Viewers of the new Star Trek movie will first sit through a bleak, moody trailer for something called Odd Hours, in which a bruised and bloodied hero leaves town with only his backpack and dog.
The trailer, replete with a voiceover which intones, “I once dreamed of living out my days in the peace and tranquility of Pico Mundo, my hometown. I can wait. In the meantime I see dead people. I try to help them when I can,” looks like another new thriller destined for the theaters in coming months. But Odd Hours isn’t a movie. It’s the latest book by Dean Koontz.
The ad is a trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist or, as some in publishing have started to call them, a “book video” (akin to a music video). Visit Koontz’s Web site and there’s a whole selection. As video becomes cheaper, more authors are making them, erasing the need for readers to imagine the characters on the printed page.
Authors like them because they have complete creative control, unlike their movie or TV projects. “If he’d said, I hate this, you can’t make this, then that would be the end of the project,” said Carolyn Schwartz, vp/director of Koontz’s marketing at Bantam Dell Ballantine in New York. Plus, they’re cheap. About $3.5 million was spent advertising Koontz’s various properties over the last two years, per the Nielsen Co.
So far, book publishing advertising is a small slice—just $144 million—of the entertainment and amusement category, whose ad outlay Nielsen pegged at $11.7 billion in 2008, a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Most of that spend went to movie advertising, a segment that didn’t exist until 1975 when Universal’s Jaws became the top-grossing movie of all time (though it was soon eclipsed by 1977’s Star Wars) partially on the strength of a $750,000 TV campaign. Meanwhile, the Book Industry Study Group reports that revenues for the U.S. book publishing industry rose 1 percent in 2008 to $40.3 billion.
The impetus for the new genre of advertising came, not surprisingly, from a former adman. James Patterson, who used to be the chairman of JWT, is credited as one of the pioneers of movie-trailer book commercials, the first of which was for Honeymoon in 2005. About $6.1 million was spent advertising Patterson s books in the last two years. But where Bantam funds the Koontz promotions, much of the money behind Patterson is the author’s, not Hachette Book Group’s. Patterson spends between $500,000 and north of $1 million per book, said Steve Bowen, president of James Patterson Entertainment in New York and Patterson’s longtime business partner. “This is his money. He’s writing these checks at his kitchen table.”
The split in duties came because publishers are better at publishing than they are marketing, Cohen says, especially in Patterson’s case.
Similarly, Harlequin’s Brenda Jackson, who writes African-American romances, now makes a video for each book she writes. She’s written 56 books, and each one sells about 100,000 copies, Jackson says. The videos go on YouTube and her own site, where they get around 55,000 hits combined. She pays $6,000 to $10,000 per video—her son, Gerald Jackson Jr., who runs Five Alive Films, shoots them.
When asked why Harlequin isn’t fronting the marketing money, Jackson said, “I never asked them for money. Plus they give me a good advance. They do a lot to promote the book and they showed me a four-page ad they’re taking out in magazines. I think they do their part. I don’t know any publisher that pays for a movie trailer.” Harlequin spent $2 million last year on ads, per Nielsen.
In a typical Jackson video, an impossibly handsome couple dance at a masked ball before ending up in a bedroom where … the screen fades to a shot of the book, Tall, Dark … Westmoreland! and its publication date.
The demand for Jackson videos has been such that she wants to make her own TV or straight-to-DVD movie of one her books. Jackson is uninterested in a theatrical release because, she says, her audience doesn’t care where they see it as long as it’s faithful to the book.
BET once made a movie version of Jackson’s One Special Moment, and changed some of the story; “the brother was a jerk in the movie where he was a good guy in the book,” she says. Readers complained. Her version will be a verbatim retelling. “They made too many of what my son calls artistic liberties, and my readers don’t want that.”