Screening Your Reads

Posted Monday, December 6, 2010 - 12:28
A book trailer’s value is in the eye of its beholders

In the office to my left, a colleague works with two oversized monitors and a driving simulator attached to his computer. From my right comes a steady bass thump as another colleague keyboards while listening to rap. In the midst of such 21st-century, tech-centric activity, an old-fashioned book-lover could feel decidedly dinosaur-like.

Enter the book trailer. Given the proliferation of short videos touting titles like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Hachette Book Group, 2010) and Chris Gall’s Dinotrux (Little Brown, 2009), I can simultaneously go back in time and fill my faculty office with the sounds of 2.0 technology.

ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association sponsored a book-trailer contest for teens in 2010, embracing a concept that existed for almost a decade before gathering steam in recent years. A Wall Street Journal Speakeasy media blog entry (May 21, 2010) dates the term “book trailer” to 2002. Elsewhere, publicity and marketing gurus have observed that book trailers became all but de rigueur around 2007. Their effects, however, are debated. The Wall Street Journal (“Watch This Book,” June 7, 2008) contrasted online promotions viewed to sales figures for a handful of popular titles, suggesting that trailers did not necessarily prompt purchases, while Publishers Weekly (“Way Cool: Marketing the Internet,” Feb. 19, 2007) quoted publishers’ marketing staff, who believe that there is a positive correlation.

Lara Starr of Chronicle Books explained, “Publishers create them because they’re an effective way to communicate the mood, feeling, and content of a book in an entertaining way that is easy to share online. They add life and dimension to the book, and tease a bit about what the experience of reading it will be.” She indicated that production costs for these short videos can vary tremendously. “Some books have potential to break out and are allotted marketing money to create deluxe trailers, but some popular ones are made cheap (or free!) with just a Flip camera and simple desktop software,” she said.

It is certain that some book trailers are more popular than others. Take the recently released Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Gross Junior Edition (Chronicle Books, 2010). My colleague’s kids, Valerie and Jocelyn, ages 12 and 7 respectively, gave the book two thumbs up. The trailer for this hilarious and yes, gross, volume hasn’t received the same sort of raves. The Grossest Smoothie Recipe Contest, a 2 ½-minute exposition on a rather revolting concoction, netted 263 views as of this writing.

At the other end of the spectrum is Lane Smith’s It’s a Book. The trailer showing a technophiliac donkey beset and then beguiled by a book has accumulated nearly 200,000 views. Smith, who stated that most book trailers are played a few hundred times, noted that “It's a Book, due to the topical nature of digital vs. traditional books, seemed to strike a nerve and daily, folks were posting it on their sites and blogs.”

Smith said that while his most recent trailer is getting lots of attention, it’s not his first. He said, “I have always made trailers for my books. They were usually shown at the publisher’s sales conference. Now with YouTube, it’s possible to get them out to a larger audience.”

While even the most popular book trailers are hardly poised to best Lady Gaga’s record-breaking 2 billion views on YouTube, the digital snippets that air the voice and thoughts of John Green, the premise of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, and the set-up for a contest between unicorns and zombies are enough of a brush with pop culture for me. Were the trailers much longer, they’d cut into my reading time. Pride and Prejudice, anyone?

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