Jonathan Gray’s Show Sold Separately explores how media extensions and paratextual material for television and film—and peripherally literature, music, and videogames—are used to enhance the fan experience and invite viewers to enter into a fictitious world at a deeper level. Gray states that his thesis for his book is premised on the theory that paratexts are both “distinct from” and alike—or, I will argue, intrinsically part of—the text. The book’s thesis is that paratexts are not simply add-ons, spinoffs and also-rans: they create texts, they manage them, and they fill them with many of the meanings that we associate with them” (6). Although most of Gray’s book explores the ways producers create paratextual material to increase profit and build franchises, he also explores the vitality of digitally enabled co-creation between producers (authors, producers, and media hubs) and consumers (fans) for storytelling. Gray’s argument that digital paratexts challenge traditional publishing practices is crucial when attempting to understand the ways that the digital platform has challenged and reconfigured cultures of creation.
In Chapter 1, “From Spoilers to Spinoffs: A Theory of Paratexts” Gray defines the phrase “paratext” through situating his definition within established discourses and theories regarding what defines a text. Gray notes that, “the study of paratexts is the study of how meaning is created, and of how texts begin. Moreover, precisely because paratexts help us decide which texts to consume, we often know many texts only at a paratextual level” (26). Gray looks towards texts including Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons, suggesting that audiences may look at their paratexts including advertisements, fan communities, and associated merchandise: that the packaging of these different franchises may detract or attract certain viewers from engaging deeper with the text. Paratexts, therefore, are essential to creating a public and cultural understanding of a text as they influence how a cultural artifact is understood before, during, and after consumption. As a result, Gray suggests that “intertexts and paratext are always constitutive parts of the text itself”, arguing that a paratext should be understood as being a part of the primary text. Chapter 1 is particularly helpful for scholars, as Gray provides a compelling theoretical argument built upon previous scholarship, including that of Gerard Genette, as to why paratextual material should be understood as a distinguished kind of text when engaging in scholarly discourse around film, television, and media.
In Chapter 2, 3 and 4, Gray explores paratexts created within the entertainment industry, including how paratextual material can establish a meaning of a text before a person’s encounter with the primary text, in the way that producers define their text through paratextual material, and how paratexts manage a broader system of intertextuality. Due to the arguably oversaturated market filled with an endless list of possible media for people to consume, Gray suggests that creative paratextual material is essential for marketers to “cut through the clutter to announce their show(s) as offering a better viewing experience than the thousands of other available options” (82). For practitioners, especially those who are marketing film and television, Gray provides rich insight, along with dozens of examples regarding the commercial success of digital paratextual materials. Gray’s book provides a concise and informative explanation at how deep of an influence paratexts and media extensions have on the consumptive process, and therefore is an essential resource when considering the use of paratextual material as a way of marketing film, television, and other media.
In Chapter 5, however, Gray looks at fan-produced paratextual material as influencing and changing how a primary text is understood within a cultural realm. This chapter is critical for looking at how the public becomes engaged with media through digital storytelling and engaging in fan-communities. Gray outlines the impact that fan-generated paratexts have on our cultural imaginary, stating that “fan-created paratexts can facilitate resistance to the meanings proffered by media forms through their own texts and paratexts. The products of fan creativity can challenge a text’s preferred meanings by posing their own alternative readings” (144). Therefore, for members of the public, Gray’s book provides not only an enriching understanding of the influence audience-generated paratexts have on viewers, but also different platforms fans can associate with and engage in.
Gray’s book is a text that is richly cross-sectional for different demographics examining the influence of paratextual material on our consumptive practices. Gray suggests that “Synergy, paratexts and intertexts are responsible for much of this faith in transubstantiation—the high priests of and for much of the textuality that allows speculative consumption” as paratextual material is seen adding new meaning and changing how the primary text is understood within a cultural realm (25). This book is a critical resource when exploring the often-overlooked phenomenon of how digital paratexts influence and diversify the process of both digital storytelling and publishing.