Today’s fictional universes all have to be multi-platform

Cross-platform integration
Cross-platform integration
Image: Reuters/Neil Hall
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Last week the New York Times reported that the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen will be adapted into a novel this October, from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It’s an unusual move: Books are used often as source material for movies, TV shows, and even musicals but it’s far less common in reverse.

Dear Evan Hansen is a Tony award-wining play about Evan, a lonely teenage boy dealing with anxiety, who gets caught in a web of lies following the suicide of a school acquaintance. So, strange as it may seem to take a medium premised on rhyme and harmony and render it for a song-less page, it’s not a stretch that the play could make a good YA novel. Still, it seems more likely that the decision to adapt the musical is part of a larger trend of producing many-platformed versions of the same stories.

“Dear Evan Hansen is not just a musical, and the novel will not be just a book; Dear Evan Hansen is a movement, and we can’t wait for everyone to join it,” says Megan Tingley, the imprint’s publisher, in a press release.

“We have felt a certain discomfort with the fact that it is so expensive to come see the show, we can only have 1,000 people a night, and there are so many people who can’t come to New York,” Steven Levenson, the show’s playwright, told the Times.

Physical, site-specific experiences, it seems, once coveted for their exclusivity, are better off trying to reach everyone. An art exhibit and a fashion show are designed for Instagram. A play isn’t just a play; it’s a “movement.”

There is precedent for turning a very successful play into super successful book-merch: The not-quite-a-book eighth Harry Potter story was a concept that began as a West End play about Harry’s son Albus. The script was sold in print, and Cursed Child became the top-selling book in the US in 2016. The play is now on Broadway in New York, but for those millions of Potter fans outside New York City or London, or whose parents can’t spring for plane ticket plus a $40-390 ticket seat, a $30 print book ($10 on Amazon for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script) might have more appeal.

Similarly, the musical Hamilton is now touring cities in the US, but tickets start at $80. The show’s libretto, published with accompanying commentary and its origin story, spent 42 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Elsewhere, readers are coming to expect stories in whatever formats they want instantly. Big-name books launch simultaneously with high-production audio versions. (That’s the plan for the forthcoming Dear Evan Hansen book, too.) Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are making a stop-motion film for Netflix called Wendell and Wild, which will be released along with its own novelization.

Meanwhile, in the extensive Marvel content universe, fans will never run out of what they crave: Comic books, movies, video games, TV shows, and for meta-fans, a guidebook to how all the characters across the films are connected.