Currently, Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood Daily is predicting great success for Sony Pictures US version of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Don’t believe the hype. The movie is doomed to failure, another “Green Zone” or “Rendition” in the making. Fleming cites Bertelsmann’s quarterly report, with Random House (publisher of Larsson) noting sales rose 8% over the prior period, and profit rose around $50 million. Larsson is the first author to sell 1 million e-books on the Kindle, and the Dragon Tattoo trilogy sold a cumulative 6.5 million books in the US and Germany. All true, and therefore Fleming must be right and Whiskey absolutely crazy to contradict him, right?
Here’s why Fleming is dead wrong.
First, the sales increase is relatively modest, and any savvy publisher will admit, it is easy to “book” revenue that is not there, by publicity and in particular, Oprah’s endorsement. As “A Million Little Pieces” shows, “booked sales” does not translate into revenues. Particularly when books get remaindered, unsold, and thus must be destroyed or sold at huge discounts, eventually finding their way onto balance sheets at times when it is more savvy to “take the medicine” of losses in one quarter.
Tellingly, no break-out of the 6.5 million sales of hardbacks for the trilogy combined is offered by country. When a report fails to break out the numbers, rest assured there is every incentive to hide bad numbers or news. It is a very good bet that most of the sales were in Germany, not the US. If you hit up most people in random US shopping malls, and asked them who Stieg Larsson was, or JK Rowling, or Stephanie Meyer, the latter two would get instant recognition, and the former none. Even given “Dragon Tattoo” most Americans would not have the foggiest notion of what the book was about. Dragons? Jessie James and Kat Von D from “LA Ink?” The phrases “Best-selling,” “Swedish author” and “American audience” do not go together.
Next, the very fact that Larsson is the e-book champion, is telling. Who has e-readers, and thus can purchase e-books? Tween girls and their mothers, who flocked to Twilight? Kids under 14, who made JK Rowling the richest woman in England, more wealthy than the Queen? Nope. It is the glitteratti and wealthy, who are globally mobile, who crave e-books because the convenience and status-symbol dovetail nicely with finding it hard to get books in say, Dubai, or Singapore. The Kindle is $189 to $139, still a luxury to most hard-pressed consumers. While the Kindle has gotten better, and cheaper, it is still a niche market.
Mobile Opportunity, an excellent blog (go there and read the whole post) notes that:
Ebook usage is growing fast, but it’s still small. Roughly 2% of American book buyers over age 13 are active ebook users, meaning they obtained an ebook or a reader device in the last year. About half of those were first-time ebook buyers, so the usage of ebooks has probably roughly doubled in the last year. BISG is doing multiple waves in the survey, and says it found a 25% increase in ebook usage just over the holiday season, so it was a pretty good Christmas (and Hanukah) for ebooks.
The most-used device for reading an ebook is a personal computer (47%). Amazon Kindle is number two (32%), followed by Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch (21%).
The other notes are that PC users still dwarf the dedicated e-readers, Apple is gaining share rapidly, but most of the sales seem casual, the best-selling e-book of all time is the Bible (don’t expect Hollywood to remake the Ten Commandments any time soon), Apple users are younger and more male, Kindle users older and more female.
How many Kindles are really in use? As far as I can tell, Amazon hasn’t released any Kindle device sales figures, other than a quote referring to “millions” of users. Several analysts have jumped on the use of the plural as evidence that at least two million Kindles have been sold. But I think the BISG survey doesn’t support that. Here’s my math:
–About 2% of book buyers have ebooks and/or ebook devices.
–About a third of them have Kindles (that’s 0.67% of active book buyers).
–If 0.67% of book buyers in the US is two million people, then there are 300 million active book buyers in the US. That is the entire US population, including infants and people who don’t like books. I don’t know what the base of active book buyers is in the US, but my guess is it’s not over 200 million, meaning the installed base of Kindles would be about 1.3 million.
It’s tricky to play with survey results when the percentages are this small — the margins of error become very significant. But for now I think the BISG survey raises some questions, and I’m not willing to accept the two million figure for the Kindle installed base without some more rigorous evidence to support it.
Go read the whole thing. But e-book readers and sales are still marginal. Over time they will become far more important, but they are not, unlike hardcover and paperback book sales in the US, indicators of massive popularity.
The long lines and midnight events for the release of the Harry Potter and Twilight novels made making them into films a no-brainer. EVERYONE knew what they were, and merely reaching the existing fans of the books guaranteed success, as long as the movies did not run gargantuan budgets.
As noted by the AP, Bertelsmann’s success was driven mostly by advertising, the RTL and Gruner + Jahr divisions, and by Random House’s general publishing activities including traditional publishing and e-books. Recall that e-books do indeed, cannibalize sales of hardcovers, and paperbacks, and offer lower margins and revenues. Remember what we are NOT seeing, the kind of near-hysteria among fans for the novels, and characters, associated with the Harry Potter and Twilight novels.
Then there is the source material, questionable at best in its appeal to anyone beyond the self-loathing literati and feminized Euro elite. Twilight’s appeal is easy to understand. A doll-like stand in for any woman, is fought over by two superpowered, hunky eternal men. For Harry Potter, a boy becomes a powerful wizard, with soap opera relationships for girls and the “magical” boarding school out of a never-was English past.
In the novel, a middle aged failure and drunken journalist, Blomkvist, teams up with a damaged, abused, Asperger-y young woman with tattoos, a fairly icky and sordid sexual past, who is a hacker genius and the ass-kicker of the two. Blomkvist is basically a castrated, asexual creature, who does not even “get the girl.” Who is not worth getting in and of herself. Little appeal to men, Larsson’s book (and trilogy) centers around “Daddy was a monster” and “everyone is a victim” standard for the Communist Party to which Larsson was a lifelong member, in Sweden the book was titled “Men Who Hate Women.” Ignoring of course the very real hatred dished out (to Swedish women) by Muslim immigrants inside Sweden.
For women, there is even less appeal. There is no man for the central female character to “win.” She remains a bisexual freak, unable to form any close relationship, a loner, socially isolated, intent on revenge, with the only male in her life a much older man made into a castrato. The appeal is pretty narrow, basically wealthy, upscale lesbians. And no other women. None of the things that interest women, such as marriage, family, children, winning the “right” man while avoiding the “wrong” one, and of course, consumption porn, are present in the book (or the trilogy). Larsson’s major theme is the “strain of Nazi-ism still festering away in Swedish society.” Yes, those Swedish Nazis are a major threat, as Sweden becomes rapidly, Muslim majority, and ruled by an alien people. Needless to say, the vast majority of American women are not really interested or concerned about fighting Swedish Nazis. They’d rather follow a story in which the girl gets the really, really hunky guy! And lives young and beautiful forever! With mind-blowing sex, that literally breaks bones! The end!
Hollywood literally has no clue. Dragon Tattoo will be a massive, colossal failure for Sony Pictures, and cement Daniel Craig as Box Office Poison. The movie will be a massive hit among American Communists, and Lesbians intent on wiping out the menace of Swedish Nazis. In a nation so feminized, that boys (never MUSLIM boys mind you) are made to wear dresses in Kindergarten to make them less masculine, and there are laws against peeing standing up (again, never enforced against MUSLIM men).
Massive jeremiads against how “awful Daddy was” might work in Hollywood treatment readings, but audiences crave something else. For men, its action and adventure where manly courage gets a girl worth getting. For women, it is traditional romance and female friendship. “Margot at the Wedding” did a fraction of the box office business of say, “27 Dresses” or “Sex and the City.” But Hollywood is desperate.
Hollywood LITERALLY cannot write stories appealing to either men or women. They must outsource that to long dead comic book writers, who created characters in some cases 70 years ago, or popular novelists who are proven successes. It is a measure of Hollywood’s executive stupidity that they are chasing stuff like “Dragon Tattoo,” which will make Sony long for the box office success of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.” It is worth noting that the few successes not based on existing comic books (“300,” “Batman Begins / Dark Knight,” “Iron Man”) or books/TV series (“Sex and the City,” the Twilight and Potter movies) come from outsiders like Luc Besson (“Taken”) that play to traditional material Hollywood long ago abandoned in decadence. What does it say when a movie-maker from FRANCE makes a more rousing affirmation of traditional male values than Hollywood can make?
Don’t believe the hype. This movie is “Scott Pilgrim” all over again.