Book show business

<p>The Christmas television season is already well under way, with the usual mixture of literary adaptations, celebrity chat show hosts with their own books to plug and shows with a flourishing tie-in market. But one would be forgiven for wondering: where are the books themselves, and where are the shows about them?</p>
<p>The BBC offers cultural programmes such as &quot;Imagine&quot;, &quot;Newsnight Review&quot; and several shows on BBC4, but TV programming in recent years has been a graveyard of cancelled book programmes. The Griff Rhys Jones-fronted &quot;Bookworm&quot; on BBC1 ended in 2000, and the BBC's &quot;Page Turners&quot; was also cancelled in 2005. &quot;Between the Covers&quot; in 2004 was a failed ITV experiment that posited a prime-time &quot;Book Idol&quot; strand to find literary talent.</p>
<p>It was not until Richard and Judy launched the Book Club on their Channel 4 evening show in 2004 that books on TV actually worked as a lasting entertainment format for a broad audience. Amanda Ross, m.d. of R&amp;J producers Cactus TV, says: &quot;Channel 4 didn't want to do it. They thought it was really boring. It had never worked before and they didn't see why it would this time.&quot; She, and R&amp;J, proved Channel 4 wrong, revolutionising the book market with spectacular bouts of sales boosts that continued to the last R&amp;J Channel 4 series this summer. The paperback of Linwood Barclay's <i>No Time for Goodbye</i> (Orion), for example, sold 5,267 copies in the week of release in June 2008. In the week in which it was revealed to be on R&amp;J's 2008 Summer Reads, sales shot up to 21,411 copies, hitting 53,952 the week after appearing on the show, and it has chalked up sales of over 621,162 copies to the 10th December, the best-selling book of the year as <i>The Bookseller </i>went to press.</p>
<p>The most pertinent question for the book trade is: will the R&amp;J boom continue after the couple's much-heralded switch from Channel 4? The new show, &quot;Richard &amp; Judy's New Position&quot;, has been running during prime-time on digital channel UKTV Watch since October. Even the most fervent enthusiasts will admit that the &quot;New Position&quot; has not been a ratings success. A recent show attracted a paltry 13,000 viewers, a slump from 149,000 for the much-hyped first show of the series. The show's average is around 47,000 viewers compared with 2.5 million at its Channel 4 height.</p>
<p>Ross remains ebullient about the format, despite the lacklustre ratings. &quot;&lsquo;Richard &amp; Judy works because it has a broad audience and brings a wider audience to books,&quot; she insists. &quot;I think [the Book Club has] worked because it's not a whole show, it's a part of lots of other things.&quot;</p>
<p>She adds: &quot;It's not so much the medium as the recommendation. Word of mouth, whether it's from TV, radio, newspapers, your best friend&mdash;it's from a source of trust . . . The [R&amp;J] brand will keep going into the new year, and beyond. It's been going five years, and it works.&quot;</p>
<p>But what other shows could replace brand R&amp;J if the series&mdash;and Book Clubs&mdash;ever ended, or the brand is eroded by plummeting ratings? Who watches them, and what impact do they have on sales? <br />
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<b>The Book Show</b><br />
&quot;The Book Show&quot; is the only regular television programme devoted entirely to books. The hour-long show is broadcast on Sky Arts 1 and HD on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and repeated on Sky Arts 1, 2 and HD. Each week, host Mariella Frostrup interviews three authors; features include &quot;The Book Club&quot;, a weekly visit to book shops, with an emphasis on indies; &quot;The Write Place&quot;, where authors talk about the place they write in; and &quot;A Fine Line&quot; where authors discuss their favourite line from literature. The varied guest list has included Will Self, Philippa Gregory, Sir Richard Attenborough and Martina Cole.</p>
<p>Series producer Anne Elletson, herself a former publicity manager at Faber, describes the choosing of books as &quot;democratic&quot;: &quot;It works out naturally as a cross-section of &#8232;publishers. We look first and foremost at the books and authors we want to do.&quot;</p>
<p>She adds: &quot;It's a book-buying audience but the range of guests we've had is such a broad spectrum, I hope it will bring in people who are interested in those [authors] as well. People like to find out about the process of writing&mdash;a lot of people write.&quot;</p>
<p>James Hunt, executive producer of the show, says: &quot;Since the launch of Sky Arts 2 on 20th October after only two weeks of the new schedule we doubled our reach to 1.43 million unique viewers. There is an audience out there.&quot; He adds: &quot;Sky is not advertising-led, it is subscriptions based&mdash;there isn't a scramble for ratings so we can do justice to authors of all sorts. There aren't any gimmicks, it's an intelligent hour in company that's entertaining and articulate. You don't need top 10s or quizzes.&quot;</p>
<p>&quot;The Book Show&quot;'s audience is a dedicated and literary one, as Paul Sweetman, whose Hove independent bookshop City Books featured on the programme, says: &quot;People came in the shop afterwards, devoted fans of the show. It's not a programme for everybody but for book enthusiasts.&quot; He adds that customers came in asking about <i>The Reluctant Fundamentalist</i>, the book his wife recommended on the show &quot;although most of them had read it before!&quot;<br />
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<b>The Culture Show</b><br />
Sweetman also mentioned increased sales of Mick Imlah's <i>The Lost Leader </i>(Faber), which jumped after Imlah's profile on BBC2's &quot;The Culture Show&quot; on 2nd December. The half-hour magazine-format show, which has been broadcasting at the post-pub times of 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and 11.35 p.m. on Fridays since June this year, is in its third series. Mixing &quot;high&quot; and &quot;low&quot; culture it is fast-paced and edgy, and hosted by the young and cool Lauren Laverne.</p>
<p>Eddie Morgan, editor of the show, says: &quot;I could have had people sitting around a table discussing [books]&#8232;. . . [I thought] Why don't we try it in a more ambitious way?&quot; The show has innovatively promoted authors ranging from Studs Terkel to Malorie Blackman, including a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Orwell's <i>1984</i> that involved Germaine Greer dissecting the book with a group of&nbsp; former &quot;Big Brother&quot; contestants. The show attracts &quot;close to one million viewers on a not so good week, 1.5 million viewers on a good week&quot;, which, as Morgan points out, is &quot;not as high a rating as sitcoms, reality TV, quiz shows etc., but programmes like ours, the &quot;South Bank Show&quot; and &quot;Imagine&quot; are made because people believe in them, not because they are obsessed by ratings.&quot; <br />
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<b>South Bank Show</b><br />
The &quot;South Bank Show&quot; has been ITV's flagship prime-time arts show for 30 years. Its next series of hour-long in-depth profiles begins in February 2009, and will include studies of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; past subjects have included Sarah Waters and Ruth Rendell. Melyvn Bragg has been at its helm since the first series in 1978, and has also produced and presented book-themed programmes such as &quot;Travels In Written Britain&quot; and &quot;12 Books That Changed the World&quot;. He describes the &quot;South Bank Show&quot;'s audience as &quot;the most intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful people who have deep pockets to buy things.&quot; He adds: &quot;They are both readers and those who are interested in writers, which doesn't necessarily overlap.&quot; He adds that literary television ratings are &quot;tested by the wrong standards&mdash;they are expected to bring &#8232;in football-sized crowds. [The &quot;South Bank Show&quot; is] for a niche audience that is not recognised but is &#8232;still there.&quot;</p>
<p>Bragg continues: &quot;People love to do the one-off [shows] because they are well-crafted films and more prestigious, but we need a regular hammer [of a show] to deliver &#8232;the goods.&quot;<br />
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<b>So what is it worth?</b><br />
It is almost impossible to ascertain&mdash;in an era of hundreds of digital channels, round-the-clock repeats, iPlayer and even YouTube&mdash;whether a book or author being featured on a show has a direct impact on sales.</p>
<p>Sales will inevitably spike when a book is released, but as Charlotte Bush, Random House divisional publicity director, points out: &quot;An author might well appear on more than one show and TV is [only] one part of a well-executed publicity campaign.&quot;</p>
<p>However, picking out weekly sales figures around the time a book has appeared on a show reveals a demonstrable effect on sales&mdash;particularly for backlist or quirky titles. After Orwell's <i>1984 </i>was featured on &quot;The Culture Show&quot;, the next week's sales leapt from 245 to 664, although this may have also been attributable to its anniversary. In the week following Sarah Waters' profile on the &quot;South Bank Show&quot; in June this year, sales of all her titles saw a boost: <i>Affinity</i> sold 54 copies the week before, 73 after;<i> The Night Watch </i>sold 134 before and 156 after; <i>Fingersmith</i> sold 53 before and 103 after. Chimamanda Ngozi Achichi guested on &quot;The Book Show&quot; on 23rd October, and the paperback edition of <i>Half of a Yellow Sun</i> (released January 2007) saw a slower, but steady rise from 876 copies in the week before broadcast to 1,278 five weeks later. &quot;Richard &amp; Judy's New Position&quot; may be new and its audience small, but all of the titles featured on the first of the recent &quot;Christmas Books&quot; strand received a sales increase of 14.9% in that week (the market average increase was 8.5%).</p>
<p>In a post-R&amp;J environment, book coverage on TV looks destined to be confined to sections of general &quot;cultural&quot; programming, although, according to &quot;The Book Show&quot;'s Hunt, Sky is committed to making Sky Arts as big a brand as Sky News or Sky Sport. Until then, terrestrial TV remains the best way to reach a large number of book-buyers, and a commercial and popular alternative to R&amp;J may have to be found. Eddie Morgan concludes: &quot;Culture isn't niche, it's what people are interested in, it's what they do in their spare time. As Melvyn Bragg says, &lsquo;the more programmes &#8232;the merrier'.&quot;</p>