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THE ARTS+: Masterclass: Books Beyond their Covers: Adaptation and the Role of the Book in the 21st-century Media Industries

16.10.2020

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All around us, book content is repurposed for other media through the multidirectional process of adaptation. With books increasingly viewed as sources of adaptation-ready content for audio-visual and gaming industries, the subsumption of the book into the broader media industries is clear.
This presents a fundamental challenge to inherited ways of thinking about books. The codex book was long seen as a semi-sacred vehicle for the divine Word, and even in popular publishing, the idea of the book as a freestanding entity runs deep. Foregrounding adaptation turns all this on its head.
Adaptation has been studied for some decades through textual comparison of (usually) book and film versions, but only more recently has adaptation been viewed sociologically as a system of rights-trading between multiple book- and screen-industry stakeholders. This industry perspective illuminates how vast, cross-sectoral content franchises come to be constructed and why they hold such commercial value.
Nor is this process unidirectional: content that begins on screen can be repackaged in book form as novelisations, companion volumes, published screenplays or, at a minimum, with tie-in cover designs.
The talk concludes by examining the growing audiobook phenomenon. It asks what this ‘re-oralisation’ of literature signifies for our understanding of print culture and its long-dominant visual bias.