of the overall market during the time period studied.

All sales have been tracked in BNC SalesData, the sales tracking service for print books in the Canadian trade market.

TV adaptations increase book sales

What was our conclusion? Good news! Every adaptation saw an increase in book sales that were not characteristic for the overall market at the time. Compared to sales for the same titles one year prior, all sales during the 24-week premiere period were higher — ranging from a 200% increase to a whopping 5,600% for Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which sold the most units in the 24-week premiere period out of all the titles we studied, saw sales increase by more than 410%.

The graphs below (with sales numbers redacted) compare unit sales during the 24-week premiere period against sales one year prior for each television adaptation. The series premiere of the show, week 12, is identified by the purple circle.

Click on any graph to enlarge.

But what do these numbers really mean? Are people flocking to the stores to pick up their own copies of Thirteen Reasons Why after binge-watching the Netflix series? For this month's podcast, we spoke with Evan Munday, children's author and Community Manager at TYPE Books in Toronto, to hear some of his insights on the influence of television adaptations on book sales: