In part the rise of the book trailer coincides with the videosharing culture linked with the widespread development of sites such as YouTube.com, but can also be seen as one of several attempts on the part of authors and publishers to engage with electronic media as a platform for dissemination. You can see this quite easily on the Amazon.co.uk listings that direct potential buyers to both hard copy, and electronic copies of the product, often including a book trailer (such as this listing). Despite almost all the academic work on book trailers citing the emergence after the turn of the millennium (see particularly Kati Voigt’s excellent starting point in this area), the book trailer has a long history that can be traced back to the 1980s when the Canadian Broadcasting Company organised a series of trailers promoting books available at selected libraries. Yet it is only after the turn of the millennium that this phenomenon really took off.
While it is difficult to quantify either the audience or the industry’s acceptance of book trailers, 2010 saw reports of an industry award ceremony; the Moby Awards organised by publishers Melville House specifically aimed at book trailers. Such an award ceremony reflects an industrial acknowledgement of book trailers as a part of the industry’s mediascape. The award ceremony however, appears to have only lasted only for three years, and it is unclear why this is the case.
The very existence of an industry award however, suggests an acknowledgement of the book trailer phenomenon on the part of the organisers, but that such an event included recognition for the best and worst book trailers could be said to form a point of industry reflection upon the practice in general rather than a sole form of validation and encouragement. Indeed, as the Moby Awards have apparently ceased to take place and have not been replaced by any similar event it (please, correct me if I'm wrong) would suggest that the industry itself feels little need to celebrate the phenomenon of the book trailer.
Indeed, much of the press reception of the trailer as well as some elements of the industry reception (such as the Moby Award category for ‘trailer least likely to sell a book’) centres on ‘amateur’ or author made trailers and so reception offers some commentary on trailer aesthetics. Looking through some of the winners, the difference between the aesthetic forms of the book trailer, and the forms of the film trailer are stark. Consider for instance the 2010 Winner of the trailer least likely to sell a book: Sounds of Murder
Tied up within the wider reception is a discourse that suggests an idealised form of book trailer akin to a film trailer. They’ve been called ‘terrific diversions’, that their status next to the book is ‘ambiguous’. In part this may be due to a form of media essentialism (“books belong in print, not on screen!”) and in part due to this aesthetic contrast, indeed tied in within this negative reception are criticism focusing on the poor production values. Indeed, many book trailers are not created by dedicated production houses but by individual authors seeking to boost attention for their own work. Consider the work of Simon Spurrier who creates a ‘trailer’ for his work and within it, offers a rationale for his contribution. (warning: contains the word 'ocelot discharge' as a pejorative... I think).
This bias towards a specific kind of aesthetic for the ideal type of book trailer appears to be well embedded in the reception and construction of the book trailer itself. Consider the words of Sheila Clover-English who's company Circle of Seven Productions, trademarked the term in 2002.
'Technically, a book trailer® is an acted-out dramatization of a book synopsis. if you look at the trademark on this term you’ll note that the term’s description is very specific. Like the term “aspirin,” which was once a product name, this term has been so widely used by the public that its original definition is sometimes lost. Many people use the term book trailer® for book video. ' (read more here)
And this quote actually raises a question for me, that lies at the very heart of book trailers. That of reception on the part of the audience, as well as the industry, because if audience members are seeing these book videos, and calling them trailer, referring to them as trailers, (even bad ones) aren't they then trailers by popular acceptance? After all, what's in a name?
Ed Vollans recently submitted (and defended) his PhD thesis on Cross-Media Trailers, namely: video game trailers, theatre trailers, and book trailers, and as such welcomes your comments and input on this post.