At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, over 100 companies showed off new models of tablet computers, sleek devices capable of a vast array of multimedia functions, the most popular of which, overwhelmingly, is video.
As tablets surge, and e-books are now mainstream, it makes sense that book publishers might seek to tap into the power of video to enhance and promote new and classic titles across subjects and genres, from fiction to memoirs, history, sports, and how-to. And with tech industry observers claiming that tablets will soon surpass laptops in popularity, and companies like Cisco forecasting that video will exceed 90% of all global consumer traffic on the Internet by 2014, a survey of the publishing landscape suggests that tapping into the video trend may soon be essential for publishing.
Already, as production and storage costs for video drop by the minute, many publishers are integrating video shoots and edits into their marketing plans and budgets, as well as into daily workflows, with several major trade houses building modest but efficient moving-image and sound studios in their offices, and some even sending camera crews or handheld cameras and equipment directly to their authors.
What does the future hold for video in book publishing? Will video-enhanced books surge in demand, changing the nature of the publishing game? Or will video be used more for marketing and publicity, allowing thousands of authors who don't have an HBO series or can't be on Good Morning America to reach a wider audience through Web platforms like YouTube?
The Harry Potter Effect
As technology changes, the very anatomy of the book is changing as well. Brad Inman, founder of Vook and TurnHere, credits Apple with bringing rich media into the mainstream through the iPad, which has brought more experienced creative teams into the design of the user interface. "The iPad is at the center of the conversation today," Inman notes. "Video is our mantra. The Gettysburg Address was seven minutes long. We should be able to explain to someone how to do Pilates in that time."
Apple is enabling "this wonderful and beautiful integration of text and video, passion and focus," Inman adds. And users love video that "organizes the reader experience," as well as other tools, such as the annotation and highlighting features that tablet devices offer.
Literary agent Scott Waxman, long at the cutting edge of digital technology, agrees. He describes a series of new instructional golf titles that he is representing and producing as moving away from "the old-fashioned book-and-DVD combo" into combining several kinds of media seamlessly onto the same screen.
The day is not yet here when book pages look like the newspaper pages of the Daily Prophet of the Harry Potter books and movies—talking photographs, addressing themselves personally to the reader. But e-books are coming into prominence and increasingly offering sound and video. With the tablet craze, e-readers are going to be more than dedicated reading devices—which will lead publishers to experiment more with the idea that, in a wired world, books can be more than just text on a screen.
HarperCollins is one major publisher actively exploring what video can bring to the book across a range of works and purposes. Jane Leavy's biography of Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy, features 30 minutes of vintage archival footage of the Mick swinging (left- and right-handed) with computer graphic overlays analyzing his economy of time and motion at the plate. For Bernard Cornwell's historical novel, The Fort, about the Revolutionary War, the author thought of filming at the 1779 battle site in Maine to show his readers how it looks today. HarperCollins liked the idea and dispatched a camera crew with him, featuring the results in an electronic edition of the book. The Atlantic, by bestselling author Simon Winchester, features 15 videos of the author at work, as well as a "video glossary" of 60 words key to his book. And Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler came into the HarperCollins studio to record video and sound for his memoir, Does the Sound in My Head Bother You? during a holiday weekend earlier this year. Given Tyler's history in the studio, you have to wonder what that must have been like.
HarperCollins is far from alone in exploring the potential of video. At Hachette's Twelve imprint, War by celebrated author Sebastian Junger, provides close to an hour of video Junger shot with a platoon in the mountains of Afghanistan, including footage from the film Restrepo. (Tim Hetherington, director of Restrepo, was killed in Libya in April.) Hachette's Red Riding Hood movie tie-in edition by author Sarah Blakley-Cartwright features video of the author with the film's stars and director discussing their creative relationship. Simon & Schuster has licensed 27 archival and iconic clips from corporate cousin CBS News for Nixonland by Rick Pearlstein to help illustrate the 1970s.
Publishers of children's and young adult titles are also opening up to more experimentation with video, especially fitting given how young readers increasingly deploy technology in their daily lives. HarperCollins's enhanced edition of C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains a seven-minute animated time line, quiz, and map, with a voice-over artist's narration to boot. (As if the magical world of Narnia wasn't enough!) Random House Children's author Mary Pope Osborne features video and animation in her Magic Treehouse titles and series Web site. And in a sign that the company will focus more on enhanced editions and digital marketing, Bertelsmann recently inked a deal with the youth-focused digital media agency Smashing Ideas for Random House.
Perhaps the biggest use of video for publishers so far is to promote and publicize titles across the rapidly growing online and social media networks. A viral video can reach more potential consumers—and new customers—than almost any kind of marketing, advertising, or publicity campaigns the publishing world has previously known. S&S's v-p and executive director of content and programming, Sue Fleming, who oversees S&S's studio and its video and sound staff, counts more than six million plays for S&S-produced videos since 2009, ranging from standard author interviews to more highly produced videos, all aimed at "going viral," fleeting across today's instant syndicators, like YouTube, Facebook, GoodReads, MySpace, Yahoo! Video, blip.tv, Blinkx, Veoh, DailyMotion—and more.
Fleming lists a number of S&S titles with marketing videos, including those of blockbuster authors like Stephen King, for his 2010 paperback edition of Under the Dome; a tribute to George Carlin, produced to support the publication of Carlin's memoir Last Words; and a wine recipe for the holidays from Daisy Martinez, produced to support the November 2010 publication of Daisy's Holiday Cooking. Fleming says her "clients, " whether booksellers and book reviewers, or publishers, authors, and agents, are "very happy" to have video content—and often ask for more.
Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah, no stranger to the potential of multimedia, speaks of "a new era of creative partnership," and says 2011 may be the year in which some publishers begin to look and act "a lot more like film directors" for some types of books than the stereotypical fustian, tweedy book person. In college prep titles, a leading vertical for Sourcebooks, Raccah points to new videos produced for the electronic editions of Harlan Cohen's The Naked Roommate and Gary Gruber's SAT 2400—works that are available for sale as videos, in addition to using the videos to sell the books. The term "reader," as a result, Raccah suggests, is almost insufficient at Sourcebooks, which has sold more than five million "media-embedded" units (remember the book-and-CD combos from the 1990s, We Interrupt This Broadcast and The Crowd Goes Wild?). Rather, Raccah speaks of her "constituents" and "stakeholders" in the marketplace, and stresses that for many titles, publishers should consider electronic editions more a "type of production" than just a publication.
Opportunities and Challenges
While traditional publishers adjust to the demands and the opportunities of the digital world, new upstarts are experimenting without the burden of carrying a legacy print business. Perhaps the most ambitious of this new breed is Open Road Integrated Media. Started by former HarperCollins chief executive Jane Friedman and film producer Jeffrey Sharp, whose feature film credits include Boys Don't Cry and You Can Count on Me, Open Road focuses almost exclusively on digital. Video is a key component of their vision. Readers are coming to expect these media to converge in electronic editions, Friedman says. "And video is our special sauce."
Open Road has been aggressive with the video medium, expanding the reach of some classic authors into new realms. For a new edition of William Styron's classic novel The Confessions of Nat Turner, for example, Friedman dispatched crews to film in his manuscript archive at Duke University and to interview Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates on the meaning of the 1831 slave revolt. Likewise, camera crews went to work with author Pat Conroy on the South Carolina coast and Robert Duvall in Hollywood for a new edition of Conroy's The Great Santini.
Not every publisher, of course, can call on Academy Award winners. But publishers are finding many options available to enable video production cost-effectively. While several publishing and digital content companies have their own studios up and producers and video editors on staff, including many of the major houses, some publishers—from small presses to the majors—are also outsourcing production and finding many excellent options. Princeton University Press, for example, has hired third parties to shoot video of authors. But it has also gone the more organic route as well—editors have mailed portable, inexpensive Flip cameras and miniature tripods to authors and requested they capture some moving images on the cameras and mail them back—a kind of Netflix in reverse. It helps when authors, such as birding expert and photographer Richard Crossley, actually have filming talent and expertise. Crossley's new birding series, The Crossley ID Guide, went live this year. Brad Inman's TurnHere has a growing client list for his services, and video production vendors like Christopher Ryan and his company, Wheelhouse Communications, have created videos for a range of publishing clients, including author interviews, so-called ClassroomCast videos, and the aforementioned Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Treehouse series for Random House.
At the 2011 London Book Fair's Digital Conference, not everyone was sold on the future of enhanced books. Bloomsbury's Evan Schnittman, who has long questioned how video and multimedia would integrate and coexist with immersive reading habits, threw up a slide of a tombstone during his keynote address with an epitaph that read: "Enhanced Books, 2009–2011." "Enhanced e-books will have an incredibly big future in education," Schnittman told the audience. "but the idea of innovating in the narrative reading process is just a nonstarter."
The response in the Twitterverse to Schnittman's opinion of enhanced trade books was telling—some loudly agreed, but others suggested Schnittman will regret that "sweeping generalization." Without question, enhanced e-books face problems. For one, they are an additional cost for a notoriously low-margin publishing business. And, yes, there is no well-defined marketplace for enhanced e-books—they are not quite a fit in the App Store alongside Angry Birds, nor do they fit comfortably on bookstore shelves. There are also rights and royalty questions. For backlist books, how do you secure permission to enhance a book with video, and how are those revenues divided? For future books, what is a proper split for these editions? And what if they include advertising?
Those questions will come into focus as video continues to proliferate on the Web, mobile devices, electronic editions, apps, wherever. And that holds implications for book publishing. Up and down the food chain, from publisher to "partner" to user/reader/viewer, stakeholders in the book business are experimenting with ways to integrate video's power and immediacy. As publishers use video to market books, perhaps one day they will more systematically create and host new author pages in their online catalogues to replace the static author photo. Agents may use more video to pitch and sell new books. And book reviewers like Ron Charles at the Washington Post are already using cameras to breathe new life into book reviews. Difficulties remain, but the opportunity and the interest is there, and we can likely expect more lights, cameras, action for publishers in the months ahead.
Peter B. Kaufman, a former book publisher, is president of Intelligent Television (www.intelligenttelevision.com), a video production company in New York.