Amazon, the largest online retailer, is going to Hollywood after striking its first deal for the film rights to a best-selling novel.

Amazon is expected to team with a Hollywood studio and producer after it acquired screen rights to The Stolen Child, a fantasy tale by first-time author Keith Donohue.

As part of the agreement, Amazon pledged that it would market the film and its subsequent DVD on its website. The deal, first reported by Variety, comes amid speculation that Amazon is poised to broaden its film ambitions by introducing a new video download service in conjunction with major Hollywood studios.

“In every respect it was just like dealing with a studio or a producer. It’s just that it happened to be the world’s largest online retailer,” said Joe Regal, of Regal Literary, the author’s agent. “They obviously have a lot of money and reach.”

Amazon said it did not intend to co-finance the film, but that the company’s brand, retail expertise, and customers around the world could make it “an extremely
valuable partner in the marketing and distribution of this film”.

Amazon has this year increased its involvement in video programming on its site, launching a weekly interview programme with artists and authors hosted by Bill Maher, the political and cultural commentator.

In 2004, the company also produced five short live-action films on its website, featuring Minnie Driver, Blair Underwood, Daryl Hannah and Chris Noth, which it used to promote its credit card and the range of goods available on its US site. Subsequently, it has run two online short film competitions, with the winning films being screened at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

In addition to its promotional muscle, one asset Amazon could bring to the film-making process is the consumer research compiled by its website. Based on its sales data, for example, Amazon would be well positioned to target the film at customers who have read the book and similar genres, or bought similar DVDs from the site.

Amazon said it “has picked up a lot of clues about what books and films capture people’s imagination”, and that this had played a role in the decision to back The Stolen Child.

The deal also reflects the growing presence of non-traditional producers in Hollywood. Hedge funds are increasingly financing films, and Starbucks, the coffee chain, recently entered into an agreement with Lionsgate to promote its films in its stores.

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