The Escalation of the Advertising Game

So I came across something interesting in my feeds the other day. This one on a Facebook feed. Facebook, for those of you who don’t use it, is a social networking site ostensibly about linking you up with friends and family to share pictures and goings on, but really more about collecting and selling your data while funneling ads at you (I get, on average, about one message or e-mail a day from them urging me to give them money to advertise this website). So, if you’re like me and attempting to use to to keep up with the goings-on of friends and family, that means that you end up seeing a lot of ads.

One of these ads I usually shoot by caught my eye, because it was a Science-Fiction movie trailer. Which you’d think Facebook would have figured out is the kind of ad I don’t mind seeing, but with their usual “show them how to think” mantra, most of the movie ads I see tend to be for films my interest rating is around zero in.

I digress. So hey, Sci-Fi movie ad! I’m game! So I started watching it. It looked a little low budget, and I don’t recognize any of the actors … But I’m not very in tune with Hollywood stars anyway (save a few) and it could be a SyFy flick.

Plot sounded … interesting. Not super attention grabbing, but at least decently interesting. A spin on the “last man” trope, one of those stories that opens after everything has fallen apart and the survivors have picked up the pieces, only to have someone come along and disturb the apple cart again. You know, familiar enough, but constantly on the rebound because it is a solid trope.

So I’m watching people run with desperate looks on their faces, shadowy figures raise guns, etc … and the accolades start popping up on screen. You know, the kind of thing where critics who have seen the film already or been given previews deliver quotes to make you excited for the film?

Except … these weren’t film critics. And my brain did a sudden, jarring “Wait, what?”

They were book reviewers. I wasn’t watching a movie trailer. I was watching a live-action trailer … for a book.

Yes, that’s right. It was a live-action trailer, with actors and everything … for a book. It wasn’t the only one either. The next day, I suppose since I’d watched the one, I saw another one. Then another. For a week or two they infested my feeds, until I stopped paying them any attention.

But I did need to do some digging. See, here’s the thing: Live-action production like that isn’t cheap. Even a budget cut for a trailer like that still requires actors, a set, a director, casting, special effects, music … You know, all that stuff that Hollywood spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on, sometimes millions?

Bear in mind, that hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions making a trailer from footage they’ve already shot. So they’ve got it on hand.

With these book trailers, however, they don’t. They’re shooting footage, doing special effects, hiring actors, and more all just for a trailer.

Now, a quick Google tells me that a trailer for a small film will cost at least $50,000. Most will run $150,000 to $250,000, and for a big film, they’ll cost at least a cool million. Again, this is with the footage already shot. And that’s just the cost of creating the trailer from pre-existing footage. It’s not including the actual cost of putting it out there, which runs much, much higher (often up to ten to fifty million).

So these book trailers I’ve been seeing? They’re somewhere in that ballpark. A ballpark probably a bit higher than the estimates, because again, they don’t have any footage. These are books. Not movies. So whoever is making these has to hire actors, set crews … the works.

That can’t be cheap. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when I tracked down the book in question, looked up the publisher, and found it to be one of the Big Five (the five largest “traditional” publishers). Which makes sense: They’ve got the deepest pockets in the book world, even if they have been shrinking steadily over the last decade or so. They’ve got the funds to hire all those people and put together a trailer for a book.

But the real question I have is: to what end?

Okay, I know that. To make money. To sell copies of books. What I really mean is: will it work?

Look, book production is already a dicey business. It’s no secret that the industry runs on some pretty knife-thin margins (though some argue it no longer needs to be that way, but that’s for another time). Especially when it comes to making a profit off of a book. Some books end up being net losses, that loss covered by the success of other projects (which isn’t uncommon in business; I’m just pointing it out if you didn’t know).

Now, on top of this, some are piling the costs of producing these trailers, which cannot be cheap. Which makes me want to know a couple of things.

First, will it work? Are the people who see these trailers going to go out and buy the books? And in numbers sufficient to make the cost of the trailers worth it?

Second, what if it does work? Personally, this one’s a bit of a long-shot, for the questions I’ve asked above. I honestly don’t see spending, say, a hundred grand just to make a trailer for a book that profitable. But that’s me. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe seeing a faux-movie trailer for a new book is exactly what some people want. I don’t know (but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter).

But what if it does work? What if this becomes the new standard of success? Again, I don’t think it will … but what if it did? Because again, making something like this is not cheap. But if it were the new standard … what would that do to the smaller pubs? Or Indie?

I’ll admit that was my first thought when seeing these trailers. They’re amping up the advertising game where indie can’t follow! But honestly, to just try and compete with indie that’d be a really dumb move. But I’m willing to admit that it could be a bonus the big publishers are considering. After all, my advertising budget is measured in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands, to say nothing of tens of thousands. If live-action trailers became the new standard for books, I and thousands of other indie authors would be facing an incredibly brutal obstacle to overcome.

But again, that’s if it became a thing. Personally? I don’t think it will. In fact, I think it’s kind of a bad idea. Ever see an ad for something that seems interesting, only to find its for an entirely different product and be turned away? That’s how I felt with these live-action trailers. They’re ads for books. Sure, it’s a cool idea, but when I was watching them? I was expecting a movie … not a book.

I don’t know. It’s just kind of weird, uncharted territory. But it’s territory the industry is exploring, and I think that makes it worth talking about.

So, what do you guys think? Good idea? Bad idea? Something you’re interested in? Or not?

2 thoughts on “The Escalation of the Advertising Game

  1. I feel like seeing a visual example of how a book will potentially be like could make me want to get it more, but it depends. It’s definitely an interesting idea, as you said. Also, one question: what are the Top 5 traditional publishing companies you mentioned exactly?


    • The big five are: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin/Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

      Penguin was the one putting out at least two of the trailers I saw, but I think the others are getting in on it.


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