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.


About Andrew Lewellen
Devoted Father. Helpful Husband. Dedicated Writer. Faithful Dog-Walker.

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