We Need More Videos About Books

by Patrick on June 5, 2009

A couple of days ago on Twitter, I found myself lamenting the demise of Titlepage, Dan Menaker’s far too short-lived book-focused internet talk show.  (I’ve blogged about it here.)  Titlepage is gone because they couldn’t get funding.  I think it represents an interesting case study of where content might be headed in the future.  Here’s a show that featured Daniel Menaker as its host.  Menaker was fiction editor of the New Yorker and then senior literary editor for Random House.  You don’t find people with better literary chops than that.  He got an interesting and varied selection of authors including memoirists (Julie Klam), debut novelists (Keith Gessen, Mark Sarvas), thriller writers (Colin Harrison), and Pulitzer Prize winners (Elizabeth Strout).  The format — four writers have a round table conversation with Menaker — is appealing, though you have to wonder if they had trouble securing funding because they were attempting to replicate a TV format on the web.  Titlepage wasn’t entirely oblivious to new media — they had a blog, and each episode was “commentable” (my term) immediately — but it didn’t go that extra distance and involve the audience .  It was still, at its heart, a broadcast show.

But it was a good broadcast show.  I was sad to see it go, not only because it provided me with an hour of entertainment every few weeks, but because I’m convinced it sold books.  Look at “Episode 2:  You Never Forget Your First Time” (admittedly, kind of a lame title, but whatever):  I read all or part of every one of the books featured on this episode.  While I had already planned to read Gessen and Crosley’s books, I’d never heard of Julie Klam or Ceridwen Dovey before this, and I read and liked both of their books.  I’ve since sold a ton of both as a result of seeing them on this show.  I can’t be alone in this.

Since writing a blog post complaining about the end of Titlepage wouldn’t accomplish much, I thought I’d use this space to recommend a couple of the worthy book-related video projects out there on the web.  I’m not sure how to fund content like this in the future, but I think getting an audience is a good place to start.

  • Open Book.  This is kind of a cheat, since it technically airs on TV on some Direct TV channel that rich people (read ‘people with cable’) get, but I’m going to put it here anyway, because it’s well-represented on Vimeo.  The show’s concept is an interesting one:  take one place on earth and show the various ways that literature has risen from said place.  The first episode is about Ft. Green, Brooklyn, and features author Jennifer Egan talking about the Brooklyn Navy Yard and actor Jeffrey Wright reading a poem by Walt Whitman in front of the Walt Whitman Homes.  It’s visually awesome and very well produced.  [vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/4515759[/vimeo]
  • Open Book.  Hey, wait a minute.  There’s another Open Book?  Yes, this one is a collaboration between Slate and the NYU Creative Writing Progam.  I think one of these two needs to consider a change of name, because it’s very confusing.  But who am I to say?  There’s a few issues with this show.  It’s a pretty straightforward talk show, which as we just discussed, might need to be gussied up a bit for the web.  Still, they have some compelling guests and they have a refreshing tendency to break from the hype cycle (many of their guests don’t have new books out), something I think the book industry could benefit from.  Here’s an episode featuring Amy Hempel.

So what do you say?  What would your ideal book video internet show be like?  How would you the show to involve the online audience?  Would it be a round table discussion or some other format?  Leave your brilliant ideas for the future of online video in the comments.