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The Hunger Games Takes Aim, Again

Image – iStockphoto: Kagenmi

Springtime for Scholastic

Here on the first day of July (rabbit!), you may have missed the news in the latter part of June that something tentatively called the Untitled Panem Novel is to be rolled out in print, ebook, and audiobook editions in the States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on May 19 of next year– a nice big simultaneous release in many countries, something that’s beloved of us publishing internationalists.

Do you know what Panem is? If so, then you know your Hunger Games. Panem is the post-apocalyptic nation featured in The Hunger Games.

And in an understandably delerious news flash to the media, Scholastic has announced that Suzanne Collins’s new Hunger Games book is a prequel to the trilogy [1], the first book of which started reaching the reading public in 2008. Time flies like a Katniss arrow when your first book in a trilogy is on the Times bestseller lists for more than five years running.

The second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire (history’s most understated wink of a title), was out in 2009.

Mockinjay, the capper, came out in 2010.

So it will have been 10 years since the appearance of the third Hunger Games book when the new title arrives. Nostalgic, are you?

Scholastic is telling us that international rights for the trilogy have sold into 54 languages and 57 territories. In fact, the rights for the new prequel already are reported to have sold into Brazil, Israel, Norway, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary (no Hungary Games jokes, please), Finland, and France.

There are more than 100 million copies of the books from the trilogy out there. The four films have pulled in almost $3 billion since the first one [2] went to the cinemas in 2012.

And the reason I’m going on about Collins’ work and the upcoming prequel–which is set 64 years before the trilogy on the morning of the reaping of the 10th Hunger Games–has a lot to do with a book market that has needed some YA crossover energy for a while. Badly.

It was during the long-running popularity of The Hunger Games that Nielsen first revealed data indicating that an astonishing 80 percent of YA titles were being bought for consumption by adults.

This is one reason that a lot of people may feel cheered by a new arrow from Collins’ quiver. As BookScan research (formerly a Nielsen product, now owned by NPD) revealed at BookExpo, the bestselling genres in adult divisions this year are general fiction and suspense/thrillers. Romance came in third in the first quarter of this year. In kids’ and YA titles, the best 2018 fiction sales seen in general fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.

All of which indicates that action-adventure/fantasy/thriller-driven material like that Collins creates can still find a lot of traction, particularly among the Panemites of our readership.

What’s more, while nonfiction may still be hitting more growth charts than fiction these days, NPD did see a distinct fall-off in the first quarter in political book sales. (That caused a nearly audible gulp from publishers at BookExpo who had just signed new political books.) A slacking-off in the sector isn’t yet known to be long-term yet, mind you. But should it tend to linger in the US market data for more of the year, it’s expected to be put down to political fatigue. This could mean that more readers by next spring will be ready for some other kind of dog-eat-dog entertainment than the stuff Washington keeps offering us.

It was amusing last week, as the Democratic candidates’ debates were coming, to hear one news analyst on CNN predict that the second night of the debates would be “like The Hunger Games.” (She was rather right, too.)

But this is where I’d like your input. My provocation for you today: is the coming new book good news for publishing on the wider scale?

Taking Aim

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

While a single title does not a turnaround make, if Collins and Scholastic can hit the target again with the accuracy of the original trilogy, then several things can be expected to happen, such as:

In general, there might even simply be a books-benefitting aura around interest in this new work, especially in the YA-crossover range of material that’s so readily and profitably adapted to the screens. With so much content going into development for the streamers, in fact, I’d say there’s a good chance this time around that Collins’ new book spins off not a film deal but a series–an expensive one sustaining several seasons, for a big, beautiful audience hungry for it, from Tokyo to Tashkent.

In a prepared statement from Collins, she’s quoted, saying, “With this book, I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival. The reconstruction period 10 years after the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days—as the country of Panem struggles back to its feet—provides fertile ground for characters to grapple with these questions and thereby define their views of humanity.”

Dark Days, huh? Relevance to our current divisiveness, anyone?

In the publisher’s statement, we read Ellie Berger, who heads up Scholastic’s trade division, saying that the company is looking forward to introducing “the devoted fans of the series and a new audience to an entirely new perspective on this modern classic.” And if anybody can float some major boats, it’s Collins.

But, then, many of our readers here at WU have seen surprise hits and sure-thing disasters in the past. And I’d like your input on what it might mean that the House of Potter is about to offer a new book of Games.

Weigh in if you like. And if you’re too busy suddenly trying to outline something about good-looking teens who find themselves in woodland settings under violent circumstances, I’ll understand of course. I’ve already called your publisher and told them it’s coming. 

About Porter Anderson [3]

@Porter_Anderson [4] is a recipient of London Book Fair's International Excellence Award for Trade Press Journalist of the Year. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives [5], the international news medium of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Priors: The Bookseller's The FutureBook [6] in London, CNN, CNN.com and CNN International–as well as the Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, and the United Nations' WFP in Rome. PorterAndersonMedia.com [7]