About once every two weeks at work we have to explain that book trailers don’t sell books. They don’t. You know what? New York Times ads don’t sell books, either. They’re indirect marketing tools, people. Unless your video tops 750,000 views, don’t bet it’ll single handedly move the needle. What it can do is get people talking, be used to pitch publicity, act as a supplementary asset to online reviews… etc. Perhaps I should turn the question around: have you ever bought anything because of a YouTube video? (Besides a ShamWow.)
There’s a very real ceiling to how good these videos can be considering the top-down method of production. Unless you’re tapping Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, book videos will stay stagnant until readers start making their own. Realistically, how compelling will these videos be considering 95% of the time they originated in the marketing department? (I should know, I work in the marketing department.)
That said, there have been a few interesting videos lately.
First up – Electric Literature’s Single Sentence Animation of Lydia Millet’s “Sir Henry.” Know why it’s winning? Because it aims to be entertaining, not a sales pitch.
Bill Folman, The Scandal Plan – Every six months or so another up and coming author will create a video about the inefficacy of author videos. They’re usually pretty enjoyable, but this one takes the cake. Sure, it could be trimmed down to under four minutes – at ten they’re really hurting themselves – but who cares? It’s amusing.
And lastly, the trailer for Inherent Vice. I saw this when it first went up, and thought, “meh.” Then it was revealed that it was Pynchon’s ACTUAL VOICE NARRATING THE BORING VIDEO! Still meh. Wouldn’t it be horrible if Howard Hughes broke his silence to appear in a Pan-Am advertisement? I’d be curious to know if this was something Penguin pitched to the author or vice versa. I can understand creating a video to placate an author. But imagine if they asked him to break his infamous media shyness for this. It’s a book trailer, not The Simpsons.