Book trailers from a video professional’s perspective

January 13, 2012 § 8 Comments

I’ve been meaning to talk about book trailers for a while, but it was an overwhelming subject to tackle. Then, during the Tuesday night episode of Jersey Shore (I didn’t watch. I just heard. Don’t hate me) there was a book trailer for The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, which precipitated this post. (Note: for anyone not up to speed on book advertising, book trailers are basically a video hook to try and entice readers to buy your book, much like a movie trailer.)

I have something of a unique perspective on book trailers because, in addition to spending my free time writing and reading, I work full time as video producer and editor at Corner Booth Media, a video production and media consultancy company. I spend my days either working on creating quality video for clients, or creating strategies for how their content can be most effectively and efficiently created and distributed.

As a video professional, I’m convinced that video is an important part of communicating any message in the modern (and especially online) world. There is a mountain of evidence that it increases time on websites and online sales. If video is working so well for all these other industries, why not use it to sell books? I am a bibliophile to the bone, and it’s because of that that I will wholeheartedly embrace any medium that can be leveraged to sell more books, whether that’s video, billboards, or new ideas like J. K. Rowlings “Pottermore” (which I’m painfully curious about).

That said, it is rather obvious that the publishing industry, by and large, has no idea how to take advantage of video. For example:

If you need more evidence, you can stroll on over to YouTube and watch the trailer for Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. At least I think that’s the author’s name, though I can’t be sure because whoever edited the video managed to cut off the top half of her name. And be sure not to miss the punctuation fiasco at the end: “at least they can tell him he’s still, Loved.”  And these are from publishing houses! I didn’t even have to pick on the book trailers by self-published authors like this one for Pirates: the Midnight Passage that is actually painful to watch.

It’s hard for me to decide whether the worst thing about these is the missed opportunity or the thought that publishing houses and authors (mostly authors actually, roughly 85% of the time) are paying someone somewhere money to make them.

There are websites out there offering to build you a book trailer for $100. Ugh. If this is the kind of video you’re thinking about, save your money. Your dollars would be better spent on Google ads where $100 can go a long way and deliver you to your targeted demographic. I’m not saying that cheap is always bad, but generally with video you get what you pay for, and $100 dollars gets you a thirteen-year-old boy going for his first whirl on Windows Movie-Maker.

But let’s go back to the book trailer during Jersey Shore for a second. The fact that The Clockwork Prince is snuggling up next to Snooki (I had to Google Jersey Shore to come up with that name) is evidence enough of that there is plenty of money being thrown at book trailers in certain cases. There was an article in the LA Times in November talking about how up to $50,000 dollars were spent on each of the new book trailers for Sherrilyn Kenyon’s urban fantasy novels. If that number staggers you, I connected with a partner at work who buys air time for TV commercials we do and his guess was that thirty seconds of airtime on MTV at 7:30 when The Clockwork Prince book trailer aired would run somewhere between $45,000 and $55,000. Again, that’s for thirty seconds. I’m not sure what version of the book trailer they aired, but it’s quite possible it was a minute long or more.

Now let’s back up for just a second. Clearly those are some big numbers, but it’s important to keep them in perspective. There are a couple different things to consider in all of these, but fundamentally the question that everyone asks when the subject of book trailers come up is: Do they work?

Going back to the trailers for Sherrilyn Kenyon’s urban fantasy books (because we know roughly how much was spent making them), let’s take a closer look at the numbers. The trailer for The Guardian, which is only fifteen seconds long (which consequently means a cheaper media buy if they’re airing it on television) has been viewed almost 300,000 times on YouTube. So if only 2% of those viewers (a number I am pulling out of thin air for the sake of having an example) went out and bought a book, spending $10 each (averaging hardcover and paperback prices for the sake of simplifying), $60,000 worth of books would be sold.

Again, I have no idea what percentage of viewers would go and purchase the book, but I would guess that it’s much higher than that considering the majority of people who happen upon urban fantasy book trailers online are probably already readers and in Kenyon’s targeted demographic. And this is just views online. It doesn’t count any of the tens of thousands of viewers who probably saw it on television.

From my perspective, this was a great investment of marketing dollars. Not only did it sell Kenyon’s current book, but likely she won over some new fans who went out and bought multiple books and will continue to buy her books in the future.

The thing to think about when paying to have a book trailer made (or doing any marketing for that matter) is whether you will recoup your investment. I’m a firm believer in making video efficiently (I don’t think you need to spend $50,000) but I also think there is a quality point below which your trailer won’t motivate anyone to buy your book, and, unfortunately, that tipping point is above $100. For comparison, look at the view statistics for the Nelson DeMille book, Wildfire, whose trailer I posted above. Despite the fact that the author is well-known and that the video has been posted for more than a year longer than the trailers for Kenyon’s books, it only has 1,400 views (and about 15 of them were me, marveling at how bad it is). And I highly doubt that 2% of people viewing it were convinced to buy the book by such a lackluster, copy-paste video.

I do have one objection to even the expensive trailers, but I am breaking my Longest Post Ever record for the second time this week, so I will continue next time talking about the pitfalls and challenges unique to book trailers. In the mean time, don’t agree to pay anyone $100 to make you a book trailer. Also to come, some great examples of what and what not to do in a book trailer.

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