The success of HBO’s A Game of Thrones, based on G.R.R. Martin’s fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, has revived the book world. That’s because Martin’s latest book in the series, the long-anticipated A Dance With Dragons, hit bookstores last week, and it wasn’t just fans of the preceding books that were eager — it was also the new fans created by the miniseries. Random House said 170,000 copies were sold in the first day, along with 110,000 e-copies.
The sales were a welcome sign of rain in a drought-plagued industry. Booksellers, both indie and chain stores, were astonished by the success of the big fat fantasy (it comes in at well over 1,000 pages). And that’s just existing fans. The HBO miniseries has also created an upswing in demand for the first four books in the trilogy (a little Douglas Adams joke there), as fans of the show have become fans of the books. On Amazon, Dance With Dragons was at number 1; the boxed set of the preceding books was at number 2.
This is great for Martin, who is a veteran author and television writer and creator. No overnight success, he, and it shows. The books are lauded — rightfully — for their complexity, grand scale, marvelous writing and character creation, and gorgeous world building. And I’m not even a fan.* Imagine what people who actually like the series think.
At the same time, it’s too much to ask for a book to save an industry whose business model is changing by the minute. A Dance With Dragons wouldn’t have been able to prevent Borders’ bankruptcy, for instance. Not even a boy wizard could do that, as long as we’re talking about a successful fantasy series. But here’s what Martin and J.K. Rowling and yes, Stephenie Meyer have done: they have created media-rich stories that combine all forms of storytelling — book and film and television and audio — for a complete experience.
To take advantage of this, bookstores will have to evolve. Barnes & Noble has already done so with its Nook sales initiative, independent bookstores have banded together under the Indiebound marketing strategy, and Borders, if it is to make a comeback, will also have to make changes.
*Well, he kept killing my favorite characters!