Book Video: Not an Oxymoron Anymore


There’s an ongoing discussion in the publishing business about the value of book trailers; the short, promotional videos often produced as part of the marketing campaign to support a book’s big release.

Even if you’re a big reader, it’s possible that you’ve never seen a book trailer before. Unlike their better-known cousins from Hollywood, there are no established forums or venues dedicated to the viewing and discussion of book trailers. No packed movie houses, no IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes or Apple trailer sites for books, no DVD releases to target a receptive viewing audience. Not in the book biz—at least not yet.

Instead, to find a book trailer today, you’ll likely have to visit an author’s website or Facebook page, which mean you’re probably already familiar with the author and their book. Perhaps you’ll notice a video on the book’s Amazon.com title detail page or one of the other online retail sites. Or, if the trailer is particularly well-done and engaging, it may even break through the noise and go viral, eventually finding its way to your inbox or social media channel of choice.

At this stage however, despite the fact that there are a lot of trailers being produced, there’s not a corresponding buzz among booklovers for them. And if we’re being honest, book trailers often lack the pass-along factor because many of these videos are, well, not very good.

But that’s not to say that there haven’t been some very successful book trailer videos, at least in terms of overall views. The video for the spoofish Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith was a big viral hit, generating more than 600,000 views and counting. An author that I’ve worked with, Kelly Corrigan, helped catapult her book, The Middle Place to The New York Times bestseller list in 2009 with her heartfelt video, Transcending, now at 4.7 million views. I still smile at the book video we created for Kelly in honor of Mother’s Day, You Never Stop Being a Mom.

In his recent Video-Commerce.org post, Grant Crowell profiled Pastor Rob Bell’s trailer for his new book, Love Wins, which has generated more than 200,000 views along with a good deal of discussion and debate. Clearly, when done well, book trailers are more than capable of earning their keep.

Yet, despite the power of the video medium and the low barriers to entry for anyone who wants to take advantage of video’s powerful reach, the debate rages on about video’s value in book marketing.

Why is it, in an era when more and more industries are embracing video as a marketing fundamental, within a publishing business that is itself rooted in media, and where many of the biggest publishers are in fact owned by large media companies themselves, should there be even the slightest reluctance to embrace video as a key marketing ingredient?

A Narrow View of Video

Cost is rightfully an important consideration for anyone entertaining the video option for the first time. Indeed, fully scripted, costumed segments with actors and elaborate sets like those used in the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter video will definitely cost more than, for example, the simple, home camera-style shoot of Kelly Corrigan’s Transcending video, both linked abovea. I’ve also heard people claim that a trailer is “too long”, poorly acted or just plain boring–legitimate concerns, all.

But I believe that the bigger reason for the reluctance lies in publishing’s narrow embrace of video to date—and the over-emphasis on the “trailer” form itself.

The trailer idea is borrowed from a different industry entirely, one with it’s own target audience assumptions, value equations, and requirements relating to artistic approach. With movie trailers, we’ve come to expect a 30-60-second duration, the need to take your breath away in a short period of time, and the inclusion of a pithy, action-packed-thrill-ride-style quote from one of the critics. In short, everything encapsulated in the now infamous trailer intro, “In a world….”

But for anyone involved in maximizing the full potential of video, why limit its power and reach by inflicting another industry’s set of specific rules on your efforts?  Or put another way, why borrow someone else’s video strategy when you can make a better one yourself?

When you let go of the narrow application, and think of the possibilities video brings to authors and content creators of all types, the value equation can change radically. When instead applied to the individual strengths of an author or expert and not simply to the sole act of selling a book at release time, video becomes more than just an expensive, gimmicky, 30-second commercial: It becomes an extension of the conversation—and likely far more interesting to that author’s niche audience, as well.

Understanding the Full Potential

Clearly, there are many authors and content creators who are embracing the new, more expansive canvas available to them now. Beyond just text on paper, these authors are expanding the definition of what it means to be author and providing an example to others similarly drawn to the idea of connecting with fans more immediately, where they are, and in the stream of their daily lives:

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a memoir of her year she spent sampling theories, studies and pop culture lessons about how to be happier. But beyond the printed book, Gretchen also created an ongoing dialogue using her blog, Facebook and Twitter sites, and YouTube channel. She frequently sits down to talk to her hundreds of thousands of fans and share her insights with short, inexpensive video missives. The result? The conversation continues, her reach grows, and yes, just last week, the paperback edition of her book reached #1 on the The New York Times bestseller list. For Gretchen, video is another arrow in her quiver, but certainly an important part of creating a human connection that we can see and share and trust.

John Green is the author of the Printz Award-winning book Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and other books. Together with his brother Hank, John created the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, where the two brothers chat back and forth by video. It seems to be working: 140 million views later, the conversation rolls on, as do the popularity of the Green brothers, whose Nerdfighters.com website provides another connection point for their videos. Occasionally, fellow author Maureen Johnson, recently named one of Time Magazine’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds, joins John and Hank and provides her own videos, much to the delight of her fans, who follow and converse with Maureen on a daily basis.

When it comes to selecting authors who use video effectively, Gary Vaynerchuk is low-hanging fruit. One of the pioneers of the online video series genre with Wine Library TV, he’s recently launched a new wine program, The Daily Grape—along with two bestselling books, Crush It! and his newest big seller, The Thank You Economy. Besides his daily programs, Gary regularly takes to his UStream channel for live, impromptu conversations with his fans, which he blends with Twitter for an more interactive experience.

None of these videos required a large production budget. Most did not include a script or costumes. All connect with viewers in a way that is different than a trailer and that provide a fan connection on a regular basis.

DON’T LEAVE PERFECTLY GREAT CONTENT ON THE TABLE.

Thoughtful video has an incredible ability to evoke passion, make you laugh, tell a story, engage your senses, and get you excited – in short, all the things that books do in text format. To be sure, not all authors will see themselves in these video examples. But other video opportunities exist for each book, for each author, for each audience. Seeing these opportunities requires creating a strategy unique to your business and your audience.

As anybody with an iPad or Kindle can tell you, the digital shift is creating a massive disruption in the book industry, and new reading devices are paving the way for new opportunities for publishers. Ebooks, apps, and other digital advances are opening the door for publishers to provide broader access to their authors, beyond the printed text, whether in physical or ebook form. Transmedia presentations, combining text, audio, video, and other communication forums, are slowly making their way into the consciousness of readers and browsers.  Many authors are pushing the boundaries of their craft to the point where the term “writer” might soon be an insufficient designation.

As the platform expands then, why should a publisher, that spends enormous time and resources cultivating new talent, limit their curation and distribution expertise to only the part of the project that can be typeset?

In the book world that I see crashing through the ceiling, every publisher will be required to be a full-fledged media company, complete with a robust and  creative video production division—or a partner that can capably develop this important extension of the author platform.

The lessons of the publishing industry go beyond books, obviously. Video, with its incredible ability to tell a story and complement other storytelling formats, will play a critical part in the marketing and presentation of every major business in the future. For each business, the strategy will be different, and each company must avoid looking at video through the lens of how it’s been done before, by other people in other industries for somebody else’s audience.

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