June 12, 2014

Can BookReels be the MTV of book trailers?


MTV_BrazilWhen speaking with Publishers Weekly about his new website BookReels, screenwriter-director Dan Rosen was unabashedly direct—and hip—about what he hopes it will be. He insisted that, “What MTV did for music videos and record sales, BookReels wants to do for book trailers and book sales.” This sounds highly doable, if he means that he’s going to drop the book trailers in favor of 16 and Pregnant, like MTV does today. However, more likely he’s picturing us jamming out to book trailers like they’re Hollaback Girl, just because he’s dressed them up in a tiny cheerleader outfit. He should listen to Gwen Stefani on this one, because, with books, it ain’t just gonna happen like that.

Rosen thought up the idea for BookReels with tech entrepreneur and friend CV Herst, and the website currently features 3,000 book trailers and author interviews. It’s interactive, too. Visitors can rate the trailers and join discussions, and even link to Amazon or IndieBound to purchase books—or just IndieBound if Amazon is having a dispute with the book’s publishing company.

But really, a book trailer and a music video are just not the same. I spend a good part of each day trying to figure out if Lana Del Rey is high in her music videos, but when I visited BookReels I realized that I’d never even seen a book trailer before. The difference is that, for music videos, the video is the content—you’re buying exactly what you hear. This is not the case for a book trailer, where attempts to translate the text into an appealing visual can land somewhere between half-baked and totally unrelated. Even with awesome book trailers BookReels still seems like a long-shot for success, because MTV would’ve struggled too if Nirvana had only ever talked about what smells like teen spirit.

When book trailers do get a lot of views, like with Kiera Cass’ The Selection and Veronica Roth’s Divergent, they’ve usually benefited from well-known authors and a readership that would’ve supported the book anyway. Because, unlike movie trailers, book trailers simply aren’t the most intuitive medium to tell you about their subject, and do little more for new authors than assure them that their publisher is keeping up with the times. Even at best, book trailers can feel like the hokey, wannabe cousins of movies trailers, which is sad, because Hollywood’s hemorrhage of book-based films tells us that it is movies that really want to be like books.

This is not to say that a well-executed book trailer, created for the right book, with the right campaign, wouldn’t help to increase sales. Some of them are actually pretty cool. But, constructing a whole website around book trailers, like they’re the way that every book needs to be marketed now, only undermines what makes books different from the rest of the entertainment industry. Not to mention, in all my time exploring BookReels, I’ve yet to see anything half as entertaining as Britney Spears kissing Madonna, and I don’t expect to see any famous authors making out any time soon.