Taking their cue from the film industry, in which a well-produced trailer is infinitely more valuable than a print advertisement or press release, commercial publishers such as HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin are taking advantage of new technology to offer promotional videos on their Web sites to augment their traditional publicity campaigns.
"We're really into watching what other people are doing—not publishers, but movie and television studios," says Carrie Kania, publisher of Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins, which partnered with iAmplify.com last fall to launch the Digital Media Café, an area of its Web site that offers free videos of authors as well as audio clips and links to booksellers. "It's all about offering our readers more."
Until recently, many considered video files too cumbersome for the typical reader to download and watch. Thanks in part to the increasingly common data delivery technique known as streaming, however, large multimedia files can now be viewed using simple programs such as Microsoft Windows Media and QuickTime—without needing to be stored on the user's computer.
HarperCollins has used video to promote a number of authors, including Michael Crichton and Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket). As of this writing the top video in the Digital Media Café is a four-minute preview of the coffee table book U2 by U2 (HarperEntertainment, 2006) by Neil McCormick; the clip features 150 photos and the band's song "Zoo Station." Kania says HarperCollins plans to experiment with video technology and expand the production of previews and short skits.
Houghton Mifflin recently launched Meet the Author, a portion of its Web site devoted to video and audio files for authors including Jonathan Safran Foer and Toni Morrison. "We know that our author has a message and we want the message to be visible to more than the number of people he's going to be physically able to see," says Sanj Kharbanda, senior marketing manager of Houghton Mifflin.
VidLit Productions (www.vidlit.com ) in Santa Monica, California, has created promotional videos for publishers such as Penguin, Random House, and Bard Press, and uploads them to its own Web site as well as more than seventy-five others, including YouTube. The book trailers, or VidLits, as they are called, can also be accessed using mobile devices such as iPods and video cell phones. "There's no barrier to distribution," says VidLit founder Liz Dubelman.
Some authors prefer to take a proactive approach, producing their own videos and uploading them to personal Web sites and networking sites such as MySpace. Grant Stoddard enlisted the help of a technologically savvy friend to create a video promoting the January release of Working Stiff (Harper Perennial), and uploaded it to YouTube. "I can only hope that enough people will find it funny and start sending it around," he says. "I think it's a great way to market."
Anna Mantzaris is a freelance journalist.