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Ashley Milne-Tyte Aug 18, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Pity the first time author. Or any author for that matter. Months and years spent slaving over prose. And it all comes down to getting good publicity. Anything. A decent review or two Maybe a book tour. Maybe an ad for the book in a national newspaper. But those ads can run tens of thousands of dollars. So some publishers are turning to the web. It’s a kind of ad we’re more used to seeing on the big screen. Ashley Milne Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Liz Dubelman worked in the entertainment industry for years. As a keen reader, she often wished publishers would bring the same marketing gusto to their product that the movie business did to theirs. So a couple of years ago she approached a publishing house . . .

LIZ DUBLEMAN: . . . And I said to them, “I go to a lot of author readings, and oftentimes there are seven people in the audience.”

She suggested another way to boost readership: bring animated book trailers to the Internet. Since then, her company, VidLit, has made about 40 trailers for major publishers. At a few thousand dollars each, they’re a fraction of the cost of a print ad. The trailers are a playful marriage of words, images and sound effects.

Each one is e-mailed to a large mailing list, and posted on video sites like YouTube. Here’s one for the book Trump Nation:

BOOK TRAILER: To add to your fortune once you’ve hit the big time as a billionaire you should, one, convince opponents of your sprawling riverside development that two key benefits of your project are richer neighbors and better TV reception . . .

Dubelman says viewers often respond to the humor and forward the trailers. The publisher Little Brown says sales of their book “Yiddish with Dick and Jane” jumped after the trailer made the rounds. They had to reprint several times. In general, though, publishers say it’s tough to measure return on investment. Still, Charlotte Abbott of Publishers Weekly says that’s fine.

CHARLOTTE ABBOTT: When you’re trying to sway someone to make a decision about investing a certain amount of money in a book, how many times they hear about it, their sense of its sort of cultural currency is part of what contributes to their decision to buy it.

Steve Osgoode agrees. He’s director of online marketing for Harper Collins Canada, which has an in-house book trailer program. These trailers lure potential readers with drama rather than humor. This one’s for the novel “Londonstani,” about a gang of young British-Indian guys. It flashes images of graffiti, money and blood-spattered walls over a strong musical track . . .

[Book trailer sound]

Most publishers stick with trailers on the Web because they think that’s where they’ll find the most receptive audience. They don’t tend to invest in putting trailers in movie theaters. But Osgoode was keen to try that venue too. He screened the “Londonstani” trailer at a chain of South Asian theaters in Toronto.

STEVE OSGOODE: You know, it was a perfect situation of reaching the exact right demographic.

Any advertiser’s dream. Still, Liz Dubelman of VidLit hopes eventually book trailers will be seen as more than just advertising.

DUBELMAN: The idea is to be able to cut through the clutter and find a book by sampling it just as you would finding a piece of music.

That could mean a jukebox for trailers in every bookstore.

In New York, Ia€™m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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