Are book trailers good?

I don’t know if I should be ashamed to admit it or not, but it was only recently that I became aware of the existence of book trailers. My initial reaction upon hearing about them was really?

Book trailer: Short video adverts which are designed to interest people in a book.

It seems that “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is so 2005. Apparently since 2006 it should now be “Judge a book by its book trailer.” Really?

I think its interesting that most of the articles I could find on the internet discussing book trailers were written pre-2014. Among them were articles praising the merits of book trailers…but the vast majority of these were written by the media companies themselves; not exactly impartial. If there is someone who could sell sand to an Arab, it’d be those marketing folk. They do have to make it sound worthwhile because otherwise the return on investment just wouldn’t add up.

Book trailers are cited as a way to capture those with short attention spans and encourage them to read. With no evidence whatsoever, I say that’s unlikely. I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of people who happen to watch a book trailer:

a) would buy the book based on the author anyway (i.e. already fans),
b) are more likely to go watch a movie with the same theme as portrayed in the book trailer, and/or
c) will get stuck in the time-vortex that is YouTube

If people have short attention spans that don’t permit them to read a short blurb to see if they like the sound of a book then I don’t think they will go out and buy dozens of hours of reading based on a 3 minute video.

In June 2013, Brett Osmond (Marketing & Publicity Director at Random House Australia) wrote an article that started:

I am rather sceptical about the marketing value of book trailers. In most instances they are watched by a very small audience and there is little evidence to indicate that their use drives book sales. Having said that, at Random House we do have a very successful YouTube Channel to which we add new content almost every day.

Personally I think the reason why Random House has a popular YouTube page is because they have lots of content, not just book trailers.

Show me the Stats!

The only real stats I could find were in this article:

  • Readers are 64% more likely to purchase your book if they see a book trailer that effectively promotes your book. (Source: ComScore)

Effectively is a nice weasel word. How exactly is that determined?

  • Using a book trailer on a sales landing page can increase conversion rates by as much as 80% (Source: Unbounce)

Does this mean they exclude sales by customers who were planning on buying the book before ever seeing the trailer?

  • Visitors to your author website stay an average of 2 minutes longer than on author sites that do not use video. (Source: ComScore)

That’s nice. So the visitors stay and watch the video… maybe some or all of it – but how many of those visitors actually part with hard-earned money?

  • 92% of mobile video viewers share videos with others. (Source: Invodo)

I thought this stat was the best of the lot until I actually checked it. It gets a little complicated, so stick with me:

  1. This is the Invodo source (page 6).
  2. The stat is footnoted as “the etailing group. Delivering Superior Shopping Experiences Via Video”. The link is dead.
  3. When I google “delivering superior shopping experiences via video” the first result is http://www.e-tailing.com/content?p=2773
  4. This page then links to a whitepaper which has the title “Delivering Superior Shopping Experiences Via Video – Consumer Insights and
    Retail Execution”
  5. Then what should I see, the report is sponsored by Invodo. Nice and circular? I can’t say I read the whole report, but I did a word search for “share”, “others” and “92%” and couldn’t find the result.

Aside from that the stat is unclear. Which videos were shared? (Book trailers, or funny cat videos…it looks as though it is videos in general). How often were videos shared? (Does a single video-share count towards the 92%?).

  • Authors who use book trailer video in email campaigns can experience Open Rates [increases] from 19% to 300%! (Source: Forrester Research)

So they open an email? Excellent, or not. And email campaigns are not exactly the friend of the consumer.

Not Convinced

For me to be convinced that book trailers are worthwhile I’d want to see some real and unequivocal stats:

  • How many viewers of a book trailer purchase a book they weren’t already intending to buy?
  • How many viewers share the video with others?
  • What is the cost of a book trailer compared to the sales that it generates?
  • How often are book trailers successful?

Brett Osmond finishes with

However, I have to say I’m more inclined than not to lean away from a book trailer idea when it is presented to me.

In the end, if a book trailer doesn’t meet the expectations of a savvy public, it might, in fact, have a negative impact on book sales. And that’s something we want to avoid.

Book trailers could do great harm: a novel of poor quality could gain readership only because of a flashy video; which would disenfranchise readers.

I am willing to concede, however, that book trailers would be beneficial to the young, but for the older market I’d think it is useless.

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy, but I still say really?

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6 thoughts on “Are book trailers good?

  1. I agree Ben. I think a book trailer would be effective IF the book release is accompanying the movie release of the same story. But otherwise, not. Love your analysis of the circular marketing. I thought I was the only one that did that much digging to prove marketing ROI. 🙂 Happy writing!

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    • The only value I can see in a book trailer is for YA. HOWEVER, even then book trailers would pale into insignificance when compared to peer recommendations via word of mouth. Not to mention, the cost is far cheaper.

      The use of circular marketing and the absence of hard data make me very skeptical indeed. I’d think for ROI there are far better methods. I might be making my conclusions without data to back it up, but I’m not charging an arm and a leg for it. 🙂

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    • Exactly. (And that was totally going to be one of my points, except I forgot it :)) The way I see it a book trailer could only do one of two things

      1. Through character-based narrative, where you’re introducing a particularly good protagonist or sharing the authors style of writing through it. See a good example (warning: language and adult themes).
      2. A massive plot hook like the beginning of a novel where the plot is so extraordinary people naturally want to know what happens next. I could see this working really well on push-advertising… 10 second grabs of tension. The question would remain though, is the cost of doing it well worth the return?

      You are absolutely right though, the true beauty of a book is brought out over the length of the character arcs and the twists of the plot.

      It would be interesting to look at movie trailers and see how they “sell” the movie, and the sense of fulfillment that movie audiences get, compared to what was promised in the trailer.

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  2. Of course, a movie trailer is made up of extracts from the actual movie – so it has all the benefits of Hollywood actors, CGI, sets, soundtracks, etc. Even the biggest publishing houses couldn’t compete with this. So a book trailer, on those terms, is always going to look like a poor cousin. The flipside is that Hollywood movies can do a great job selling books, after the fact. Plus, a book trailer is always going to be an adaptation of the book in some way: how often have you loved a book and been disappointed by the screen adaptation? I like the idea, but the ones I looked at online suggest how difficult it might be to do it well.

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