TV & Streaming

Hulu’s book-to-series titles are getting a boost from Barnes & Noble

An arrangement promoting adaptations like ‘Black Cake’ is one of several partnerships that Hulu has forged to boost show awareness.
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James Van Evers/Hulu

4 min read

For most viewers in the US, the Hulu drama series Black Cake wasn’t available on the streaming service until this week. But some bookworms got a slice of the show a few weeks early.

The first two episodes of the Hulu original, an adaptation of the 2022 best-selling debut novel by Charmaine Wilkerson, became available on October 22 for members of Barnes & Noble Premium, a $39.99-a-year membership that comes with perks like discounts and free shipping.

The early-episode release—which came ahead of the three-episode premiere on Nov. 1—is part of a broader partnership between the Disney-owned streamer, which at the beginning of July had 48.3 million subscribers, and the book retailer, which operates around 600 stores in the US and is the largest retail bookseller in the world. As part of the tie-up, Barnes & Noble is highlighting various book-to-Hulu-series adaptations, including Black Cake, Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl,Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

The growing partnership between the two brands is designed to help feed fandom of both books and TV alike, and help both companies boost their businesses, Adia Matthews, Hulu’s VP of brand partnerships and synergy, told Marketing Brew.

“Here’s a story that I love—let me go stream it on Hulu. Or vice versa: I’ve streamed it on Hulu, I want to dig deeper—let me go and get the book,” Matthews said. “It goes both ways.”

Better together

Entertainment companies have long leaned on partnerships with retailers to help boost fan excitement and drive awareness for new shows and movies. For Hulu, partnering with a book retailer is part of a widespread partnerships strategy led by Matthews that’s designed to help amplify the streaming service’s titles in a highly competitive environment through partnerships with brands that have also included Rare Beauty and Microsoft.

Depending on the partner and the story depicted in the series, the partnership strategy is bound to change, Matthews said, but it can take many forms. Rare Beauty hosted a makeup masterclass at Sephora and released a custom collection tied to the mystery series Only Murders in the Building, while Microsoft’s partnership with Hulu included a sponsored panel conversation for The 1619 Project with book author and series executive producer Nikole Hannah-Jones. Ahead of the premiere of the second season of comedy This Fool,Hulu teamed up with Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts, which included custom donuts and delivery powered by Postmates.

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For Black Cake, the brand partnerships don’t start and end at Barnes & Noble. Hulu also partnered with BIPOC-owned bakeries across the US to give away slices of black cake, a spiced rum-soaked fruit cake, to celebrate the Caribbean heritage depicted in the book and the series, Matthews told us.

“Our approach in general is very specific to who the partner is, and how we can bring the partnership to life in a way that just really resonates with our shared fans,” Matthews said, noting that the company looks to work with brands “not just as collaborators, but as storytellers alongside us.”

The early-episode strategy for Black Cake and Barnes & Noble, the first arrangement of its kind for the streamer, was designed to build excitement for the series while also drawing attention to Barnes & Noble’s membership program, which Matthews said was a priority for the retailer after it was reimagined (and renamed) earlier this year. And subscription-based memberships is, of course, something that Hulu and parent company Disney have plenty of experience with.

It’s still too early to determine the full impact of the Black Cake experiment with Barnes & Noble, and Hulu didn’t disclose how much series viewership or book sales could be attributed directly to the arrangement. But measuring success depends on the framework of the partnership, and can include measuring awareness and tracking other metrics like brand sentiment, Matthews said.

While the specifics around partnerships may change from title to title, Hulu’s work on more book-to-series adaptations means Barnes & Noble is slated to remain a long-term teammate.

“With the other book-based titles that we have in the pipeline, we’re just really excited to continue working with them,” she said.

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