Look before you leap

French thinker Régis Debray has this grand theory in which he divides the cultural history of the Western humanity into three eons: Logosphere, Graphosphere and Videosphere – which could loosely be interpreted as a “time of writing” (which designates period from the invention of writing to Gutenberg), “time of printing” (which is by and large modernity) and “time of showing” (which is, basically, now). What he is claiming, among many other things, is that our main mode of acquiring information, as well as validating it, has shifted from reading to watching, from books to TV and movies. This, quite obviously, doesn’t spell anything good for books and reading. That is, unless they can adapt and somehow fit into the new modality.

While completely morphing into Debray’s “videosphere” would probably mean that books stop being books and simply become movies (which is also happening to a great degree), there are another ways of skirting the audio-visual medium without having to give up the print. You could, for instance, promote your book in a video – and there you go, you’ve got an extremely fast growing crossover genre of book trailers. Virtually unknown before 2006, HarperCollins now estimates that between 25 and 50 percent of their titlesare promoted by trailers.

While the idea certainly sounds enticing, there is a million ways to go wrong with it. The ease of use of both the tools for making videos as well as distributing them means that it was probably indeed only a question of time when will someone come up with something as heinous as the clip below:

The previous attempt exemplifies all the fears that different people have voiced over the last couple of years about internet killing our culture, making us dumb and causing the universe to freeze over in general – but all is not lost. One only has to have some taste and basic dignity to try a bit more, and the result can be pretty darn good. Instead of reading your own book and then stiching the resulting soundtrack and photos together in iMovie, you can actually ask people in the NY subway to read it, and then resist the temptations to get creative with hideous violet-background-fade-in-and-out effect. And the result looks a lot better:

Now, watching someone read a book instead of reading it yourself will probably get old pretty soon. And in many ways, this hardly gives you an idea about the whole book – unless you watch someone reading the whole book, but that’s probably not going to work out too well. So the alternative might be to use the video to try and convey the mood of the book – and if people like it, they will probably want to go and read the book. This is a haunting trailer of “The Kept Man” by Jami Attenberg:

If you happen to have a bigger budget and more of a mainstream book, you may want to go about it in a way that pretty much falls into the Hollywood mold of movie trailers. It is basically still the same approach – reading the beginning of the book – it is simply made to look and sound as if you were not reading a book rather than watching a movie. “The Mystery Guest” by Gregoire Bouillier:

Or, you can disregard the text completely as reading the first few paragraphs with a very dramatic voice might not necessarily be the best way to convey how thrilling or witty the book is. So you may take the same approach what William Bernbach did with TV commercials in 1960s and 70s and instead of talking about the book, talk to the reader. Last two trailers, both by m ss ng p eces are good examples of this kind of a creative approach – “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” by Sloane Crosley and “Blood and Ice” by Robert Masello

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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