NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For a young-adult novel to find "Harry Potter"-level success is a feat often attempted but rarely achieved over the past decade. (Anyone remember "A Series of Unfortunate Events"?) But if any teen-lit franchise shows the potential to reach the critical mass of teen-wizard and vampire proportions, it's Scholastic's "Hunger Games" series, which -- tellingly -- is about to get the film treatment.
The trilogy, by veteran fantasy novelist Suzanne Collins, tells the post-apocalyptic story of a nationally televised tournament in which children are selected to battle to the death. It features a young female protagonist (who does more than pine and pout), quick pacing and, amid the descriptions of violence between children and teens, touts a strongly anti-violence message that's ringing true with readers of all ages.
"[It's] one of those properties that crosses all boundaries," said David Levithan, executive editorial director at Scholastic. "Some readers will latch onto the horrific scenarios, others will latch on the dystopian war story, the love story, the evolution of the characters, the sci-fi aspects. ... No two people will have the same experience with the [story], much like 'Harry Potter.'"
The third book in the series, "Mockingjay," was released in August and moved 450,000 copies in its first week on shelves, topping the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists -- and done without any of the relentless get-the-word-out marketing ploys used to promote its predecessors. There are now nearly 7 million copies of the series in print in the U.S. alone, with dozens of other countries releasing editions of their own. Since the first installment was published in September 2008, the trilogy has spent more than 100 consecutive weeks on The New York Times best-seller list.
Despite the success of the books, the "Hunger Games" brand is still in the infancy of its real growth. Lionsgate Entertainment, which snagged rights to adapt the books last year, is expected to announce a cast and director in the coming months and should be in production on the first film in early 2011.
Striker Entertainment, the licensing agency working with Collins to create a line of teen-friendly "Hunger Games" items, has so far laid a conservative stake in a market brimming with demand. Its small line of T-shirts, key chains, jewelry and other items have sold well in specialty shops and book stores, but it won't be until the films gain traction that the real expansion will begin -- and even then, keeping the brand "high-end and cool" will be essential.