Publishers are always on the lookout for ways to advertise their products. Now they have come up with a new marketing ploy, one which has met with some resistance. Meet the book trailer. Stealing from the film industry, companies like Random House and HarperCollins now have entire YouTube channels devoted to short video clips advertising their upcoming releases.
Take this trailer for Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam as an example.
When this trailer was recently shown in one of my classes, it was almost universally derided. Students felt “embarrassed for Margaret Atwood,” and appalled that someone would stoop so low as to market a book like it is a cheesy teen television show. They have a certain point. This trailer is not well done. The production quality is cheap; and I can’t deny that it is campy. But that does not mean book trailers themselves are hopeless. If more time and effort were put into increasing their quality they could be useful tools for helping books to reach a wider audience.
The debate about book trailers really comes down to the question of who watches them. Because these trailers are nothing but another form of advertisement. They do not intend to review the book in question. Their purpose is not to create an image for the author. That has to be done through the writing itself. The publisher’s job is to sell. Too many people get caught up in treating the book as a sacred object that must be held high above all other forms of entertainment. I suspect that many of the same people who sneer in disgust at book trailers also disapprove of any form of advertising for books, including newspaper ads. In the minds of many literati, you have to “discover” a new book either through word of mouth or knowledge about the world of literature.
But most of society does not exist in this world. There are more people who watch endless internet videos than peruse literary websites like The Millions or even Publisher’s Weekly. Does that mean they should be denied knowledge of the latest books? And I do not make a distinction between books which are considered more “literary” and the latest crime or romance novel. If someone with no knowledge of Margaret Atwood sees a book trailer and is intrigued he might buy the book and enjoy it. The idea of the book as a sacred object is intrinsically linked to the idea that only certain people can have access to “literary” books.
A YouTube channel reaches out to people who might not otherwise hear of a novel. It is a form of advertising, so the only debate surrounding it should be whether or not it works. As far as I know, there is no data on how many people purchase a book after watching the book trailer. But the MaddAddam trailer above has 8,710 views as of this writing. That’s not a bad number of eyes to attract. And this was a reposting of the video. On Knopf Doubleday’s channel the view count is 7,290. That’s more than might hear of the book through word of mouth. Who knows how many of those eyes are web surfers who had never heard of Margaret Atwood before?
So yes, book trailers do need some improvement to their production quality. But as a form of advertising and a way to spread information they should not be discounted. Really, it’s just another form of bookshelf browsing. Have you heard of this book? Interested? I am.