While it was pretty easy to see today’s Marvel announcement coming, things are much less clear-cut when we’re talking about another high-profile Star Wars publishing licensee: Del Rey.
(I’m putting all issues of canon, continuity and the sequels aside for this post. Those are big decisions made at Lucasfilm, not by their licensees: We can discuss it another time. This post is solely about the franchise’s publishing rights.)
Disney does have a publishing division, Disney Publishing Worldwide. However, their products are mostly books for children and younger readers. Their selections for adults are mostly focused on guide and art books – not fiction. Nor do they have a division devoted to science fiction and fantasy novels, which is Del Rey’s niche. Their closest equivalent, Hyperion, was sold to Hachette last year, and hasn’t been a particularly big player in the genre.
It’s clear that books for younger readers are already moving or will move under the Disney umbrella – the Rebels books, which obviously didn’t have a pre-existing contract, are already there.
Currently Del Rey does the publish art books and the like (The Making of books, for instance) and I can easily see those moving over to Disney Press. The fiction, however… Disney could pair with another publisher (they do have a continuing association with Hyperion,) stop publishing adult novels entirely and stick to younger-oriented books, beef up LucasBooks under Disney Press, or stick with Del Rey.
Del Rey has familiarity with the genre; they’re a major player in the sf/f publishing world. Unlike with Marvel and Dark Horse, there really is no direct equivalent to that in Disney’s stable. They still might chose to move the license, or parts of the license – the art books and other tomes, for instance – but I think the chances of the novels staying with Del Rey are pretty good.
And if it doesn’t, I think it’s possible we’ll see a pretty sharp drop in quality. I haven’t always been the most positive about all of Del Rey’s Star Wars novels, but it is clear that a lot of care has gone into them – and I’m not sure a publisher with a less focused approach to sf/f would do quite as well, even with LucasBooks continuing at the helm.
Both Dark Horse and Marvel are big publishers in comic circles, easily able to attract top-flight talent to licensed products. And back in the 90′s, when Del Rey won the Star Wars license over Bantam, they were both in similar places as top genre imprints. But in today’s publishing climate, does anything beyond the ability to ask someone if they want to write Star Wars book even matter?
Obviously I can’t tell you for sure what Disney and Lucasfilm will do – but it’s far, far harder to point to any one clear solution here than it was with the comics. And I know I said we weren’t going to discuss the canon/continuity issues – but one thing that’s clear from the Marvel deal that some form of the Expanded Universe is going to continue through the sequels.
In either case, Del Rey’s license was last renewed in 2008, so we’ll almost certainly be hearing something within the next few months… One way or another. Whatever the case with the books that are currently in the Episode VII-inspired limbo, there are clearly still some slots left.