Fred Patten asks: are “art of” animated movie books necessary?
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
In June, my review of The Art of Cars 3 was posted here. In it, I said:
“It has been acknowledged that these “art of” books featuring animated films are money-losers, subsidized by the advertising budgets for those films, made for the promotion of those films and for the morale of the artists and technical crews that produced them. The Art of Cars 3 is full of the art of the animators, layout artists, production designers, story artists, digital renderers, graphic designers, modelers, and others who created Cars 3 .”
I had gotten that information – about the art-of animation books being money-losers that were published for their movie’s advertising and for their production staff’s morale – from a February 2017 story by Amid Amidi on the Cartoon Brew website. It was about Illumination Entertainment’s animated films — the Despicable Me franchise, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing. The pertinent paragraphs were:
“Among the things that Illumination Entertainment does differently from other major animation studios is they don’t produce art-of/making-of books for each of their films.
From a business perspective, it makes sense. Most art-of books don’t make their money back, have limited reach, and add unnecessary costs to a film’s marketing budget. But they do have intangible benefits, like boosting morale among studio employees and helping build stronger relationships with the studio’s most passionate fans. I might agree that it doesn’t make sense to create an art-of book for every film, but perhaps Illumination could publish an anniversary art-of book at some point. Their tenth film is coming up in 2019, while 2020 will mark ten years since the release of their first film. Both of those dates seem like ideal milestones.”
April Whitney, the publicist at Chronicle Books for The Art of Cars 3, took exception to that statement. She said that Chronicle’s “art of” de luxe animation books, which cover most Disney•Pixar animated features, sell very well and are not, as I implied, subsidized by Disney’s marketing department.
April’s response to me:
“The difference in our publishing is that we are a third party that licenses the ability to make these books, so if they didn’t earn back their cost and make money, we would lose money and discontinue publishing them. It’s not a vanity project for us. There may be some books in the market that are completely funded by the studio, and sold with little expectations, but I only have experience working on Chronicle titles and that is not the case here.
“While we don’t share print run numbers or revenue, you could look to The Art of Zootopia for instance and note that it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, which should give you an idea of the demand for that book.
“Another anecdote is that a few years ago, one of our editors brought to our attention that the out-of-stock book The Art of Monsters, Inc was being sold on eBay for over $100. We decided to reprint. And when we debuted the reprint at San Diego Comic-Con I encountered several people who were thrilled that it was available again at the actual retail price of $40. They were *especially* excited that we sell all books at that show for 30% off.
“Of course not all ‘Art of’ books sell the same, and it does have much to do with how well the film itself does. It has been a while since I worked on The Art of Frozen but I do recall that book sold well with multiple reprints. It was a highly successful film.
“Of course we never know how well a film will perform. We’re book makers not filmmakers nor critics, but we do know that a sizable number of customers are curious about the process of bringing these movies to life, and many of them enjoy the peek into that process that the ‘Art of’ provides.”
Patch O’Furr, the editor of Dogpatch Press who has professional experience in the business, agrees with Whitney.
“I think April is right. Any book that needs a reprint is doing better than cost if it’s part of an established product line like Chronicle’s – (excepting limited cases that may be more expensive to make than they sell for.) This type of book has unique content and doesn’t just reproduce stuff you already saw.
I have definitely seen ‘art of’ animation books sell out and their prices jump much higher than cover, a good sign of success.”
Cartoon Brew’s editor Amid Amidi, who wrote the article that I quoted, is a recognized animation expert (I reviewed his Cartoon Modern ten years ago). I wrote to him, to give him the opportunity to reply to Whitney’s and Patch’s comments. He has declined:
“I have no comment for publication about this”.
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Sounds about right. If it’s a third party, they’re not going to print something unless its profitable. If the demand is there, someone will supply it.
An intriguing question is: if the art-of books about popular animated features like Disney/Pixar’s are really commercially viable, then would any of the publishers of those books like to publish similar books about Illumination Entertainment’s movies? If a publisher, or an author of an art-of book about a Pixar or a DreamWorks movie, approached Illumination and wanted to write a similar book about “Despicable Me 3” or “The Secret Life of Pets”, full of animation-staff interviews and production art, would Illumination cooperate or decline?
(How many people know that Illumination’s head business office is in Hollywood but its animation studio is in Paris?)
Amid Amidi comments: “No comment.”