The Problem with Book Trailers

Niall Cunniffe, Masters student at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

This article is a version of an longer essay entitled ‘The Birth of the Book Trailer in the Twenty-First Century and its Problematic Existence Online‘. The author has kindly condensed his work for the busier Literary Platform reader. You can read the full essay here

Book trailers emerged in the early 2000s as publishers tried new ways of directly marketing online to readers. This new promotional tool became a key part of the author’s and publisher’s marketing campaigns as the decade progressed. Today, however, there is still much confusion, and even lack of awareness, surrounding the book trailer. One of the major reasons for this failure to become a recognised medium is the fact that it is has no natural home. Publishers simply place their book trailers on websites such as Vimeo and YouTube in the hope of reaching potential readers. However, competing in a crowded, attention-demanding world of music videos, vlogs and film trailers, the book trailer often goes unnoticed. Book trailers are failing to reach the public because of their problematic existence online. While conducting my own research into book trailers, I discovered four key problems in distributing them online.

Social Media:

A focus group at the University of East Anglia showed that very few young people use social media, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to find the next book to read. They said they prefer more traditional methods, such as newspaper reviews or simply dropping into a bookshop, to influence their decision to buy a book. A survey was also drawn up which revealed a positive response to the quality of the trailers, but some confusion as to where they can be found. The participants first watched an eight minute video, which included a variety of book trailers from Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) to The Fault in Our Stars (2012), before proceeding to answer ten questions. A surprising 65% in the 21-29 age category had seen a book trailer, while nobody in the 40-59 categories claimed to have seen one. What this means is that, by relying on social media to reach audiences, publishers are excluding a significant proportion of potential buyers – the older generations. It is not a surprise, then, to find that the majority of participants believe the book trailer is targeted at internet-savvy children and teenagers. Nevertheless, if younger people are responding to the book trailer, then it must become a popular form of advertising to encourage future generations to read.

YouTube:

The survey also revealed that video-sharing websites were among the least popular with book buyers, with the more established, book-cataloguing websites at the top. Amazon and Goodreads were the most popular websites, while YouTube came in the bottom three along with Shelfari and Twitter. Finally, a substantial 74% believe the book trailer will find a home offline. Thus, with video content websites proving unpopular with readers, and a clear demand to view book trailers offline, it is surprising that publishers have not yet tapped into other methods of reaching potential viewers.

The ‘Long Tail Theory’:

The extensive use of micro media (email, blogs, online groups and social networks), also known as indirect advertising, helps with search engine optimisation. This kind of advertising subscribes to the ‘Long Tail Theory’ or the use of few, less-competitive keywords to direct internet users to a site and, thus, product. A book trailer extensively distributed across the internet should, in theory, be easily accessed by the casual browser or even stumbled upon if one of the keywords is searched. However, there is an obvious problem with this system of advertising: book trailers become scattered across the internet, and lost in some cases. What is needed, then, is a centralised clearinghouse where all of these book trailers can be easily accessed, something similar to Trailer Addict. Until this is created, most book trailers will remain hidden and unseen, despite their quality.

Viral Marketing:

The book trailer for Kelly Corrigan’s The Middleplace (2008) was the first to gain real momentum. The video received over 500,000 views within the first two weeks of being uploaded, contributing to the sale of 350, 000 copies in three months. The secret? Viral marketing. Corrigan’s publisher sent the link via email, saying, ‘I really encourage you to watch it and, if you like it, share it.’ The trailer, then, outlined a strategic marketing model which publishers and authors continue to adhere to today. In recent years, however, the plan only proves successful when used to promote the correct kind of book trailer, mainly those that elicit positive emotion, as discovered by researchers. Leading book trailer auteur Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, for example, was made to go viral. The trailer draws on humour, particularly satire (it pokes fun at, ironically, authorly self promotion), and boasts high production values and a cast of big names including James Franco. However, if it is the case that all book trailers must go viral, there is a fundamental problem with this model; not all authors and publishers have access to the key components of a viral video. The desire to make viral book trailers will inevitably cause disappointment which may lead to the disappearance of the book trailer altogether. To remove this pressure, the book trailer could be seen as an art form in itself and not be placed online with the sole intention of going viral. American publisher Quirk Books are at the forefront of ‘short film’ book trailers and distribute their trailers through three main channels: author, publisher and bookseller websites – undoubtedly a step in the right direction. If publishers follow this example, it won’t be long before these videos reach the same status as film trailers and be sought out by readers on a regular basis.

Book trailers are new and like all art forms, they must experiment with styles and make mistakes before finding their proper form and place. Yet, the fact that they are over a decade old and have not yet reached public awareness is a cause for concern. If the aim is to become a recognised and popular medium with the public, then seeking possible offline venues is surely the next step. If publishers follow this model, then it should be no surprise to walk into Waterstones or WHSmith and watch a book trailer on a screen before making a purchase. With literature and technology increasingly crossing boundaries, the book trailer should succeed and encourage the reading of books; however, only when proper distribution venues are found can it help keep the publishing industry alive.

This article is a version of an longer essay entitled ‘The Birth of the Book Trailer in the Twenty-First Century and its Problematic Existence Online‘. The the author has kindly condensed his work for the busier Literary Platform reader. You can read the full essay here.

Niall Cunniffe is a masters student at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. He is also a short filmmaker and casual Youtuber!

Niall’s YouTube account

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