The Book Trailer
A Colourful All-Purpose Tool?

Crime writer Jörg Maurer; © Fischer Verlag
Crime writer Jörg Maurer | Photo (detail): © Fischer Verlag

In these days of Facebook and Youtube, many large publishing houses are placing their bets on short films to advertise new books. But the costs of a professional book trailer are high and the advertising impact much-disputed.

Best-selling author Jörg Maurer is standing up to his ankles in the cold water of a mountain lake talking about his books. The Alpine setting behind him is like a painted backdrop. Everything is perfectly lit; the precise images in full HD feature-film quality are accompanied by atmospheric music. Now and then, a book cover sails across the scene.

The trailer lasts just over three minutes and refers to the complete works of the crime author from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, particularly to his most recent Alpine crime story Felsenfest. The professionally made clip is twice as long as the average book promotional film, which often only demands a minute of our time. Milan Pawlowski, trailer producer in Cologne, thinks the ideal length of a trailer is “between 30 seconds and one and a half minutes, but never longer. In the context of feature films, such a book trailer would be called a teaser.”

Big expectations, big budgets

As for the costs of the film, commissioned by the publisher Fischer Verlag, they certainly range in the upper bracket. By contrast, simply cover animations can be had for less than 1,000 Euros, according to one producer. But if a whole team of experts is required, for lighting, sound, camera, editing and animation, then the sum is much higher. Traditionally, publishing houses are somewhat secretive when it comes to the precise sums they spend on advertizing, and it goes without saying that the higher the anticipated sales, the higher these budgets.

Book trailers have been around for almost ten years, and numerous agencies are specialized in producing them, tailor-made, so to speak. These agencies canvass publishers and authors alike using slogans like, “We transport books into a new age.” The fact is that publishers’ marketing strategies have been changed by the triumph of the social web over the past decade. Images now have to move, be suggestive, and should make people curious. Only when they are “liked” and shared, to put it in Facebook-speak, do they gain currency on the net. And even though only select titles are advertized for using trailers, the number of book trailers produced each year is in the thousands.

Jörg Maurer – Felsenfest Buchtrailer from Daniel Henschel on Vimeo.

Far-ranging area of application

The field of application for book trailers depends on the technical means. In addition to the publishers’ websites, the online shops of book shipping agents and the website of bricks-and-mortar bookshops, they also have to function on display systems in bookshops or on info screens in underground railway stations, train stations and buses. A comprehensive campaign of these dimensions is only undertaken, however, for a few select titles. One example of this is the enormous advertizing campaign for the media satire Er ist wieder da by Timur Vermes, in which the stylized Hitler likeness from the book cover was to be seen, both static and moving, on advertising columns and at bus-stops as well as on all sorts of pages on the net. The short animated clip had about 150,000 clicks on Youtube. Almost half a million people looked at the excerpt from the audiobook read by the famous comedian Christoph Maria Herbst.

Almost all of fiction books in the first ten places on the Spiegel bestseller list during the year 2013 were advertized for using a trailer. But is that really the measurable reason for the success of this advertizing format? Like every other kind of advertizing, the impact of trailers is highly controversial. In a study published in January 2014, media scientists from the University of Mainz claimed that trailers are not any more successful in attracting readers than traditional, text-based forms of book advertising. Trailers are not capable of awakening interest more effectively than a blurb on a book cover.

One advertizing tool among many

The sceptics in the book trade are proven right by these findings. They tend to warn about exaggerated expectations of online media and their PR-potential. Lars Koopmann, by contrast, managing director of the LitVideo Agency, criticizes the study’s narrow focus, among other things. The experiment only considered one trailer dating from the year 2008. A larger and more balanced universe would have “offered a more objective cross-section of the readership,” said Koopmann on “Much more important, from our point of view, is the fact that a book trailer can address readers in a different way and on multimedia channels.” “Text only” is no longer enough for a young target group, because this audience makes increasing use of Youtube as a search engine.

So the marketing departments of publishing houses will have to consider which advertizing message best reaches their target groups and in which medium. The trailer will thus be just another tool alongside classic advertizing or cover texts – and not a universal weapon.