Weekly Geeks 2010-23: Book trailers, what are they good for?

This week’s discussion topic for weekly geeks is one I posted myself due to my overwhelming inability to answer the question “Book trailers, what are they good for?” with anything but “absolutely nothing, say it again” (and yes you are supposed to have the old Frankie Goes To Hollywood song meandering through your head at this point).

I honestly can’t see the point of a book trailer and, in the spirit of the grumpy old woman I am fast becoming, I have ranted at length on their pointlessness. However I thought I should try to be a bit more open-minded and so posed these questions to fellow weekly geek-ers to see if someone could convince me of the value of the book trailer.

Do you watch book trailers?
Nope. Well that’s not true, I must have watched a dozen or so over the past year.

If yes, do you actively seek them out or just watch the ones that get pushed to you in some way?
I’ve only ever watched ones that people have sent me plus a couple for books by authors I know and whose books I had planned to read anyway.

If you don’t watch them, why not?
I don’t ‘get’ the point. A movie trailer shows you portions of the movie in a supposedly enticing way that gets you interested in seeing the movie. In the book world the closest thing to this is an extract or a well-written synopsis. Most book trailers I’ve seen have a few random images that may (or may not) reflect the author’s (or the publishers’) vision of the book (or may on the other hand be a collection of royalty-free images that someone thinks will sell a few books even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with the content).

Have you ever read a book based solely on seeing the trailer? What book was it and what did you like about the trailer?

Where do book trailers come on your list of things that influence you with regards to what books to read (friends’ recommendations, mainstream reviews, bloggers, bookstore promotions, the blurb….)?
My list goes something like…

  1. blogger reviews by people whose tastes I have come to trust
  2. my own likes and experience (you’ll note I trust you more than I trust myself)
  3. mainstream reviews (in particular Graeme Blundell in The Oz)
  4. “people who bought X also bought Y” recommendations from online bookstores tied with 3 for 2 promotions from local chain stores (I am my father’s daughter and find it virtually impossible to pass up the lure of a bargain even if it isn’t really a bargain because I only really want one of the books on offer)
  5. recommendations by the crazy people who talk to me on public transport tied with book trailers (and yes I do receive roughly as many of each, crazy people on public transport are strangely attracted to me)

Do you have a favourite book trailer that you’d like to share? What do you like about it?
Well that would be a bit hypocritical wouldn’t it?

What I’d most love to see is some evidence that the things work. I understand that publishers like ’em and often pressure authors into getting them made but on what basis? Is it just a misguided understanding of social media? A numbers game that assumes a percentage of the trailers will ‘go viral’ and sell a bunch of books that would otherwise have sat on the shelves? Or are there statistics somewhere that show book trailers shift books?

I shall be reading people’s thoughts on this topic with interest. Feel free to participate in the Weekly Geeks discussion yourself or leave a comment below, especially if you have an argument I haven’t considered, a trailer that will have me heading for the bookstore or some hard cold facts (always the thing most likely to make me change my mind).

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12 Responses to Weekly Geeks 2010-23: Book trailers, what are they good for?

  1. Bernadette – I’m really interested in your take on this whole book trailer question. As you know, lots and lots of authors are going that route, and a lot of authors get the message that book trailers will attract readers and get the word out, so to speak, about a book. Speaking as an author on a very (VERY) limited budget, I have to say that I weighed very carefully whether I ought to go for a trailer for my latest. I agree with you that some book trailers really aren’t good at all and, in fact, don’t sway readers (or worse, sway readers against a book). Others, I think, do catch readers’ attention and interest, especially if the author’s had some say in what’s in the trailer. It isn’t an easy decision to make, and I can understand your grumpiness about it. I went for a trailer because I wanted to reach all kinds of readers, including those who look to YouTube on other video sources to decide what to read. Trailers aren’t for everyone, though, and there’s a razor’s edge between an interesting one and an annoying one…


  2. Margot I was actually thinking of you and authors like you who have limited marketing/promotional budgets when I was pondering the issue of trailers. Firstly I should make it crystal clear that I have nothing against authors who use them as I can (and do) easily ignore trailers. And I like the trailer for your book, though I had always planned to read it anyway so it didn’t influence me at all.

    I don’t know that I’m grumpy so much as wary of the notion that they are essential. I know of several authors who have been heavily pressured to spend their own hard-earned cash on them (at least one of whom simply could not afford it) when there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that spending ‘x’ dollars on one will translate into ‘x’ sales (unlike other forms of advertising which usually do have at least ballpark figures to use). I am sure someone somewhere is doing this research but I haven’t seen it (and it certainly wasn’t presented to the authors who have discussed their situations with me in depth) so all I am going on is my own observations. Among the readers I know trailers are insignificant in influencing buying decisions. However most of the readers I know are (a) heavy/avid readers and (b) over 30. I suspect that book trailers work more for the occasional reader rather than heavy readers and would also be more successful among younger readers with heavier social networking presences so there possibly is a significant market out there who is influenced by trailers but I just don’t happen to know them because I am an old curmuedgeon.


  3. Well in the bargaining arena, I am my mother’s daughter. My dad always paid whatever was asked for!

    I really liked reading your thoughts. You raise interesting points.

    Here is my Weekly Geeks post!


  4. Marg says:

    I tend to watch book trailers for books that I already know I am going to read anyway, so they don’t tend to do the job of enticing me to read books that I think they are trying to do.

    There are only a couple of books trailers that I can think of that I watched (I don’t watch many) where I wasn’t already interested in the book and I finished it and thought I really must read that book. Usually I was enticed to watch the trailer because I had been told by others that it was really funny, or really good in some other way.


  5. rikkiscraps says:

    I totally agree with you. There is no point in book trailers whatsoever.


  6. Barbara says:

    My biggest point of confusion is simple: why would I go out of my way to subject myself to an advertisement? Duh!

    I could see a potential benefit of having a film or podcast in which an author talks about something worth learning about, but that’s not what most book trailers are. They’re ads.

    The book trailer that made me angriest was a very well produced one made by a very talented filmmaker. It started out as a rather interesting documentary polemic, but ended up saying “this is a really important issue, so you should buy this book that will explain it all, because we’re in terrible danger!” I felt manipulated, and it make me absolutely certain I would not buy the book – mainly because:

    the book was Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. It’s about how fear is used to manipulate society into doing things against their own interest. And she was using fear (very artfully) to manipulate people into buying the book. The staggering intellectual dishonesty of that move has put me right off her work, which I otherwise would have been interested in.

    Another minor gripe about trailers: if they provide images of characters, I feel my rights of imaginary character formation have been violated. Don’t do that.


  7. BooksPlease says:

    I enjoy your rants! I hadn’t seen any book trailers before your question came up and now I have I agree with you. Anyway I avoid adverts – on TV they’re good for making coffee or tea, or reading a book!


  8. Donna says:

    I agree tht many of them don’t work well at all, but how about this one for Tony Black’s LONG TIME DEAD? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YKowHi0iAg or this one for Allan Guthrie’s SAVAGE NIGHT http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCSFhXXPlqo

    I think the fact that both have the author talking, as well as what the books are about are what make them work for me.


  9. kathy durkin says:

    I don’t watch book trailers unless they’re posted at a website I frequent. They don’t influence my book choices. I’d say bloggers’ reviews or comments or weblinks to columnists’ reviews or newspaper reviews reel me in to read a book. (I do look at the New York Times’ book reviews but others, too.) Or a friend’s recommendation or book loan. Or reading a book by an author I already like, whether a series or stand-alone.
    Also, on the awards’ topic, I do look to see what books are nominated and then I look up book reviews or summaries on the Internet., and think about whether I’d like the books. This has worked well; I have found some good reads this way.


  10. Deb says:

    Great post–I hate book trailers and never voluntarily watch them.

    BTW, I must be a lot older than you because I don’t remember Frankie Goes to Hollywood doing a version of “War/What is it good for/Absolutely nothing.” I remember Edwin Starr’s version in the early 1970s and, much later, Bruce Springsteen’s version in the run-up to the Iraq War (not that it helped–sadly).


  11. Great discussion here Bernadette..
    I am definately in your camp, but I was pleased also to hear Margots points and in some ways sympathise with her in that getting her book out to ALL TYPE OF READERS takes plugging every avenue..

    Trailers don’t work for us – but it must for someone..

    That said – I would also love to see some concrete stats on how much influence book trailers have on an author bottom line – getting paid.

    Great topic this week…



  12. Dorte H says:

    I also had to read your rant + the comments.

    I never watch trailers (well, of course I watched Margot´s, but Margot is a friend, so that doesn´t count :D), and like you I don´t really get the point. I simply can´t imagine a trailer that would influence me, whereas a promising review may persuade me to put the book on my list immediately.


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