Books have long been made into movies. Now, they're heading straight to YouTube.
Author Michael Connelly adapted the first chapter of his new murder mystery, Echo Park, into a 10-minute film for YouTube and other online video sites in an attempt to attract readers.
Harry Bosch, Connelly's dark protagonist who is a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department, made his brooding debut online before Echo Park reached bookstores last month. The video, shot for about $10,000, ends with the tagline: "Read what happens next in Echo Park.'"
"I do believe this was a tool in getting people excited," said Connelly. "It was on the Internet, it was on YouTube, before the book was out. It sharpened excitement. So when the book came out, they were ready to buy it. I do know statistically that the first week of sales for Echo Park was the best first week of sales I've had."
Book publishers face the same challenge bedeviling all media: how to compete for attention in an ever-growing entertainment market that includes TV, cable, online social networks, downloadable music and video, podcasts and video games.
The average time Americans spend reading has declined from 117 hours a year in 1999 to about 105 in 2006. Meanwhile, about 172,000 books were published last year - more than 19 new titles published for every hour of every day of every week.
"The author and the publisher realize there isn't just clutter in the marketplace, there is massive clutter in terms of competing with other books," said Albert N. Greco, senior researcher at the Institute for Publishing Research in New Jersey. "Then, you compete with newspapers and magazines and video games and cable and satellite and music and doing nothing."
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux was among the first to try YouTube as a way to bring literature to the masses.
In August, it released a video book trailer to coincide with the release of The Mystery Guest, a memoir from French writer Gregoire Bouillier. Others were soon to follow.
Broadway Books hired Santa Monica-based VidLit to create a book video of humorist Bill Bryson's memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, using an audio book reading and black-and-white family photos.
"If you never saw Bill Bryson before, you definitely get an idea of what it's about," VidLit founder Liz Dubelman said.
Little, Brown and Co. produced a movie-slick trailer for Echo Park as part of an extended promotional campaign that mixes traditional book readings and television appearances with less conventional approaches, like podcasts and downloadable audio clips.
"The philosophy is just to create a movie-releases type of excitement for it," said Anthony Goff, an associate at Little, Brown's audio and digital media group.
Connelly wanted to do more.
He developed a script with Terrill Lee Lankford, a screenwriter whose credits include Storm Trooper and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
They selected a location with special significance - the apartment building where Robert Altman shot the classic film The Long Goodbye, from the book of the same title by author and screenwriter Raymond Chandler, creator of hard-boiled Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe.
Lankford hired actors Tim Abell, who appeared most recently in Soldier of God, and Bill Bolender, whose television and movie credits include The Shawshank Redemption.
Lankford and Connelly hope the online video does more than spur book sales. They hope it will persuade Hollywood studios to bring Bosch to the big screen.
"We're not saying this is studio-level quality, but that piece is about mood, it's about atmospherics. That's what Harry Bosch is about," Lankford said. "It was kind of a steppingstone to say Harry Bosch could exist. We could make a movie of this."
Dawn C. Chmielewski writes for the Los Angeles Times.