Talking Heads: Books, Authors, and Television News

Curator's Note

 Books and authors are a far more quotidian element of television than selections to Oprah’s Book Club and the handful of blockbuster, widely publicized book tours.  For every in-depth interview with Glenn Beck or Larry King, there are countless other places on television where books and authors pop up in programming, particularly news programming, that is increasingly cost-conscious and multi-platform.  Connecting publishers to opportunities in screen media has long been a function of public relations professionals, but deregulation and corporate consolidation, developments in satellite technologies, and an increasingly cash-starved television news business have made promotional services like satellite media tours for books and authors a common practice. This all occurs at a time when the traditional book tour, wherein an author goes on the road to visit local bookstores and read to audiences, is increasingly cost-prohibitive. Furthermore, publishing industry marketing practices are increasingly scaling toward more honed, specific appeals to consumers, a trend that has long characterized television industry practice but one that has been less prominently the case in the realm of selling literature. Understanding the manifold relationships that contemporary media practices forge between pages and screens raises many methodological questions for scholars of media and culture. How can academic criticism understand the ways that books and literature circulate via screen media? How do various conditions of regulation and capital alter this circulation?

This is a clip of a January 2009 interview of a local fiction author that aired on the morning news program of WINK-TV in Ft. Myers, FL. A first-time fiction author published by a small vanity press, Jane Kennedy urges viewers to order her novel online because it is not available in local stores. As a throw-away moment, the clip underscores how television’s symbolic economy can sit in uneasy relation to the networks of distribution that exist for other media forms. The segment underlines how the notions of unlimited connectivity and instantaneous availability that are so characteristic of convergence television can run counter to book publishing’s long-tail economy. 



Interesting post, Hollis.  I'm intrigued by how authors are called upon increasingly to work beyond the medium with which they're primarily associated, namely, the book.  The responsibility to maintain a blog, post videos on YouTube, and/or make formal TV appearances raises all sorts of questions about what types of authors and what types of books will be rewarded/recognized now and in the future.  Just as "video killed the radio star," I wonder if the types of author appearances you note will one day kill the hermetic book author (or at least the image thereof).

 Thanks for your comments, Ted!  I think that in particular modes of commercial publishing -- series & genre fiction, how-to/guides -- the author was dead a while ago insofar as branding efforts often subsumed the individuals who were writing the books.  As in: Robert Ludlum, James Patterson, "Sweet Valley High," Lonely Planet guides, the Dummy series, etc.  As such, I'm more inclined to see convergence as a question better interrogated through attention to capital than than thru a focus on technology. It seems that the shifting of content across multiple technologies -- novels in hardcovers and cellphones, authors on webchats and morning talk shows -- is really the sum of multiple attempts to extract value from an intellectual property. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily new. Books have been "transmedia" for a long time, esp. if you take into account publicity & marketing fcns.  I think that the kinds of author appearances like the self-published author's WINK-TV interview will most likely continue to co-exist alongside more narrow, directed attempts to reach publics: blogs, online literary sites, etc.  As long as there's a person with aspirations of "spreading the word" and is therefore willing to bug a TV station to let him/her on the air in the name of "serving the people," these kinds of things will most likely continue.  

What is more likely to change is how established publishers of commercial literature participate in cross-media promotion of literature.  Getting people on TV costs money.  And that's in short supply in publishing, perennially.  Particularly right now.  

Great post, Hollis. The issues you raise about platforms and promotion make me think of a recent Slate article on book trailers. Though the article's leading question ("Do books really need Hollywood-style trailers?") is somewhat pedantic, the phenomenon of the book trailer itself provides an interesting example of a cost-friendly promotion device whose biggest flaw may lie in its attempt to marry digital platforms with "serious" reading in a way that doesn't necessarily align the demographic to whom publishers hope to sell their work (or, rather, the demographic willing to buy it). Do you think book trailers are the answer to promotional woes, or is the Internet just another screen where we can expect to see books sold to the public? I think Ted's question regarding what type of authors might be rewarded by such a device warrants re-visiting here, not only because not all authors are compelled to promote themselves on multiple platforms, but because not all books lend themselves to the conventions of the movie-trailer.

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