What’s that video for?

Yesterday I saw an animated marketing video for a soon-to-be-published collection of short stories.  The video only presented a few sentences of the book, none of which were in any narrative context.  At no point did any content in the video mention that the video was based on a book, and that it was trying to sell a book.  At the very end of the video, a date appeared on screen, then the publisher’s name.  Then a website address, which was hard to read.

I thought: what’s the point of this?

Anybody who’s ever sold anything—a cup of coffee, a pair of pants, a car, a house—knows that the sales process, at its essence, is simple.

  1. Ask the customer what they’re looking for.
  2. Ask the customer a few probing questions to narrow their search.
  3. Ask the customer what their price range is.
  4. Present the customer with a few products that fit their desires.
  5. Let the customer experience the product: wear it, taste it, drive it, whatever.
  6. Sell the product.

The most successful salesmen understand the nuances of this process, are aggressive without being overbearing, and deliver a product that meets or exceeds the customer’s desires.

So about video trailers for books.  I’ve seen a variety of approaches. Some show images of the actual book with the author talking about the book.  Some show animations of the scenes in the book.  Others are movie-like trailers, with highly stylized and dramatized visual scenes in the book.

The more I’ve learned about marketing, the more confused I’ve become as to the point of these video trailers.  Here’s why:

  1. A trailer for a book usually does not present the primary feature of the book: the written narrative. Have you ever seen a television commercial or magazine ad that doesn’t present the features and benefits of the product it’s selling? Car commercials show cars successfully performing the actions they’re designed for.  Commercials for cleaning products show clean surfaces.  Shampoo commercials usually show people touching their clean, lustrous hair.  A trailer for a book showing some animated or dramatized scene from the book isn’t showing the book, it’s showing a visual interpretation of the book.  This animation actually devalues the product it’s selling: the written narrative.
  2. A movie trailer for a book actually creates a barrier between the reader (i.e. the consumer) and the book.  Once the person watches the trailer, they still have to find the book, look at it, read a few pages, then decide if they want to read it.  And every barrier between the reader and the book presents an opportunity for the potential reader to lose interest in the book.
  3. And, probably most importantly: A book is a book.  It’s not a movie.

Why does this matter?  Well, in case you haven’t heard, the publishing industry is having some difficultly selling books.  Writers are worried about the fact that people are reading fewer and fewer books.   In an effort to sell books and engage readers, publishers and writers are trying new marketing and promotional tactics.  The “book trailer” is one of these tactics.

But frankly, I think the book trailer will actually work to hamper book sales.  If publishers and writers truly believed in the quality of the narratives they’re selling, they’d find a way to better engage readers directly with that narrative.  The “book trailer” does the opposite: again, it creates a barrier.  It suggests that writing isn’t enough to engage a reader; instead, video is required to interest readers in a book.   It violates the basic sales strategy of enabling a potential customer to experience a product.

When you go to a restaurant, you want to taste good food.  When you go to a shoe store, you want to try on shoes.  When you’re looking to buy a car, you want to drive cars. You want to experience things.

So what’s the marketing solution for books? Remove barriers: videos, blurbs, even book covers (yes, that is a barrier between the reader and the text).  Present an interested reader with the written narrative as soon as possible.  Let them experience it, get engaged with it.

Of course, what this means is that the writing and the story will have to be so good that the reader becomes so engaged with the story she cannot be pulled away from it.  But that’s a good thing.

Discovery of the Day: ScrollMotion

A successful digital reading experience does not simply deliver print content via an electronic screen.  Instead, it utilizes the interactive cabilities of technology to enhance the printed content and create a better reading experience.

For Scroll Motion, a leading developer of mobile apps, this theory is a core business goal.  The company develops apps that enhance the content of printed books, magazines, and other publications. Scroll Motion has developed over 11,000 apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and it has worked with some of the biggest names in publishing: Hearst, Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Simon and Schuster.  It’s also working with educational publishing companies like Houghton Mifflin to improve students’ experiences with the content they study in text books.

Here’s a video of Josh Koppel, the founder of ScrollMotion, demonstrating a new iPad app the company recently developed for Esquire.

It Takes a Jay-Z

Random House is really spending some cheese on innovative marketing to promote Jay-Z’s upcoming memoir, Decoded.

The publisher tapped Droga5, a Manhattan-based agency, to develop the campaign, which will distribute every page of the book in some physical location.  Regular old billboards will play a role in this, but so will swimming pools, the lining of suit coats, and, most importantly, Bing.

The campaign includes a scavenger hunt, utilizing Bing Maps, which will provide daily clues about the locations of pages.  Doesn’t matter if you live in NYC  or Fargo; if there’s a page posted on an overpass on the BQE, you’ll be able to find it via Bing.  The first players to find a page will get a signed hard copy of the book and be entered into a drawing for the big grand prize: a ticket to see Jay-Z and Coldplay in Concert on New Year’s in Las Vegas.

What’s particularly inspiring about this campaign is that even though its execution is expansive and expensive, the idea behind it is simple: the key thing needed to sell the book is…the story.  Jay-Z believes in his story.  He’s so confident that every page of the book is compelling that once you read one, you’ll want to read them all.

Sure this is an unusual case: it’s Jay-Z, who has a slightly larger platform than your average unpublished novelist.  But his confidence in his story is admirable.  It’s a belief every writer should have: your story should be so good that if you show somebody a single page of your work, they’ll want to read more.

Throw away those silly author photos, the book jackets, the blurbs.  Just find a way to get somebody the story.  Engage them with it.  Whether it’s developing a virtual scavenger hunt or  yelling your story from atop a milk crate in a busy intersection, just get it out there.  If it’s good, people will want it.

“Interactive Narratives: Creating the Future of Literature” Accepted to SXSW!

"Interactive Narratives: Creating the Future of Literature" Accepted to SXSWThe panel  was 1 of 200 of the 2500 proposed sessions to make the selection for SXSW 2011.  As you can imagine, I am elated to see a panel about literature make a selective cut at such a high-profile conference—and be included in a list of panels about things like branding, Semantic Web, Augmented Reality, and Mobile App Development.  That I will be presenting alongside people from leading digital agencies and companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft further validates the importance of this topic in the digital landscape.

Thank you to everyone who offered support and voted for the panel.  Hope to see you in Austin!

Here’s the panel.

Here’s the full list of panels.