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Point/Counterpoint: Media Tie-Ins

There is a series of articles coming up in the SFWA Bulletin titled Media Tie-ins, yes or no? written by William C. Dietz and Norman Spinrad. They are point/counterpoint pieces with Dietz on the “Pro” side and Spinrad on the “Con” side. It touches on the major issues we’ve discussed before with media tie-ins and also some new ones that folks hadn’t thought of.

Here are some excerpts from the fascinating first article in the series. It was really hard to choose these as the ongoing dialog is so thoroughly interesting:

DIETZ: …I maintain that authors who believe they’re in the literature business are mistaken. Because the truth is that they’re in the entertainment business and therefore in competition with Heinlein’s proverbial six-pack of beer, movies, TV, video games and much more…

SPINRAD: …novelists are not in the entertainment business in the sense you mean. We are not competing for Joe’s beer money–try to get drunk by reading a novel or passing a few hours reading a beer can. What we are competing with, to the extent that it is a null-sum game, are other people’s novels.

DIETZ:…There is an infinite amount of virtual rack space now, which means there’s plenty of room for all books, including back lists and tie-ins…No, what authors need to focus on these days isn’t so much shelf space as mind share.

SPINRAD: …I suppose that to some extent, the tie-ins may give the writers thereof a little “brand extension” (a term and a concept I find loathsome) for their own names, but since the game and media companies are calling the advertising and PR shots, and since it is in their economic interest to have the brand extension apply to their series brands–the game, the film, the toys, the merchandise–not to the writers of the tie-in episodes, that’s the way they promote and will continue to do so.

The article goes on:

DIETZ: Fundamental to all of the arguments you put forward is the notion that original or “free-standing” novels are in some way pure and therefore superior to work for hire…The truth is that what we authors get paid to do is to retell, repackage, and re-spin stories that have already been told one way or another, while adding our individual thoughts, flavorings, and touches.

SPINRAD:…It is true that writers may draw upon and make reference to all the works that have gone before, but that does not at all mean that all we can do is retell, repackage, and re-spin stories that have been told before. Least of all, writers of science fiction, who if they are true to their calling, start with the blankest of canvases, and are free to create, worlds, universes, cultures, states of being and consciousness, the very laws of mass and energy if they so choose.

These excerpts don’t really do the piece justice, so grab a copy of the Bulletin if you can.

And stay tuned! Tomorrow’s Mind Meld feature will address this very subject.

[Many thanks to the SFWA, William Dietz and Norman Spinrad who gave their permission to post these excerpts.]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on Point/Counterpoint: Media Tie-Ins

  1. I think there’s a world of difference between the respect that we show for the authors of tie-in novels and the personal effort that they commit to their projects (to the extent that is possible under their deadlines… a window of less than two weeks for some novelizations of movie scripts, I hear), and our attitude towards the tie-in as a business (and on top of that, towards tie-in readers as readers).

    I side with Dietz on the matter of the tie-in as entertainment, and I think it works both ways: every product in every medium competes for a time-share with everything else. Sure, tie-ins may often act as a gateway to the genre and its authors, but I think that by and large, it is more accurate to see them as an extension of a multimedia enterprise.

    That is not to say, though, that the game for the shelf space at your B&N or Borders is anything but zero-sum. I find it all too common for us Internet folk to overestimate the power and relevance of the brick-and-mortar bookshop. The Star Trek brand may sell Star Trek novels, but they crowd out the original titles that get a lot of mileage out of merely catching your passing eye.

    Again, any unfair prejudice we might have towards tie-in authors is not to be confused with a prejudice we may hold against the tie-in business and its effect on the literary market, which I do think is in some ways detrimental. I recently posted my own analysis of the tie-in (about 12,000 words, in five parts, or “TL;DR” as the kids like to say), which you can find here.

  2. Er, sorry. We “underestimate” the brick-and-mortar bookshop, not overestimate it. Bugger.

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