Publishers Say, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ for Book Trailers

BY Molly Finnegan  May 27, 2010 at 1:20 PM EST

The Next Chapter of Reading

Another in our series of conversation about the future of literature and literacy. For more, click here.

Book Expo America comes to a close today in New York, an event that helps nearly 1500 exhibitors to push their titles on book buyers. As publishers change the way they deliver content to readers (i.e. e-books), they’re also looking for new strategies to advertise.

Publishers — big houses and small independents alike – have lately turned to video production to generate buzz and advertise their new releases. Over the past few years, book trailers have been gaining in popularity as publishers hope to cash in on the ubiquity of YouTube and the payoffs of viral marketing.

The trend has become big enough that there’s even a new awards ceremony for the best book trailers. The first annual Moby Awards were held in New York on May 20. Categories included Best Performance by an Author, Best cameo, Best Low Budget, Best Big Budget, and Best Foreign Book Trailer. The short films ranged from serious to nonsensical, from big production values to relaxed author musings on tape.

Dennis Johnson, Melville House publisher and blogger for their accompanying literary site MobyLives, founded the awards. He says he was surprised by the response. Within hours of advertising the competition, Johnson was flooded with hundreds of entries from nearly every major publisher. Many were sort of like television commercials for books. Others were surprisingly artful and creative, such as the trailer for the New Zealand title, “Going West”. After seeing the short animation, Johnson claims he ordered the book almost immediately.

Despite the big budgets some companies spend on trailers (sometimes in the six figures), there’s still confusion from consumers about where they can be viewed and, for publishers, how they can best be utilized. There’s no centralized location for readers and viewers to find trailers.

But as the experience of reading a “book” becomes much more technological and interactive, Johnson says the trailer is going to play a much larger role in book advertising and the reading experience.

Art Beat spoke with Dennis Johnson by phone today about advertising books with video:

Watch the trailer that won ‘Best Performance by an Author’: