Source Code, Screen Zombies & Book Trailers

Prompted by a fascinating discussion over on Wordpunks (18th Aug Podcast), I have decided to write a little blog on Book Trailers and give my take on them.

In order to differentiate between books and movies Simon created an analogy involving source code and machine code. Sounds complicated but coming from the viewpoint of a screenwriter I found it pretty spot on. I’m not going to go into that though, you can take yourselves over there and have a listen.

The charm of the written word has always been the readers ability to transcribe their own interpretations of what they are reading. A writer may describe a character (a good writer won’t), but there will always be enough room for each individual reader to create that character as a unique entity, different from everyone else’s, in their own minds. With a film on the other hand the visual aspect has already been done for you. It’s one of the common reasons why people often dislike the film of a book they’ve enjoyed, it simply differs too much from the version they created in their head.

What then is the book trailer?

We live in a rapidly changing technological environment and all the time our exposure to visual elements increases. I don’t have access to the figures, but I remember reading somewhere how 100 years ago a person may have been exposed to no more than a handful of visual images a day. A painting, a shop sign, whatever it may have been. Nowadays we are bombarded with literally thousands and our brains have adapted to process that information.

A recent article suggested that maybe social networking is causing our brains to adapt to quick snippets of information, causing us to loose concentration when reading something larger. Advertisers know that the way to quickly grasp someones attention is through the moving image. For the modern 21st century brain a video is a much preferred way of taking in information than the traditional picture of a book cover and piece of blurb.

Many of us from my generation (born 1975 me) tend to get nostalgic over various things like proper artwork on albums and books, heck I still don’t think you can beat a gatefold LP for artwork, but we are soon not going to be the main source of income for the companies that sell these projects. All media nowadays is visual media. Books were never advertised as videos because the two mediums were perceived to be completely incongruous to each other. With kids growing up in the era of the iPad there is no distinction between any of our media, our devices provide them all, but not only that they sell the products to us. What better way to get someone to buy an ebook than showing the trailer on the same device that they can then purchase and read the book?

At this stage of the article I’m now going to let it be known I really don’t like book trailers. I should qualify that by saying I really wish they would let me make a book trailer because I would do it much better (only slightly tongue-in-cheek there). I don’t like book trailers now because they are cheap and tacky, badly shot on poor quality equipment generally, and quite often make people less inclined to buy the book rather than the other way round. I believe this will change though and as ebooks take off so will the book trailer.

The book trailer of the future I also don’t like, but here it’s not so easy to justify. Book Trailers of the future, I believe, will become glossier and better developed and they will include actors rather than simply moving stills and words. The reason I am sceptical about this future book trailer is that it will deceive far better than the current ones do. Any poorly written novel can be made to seem like the most awesome book on the planet if a stylish video can portray it that way. Now I love film trailers, I always look forward to watching them in the cinema, but by using my own logic a film trailer is also used to deceive a potential audience. Many a bad film has put all the best bits into its trailer or cut the trailer in such a way as to make the film seem much better than it really is, so what’s the difference?

The difference is that the film is using its own medium at least, it is taking chunks form its own product, but as book trailers get more and more sophisticated they will be using a different medium and a different artists skills to influence a potential buyers judgement on what they may experience when they encounter the product in the form of written words. We will base our decision on what to read by which book trailer visually stimulates us the most, this doesn’t make sense.

I shall wait to be convinced.

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