Monday, October 25, 2010

RA in a day 2010: “Book trailers - Have You Seen Any Good Books Lately?”

Three members of the OPLA RA committee, including myself, followed up Dr. Mar’s session with our own, entited “Book trailers - Have You Seen Any Good Books Lately?.” Our session was divided into three parts: I showed three book trailers and introduced the concepts of a video book trailer or video book review, then Bessie from Haliburton County Public Library played an interview she had conducted with a colleague who does radio book reviews, and then Shonna from Barrie Public Library spoke about her library’s TAG (Teen Advisory Group) experiment with making their own book trailer.

The trailers I showed at the beginning of the session were:

James Patterson’s promotional video for newest Alex Cross:

Sense and sensibility and sea monsters:

Below are my notes for the session; parts of these notes, as well as a complete bibliography for the session, are available on the OPLA website).
  • Go where your readers are: that has been one of the tenets of library 2.0 and readers’ advisory 2.0;
  • Marketing websites have identified half of YouTube’s audience as being in their 30s or older; many studies show that there are more men watching YouTube than women (who would we like to reach out to? Who uses the library more / less?);
  • A one-minute book trailer for Mockingjay garnered over 33, 000 views on YouTube;
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (above) climbed to over 250,000 views.
Book trailers allow readers to preview a book much the way movie trailers allow us to preview a movie: trailers can be good or bad, can give away too much, can hype beyond reasoning, and can also have a powerfully addictive quality that we, as librarians, can harness as a tool to connect with our readers, raise awareness about library collections, and spark discussion about titles and genres.

Book trailers can be professionally made (eg. by a publisher or marketing firm) and used by the library, or made in-house (eg. by staff or patrons). Now we are going to talk about formats…

  • Combination of stock photography, music and voiceovers
    Circle of Seven Productions does these for several American and international publishers; a notable example of their work would be the award-winning trailer for Murder Game). In Canada, several publishers have gone this route (Penguin Canada, Simon and Schuster, Goose Lane Editions).
  • Live actors
    Example: Sense and sensibility, above.
  • Short films
    Example: M. T. Anderson's trailer for The Suburb Beyond the Stars, which in the two weeks since I built my list, seems to have disappeared from online...?
Trailers vs. reviews:
We have to make a distinction between book trailers and video book reviews. On her “RA for All” blog, Becky Siegel Spratford argues for the creation of more of the latter by “trained reviewers;” we need them not only to share with patrons, but also as a professional tool for us, to preview books we may not have time to read.
  • Example: video book reviews done by The Washington Post’s Ron Charles
    Becky pointed me towards these video book reviews done by Charles. Charles’ self-deprecating, casual reviews mix all the elements of a traditional review (What is the book about? Is it any good?) with a substantial amount of humour to emerge as an almost Stephen Colbert-esque parody of a real book review. The effect is disarming at first, but also kind of genius: Charles is hyper-aware of his own audience (telling viewers "You need book criticism that's fast, fun, and incredibly hip").
A sub-genre of the book trailer is the “teaser” book trailer, which, like a movie trailer, acts as a preview for the real book without giving away too much: an excellent example would be children’s author Dan Yaccarino’s trailer for All the way to America.

M. T. Anderson’s book trailer for the YA novel, The Suburb Beyond the Stars (in which he reveals in an aside that he has had his car specially detailed for this video, and is drowned out by a waterfall for a good 10 seconds; at one point, the videographer mutters “Scholastic is not paying me enough for this”). As Elizabeth Bird from Fuse #8 observes, Anderson’s video moves from the realm of book trailer into that of short film promoting book. The video takes a sharp turn around the fourth minute into the utterly bizarre; expanding upon the scifi aspects of the book itself (in which unknown forces terrorise people in communities built over ancient ruins), the video ends up being a rather Blair Witch Project-esque foray into the mountains of Vermont. The video ends with a black screen, and the words “M.T. Anderson may never appear again. But his book will. This summer.”

A June 2010 article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Melissa Kent discussed the merit of book trailers, explaining how interesting, engaging videos “with a viral element” have a place within a publishers’ larger digital marketing campaign; the same could be said for a libraries’ digital marketing campaign. Says Nick Atkinson, the former head of digital marketing at Borders in Britain, “A lot of publishers are just producing generic videos of authors talking about their books, but YouTube is absolutely saturated with that type of content.” Brett Osmond, marketing and digital manager at Random House, said teen and crime fiction lend themselves best to videos, because those genres have fan bases primed for online viral marketing; now, however, with the demographics on social networking sites and other 2.0 sites such as YouTube skewing further past the 18-24s, viral marketing is reaching a wider audience and appealing to a broader range of consumers than before. While according to a June survey of 7,561 book buyers by the Codex Group, a marketing research firm, only 0.2 percent discovered their last book through a video book trailer, things are changing: according to a 2009 online survey by, 45% of teens bought a book after watching a book trailer on YouTube.

Both adult and children’s book bloggers have taken note: Booklist’s Keir Graff and SLJ’s Elizabeth Bird have days on which they feature book trailers on their respective blogs. Trailers are starting to have their own awards too: The US publisher Melville House held the inaugural Moby awards, SLJ has the Trailee Awards for teens.

What does all this mean for librarians trying to reach each other or develop their own collection knowledge?

Option 1:
  • Subscribe to publishers’ video feeds the way you follow their blog or read their catalogue (eg. Anne Collins, publisher of the Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group, was so thrilled by her latest acquisition, that she released a YouTube video to explain why. Into the Abyss, by journalist Carol Shaben - The videos act as a collection knowledge tool: intro to a genre, etc.Option 2:
Option 2:
Option 3:
  • Make your own (staff). One example, Burlington Public Library, is working on making their own, but currently seeking a legal opinion as to the use of cover images, other images, and music in a trailer. It's possible that they could be exceeding copyright or even contravening copyright, because the publisher may not hold the rights to the cover art, it may still reside with the artist who created the cover. If you're doing your own, it's also important to use Canadian covers (not always the same). Libraries need to be very clear on what and how you do this and understand that it needs to be done the right way and be respectful of the work. As my colleague observed, in fact, there are times when the publisher isn't even the same in Canada from the U.S. and this impacts on what we may display, especially if we are pulling from a vendor. Some other great examples of libraries who are making their own include: Oakville Public Library, London Public Library, and Arapahoe Library District.
  • Make your own (patrons - often TAGs; local celebrities!). If you do this, try to let the group have control over the production: if you are using a TAG, let them determine the content and format if possible. Some examples: Brampton Public Library and Toronto Public Library.
Just for kicks, here are some more trailers to watch:


  1. such an interesting post!!! thanks for writing it :)