Sign that says time for change with led lights in background.

Demanding Diversity with BookTube

BookTubers are a well-known part of the book-loving community. BookTube is the place on YouTube people go to hear others rave about books they love or discuss all things wrong with the books they don’t. Throw in some fun bookish tags and it is the perfect space for readers to get more content when they aren’t curled up with a book. That being said, BookTube has gone through some important changes over the years and one vital change is that the personalities and faces of these channels are becoming more and more diverse.
Diversity is something the publishing industry has long struggled with, but BookTube isn’t letting that stop them. Anyone who has a passion or an interest can upload a video onto YouTube, and that is no different for the book community. These videos afford BookTubers an audience and platform to speak their minds and call for change, much like the creator Christina Mitchell does consistently. Mitchell’s channel takes the issue of lack of diversity head on and calls out the community in dedicated videos. One video, which criticized the attendance of BookCon, resulted in the Con giving her a panel to speak on issues that concern her, such as diversity.
Mitchell’s example of speaking out isn’t the only headway the community is making on diversity. YouTube recently released a trailer for a BookTube video featuring David Sedaris. While Sedaris is highlighted, this video also features a panel of numerous BookTubers including Cindy Pham, Joel Kim Booster, Jake Roper, and Francine Simone, a small selection of people that still showed a more diverse set of content creators from the platform. This support from YouTube itself shows that people are taking notice and their platforms are just as successful as the white creators from BookTube’s inception. This is also a show of growth as YouTube’s previous feature with Michelle Obama consisted of a largely white panel of BookTubers. A HuffPost article was even written with Black BookTubers criticising the choices of creators included in this video and the missed opportunity YouTube had to highlight a marginalized group of the book community. These outspoken creators are a huge part of the visibility of these issues and a huge step into holding the publishing industry as a whole accountable.
BookTubers aren’t just making callout videos—they are also uplifting authors and books that are already representative of the diversity they seek. They are still coming up with popular BookTube content while also featuring people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and so much more. For example, Cindy Pham from readwithcindy even posts an annual Asian readathon in the month of May to highlight Asian Heritage Month. This event is specifically targeted for Asian authors, characters, or both. These creators are using their platforms to both create a positive and fun space for book lovers while also giving a spotlight to issues they care about. These content creators are unapologetically calling for change out of love for reading, something their audiences can no doubt identify with. BookTubers are making it quite clear that they won’t stand for the industry’s lack of diversity, and with their impact we can look forward to how that will change the face of the industry in the years to come.

YA Authors and Social Engagement

With new literary technology, books have rapidly taken on new forms and ideas. From digital to print to audiobooks, the accessibility of what literature offers—and who specifically it is being offered to—is expanding at an exponential rate. But with that, the influence and role of the author has also changed. The archetypal author of yore was seen as typically introverted and unreachable outside of a P.O. box. Even if an author was idolized or prone to interviews (as, say, Stephen King was in his heyday), there were limited resources for knowing the author beyond the book.

Today, there is an entire world of social media enabling authors to engage with fans, which helps them learn about marketability, understand the reception of their work, and see their audience in a whole new way. We see this popping up particularly among YA authors, who generally have a great appreciation for the loyalty and passion of their young readers. More importantly, it has opened the door for authors to adopt the additional role of a social media influencer, and the results of this new development are delightful and heartwarming, particularly in the YA community.

John Green, a highly popular best-selling YA author, was one of the first noteworthy authors to engage a young audience on a personal level. He and his brother Hank Green (also a YA author) began utilizing the YouTube platform back in 2007, shortly after the release of John’s first novel, Looking For Alaska. Their channel, Vlogbrothers, became quite popular in the early years, and both brothers worked to encourage their growing fan base of millennials to actively engage with the problems they saw in the world they were inheriting. In December 2007, the brothers created the Project for Awesome, a movement turned charity that encouraged their young audience to use their voices for whatever charities they felt passionate about. The project continues to this day, and in the past five years it has annually raised between $1.5 million and $2 million for various causes.

Both brothers write YA fiction that is highly influenced by the characteristics and struggles of their fans, and the content of their books represents this. The main character in John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars is based on Esther Earl, a young fan turned friend of his who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006. The two met online in 2007 and then met in person at LeakyCon, a Harry Potter conference, in 2009. In 2014, a handful of years after her death, Earl’s personal writings were compiled and published in a book entitled This Star Won’t Go Out, which appeared on the New York Times YA best-seller list that same year. Hank’s 2018 book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, centers around recent college graduate April May, who is shoved into internet fame after a shocking discovery. Much of the novel questions the novelty of fame and explores the power of telling your story and the failures and growing pains that can accompany the choices you make for yourself.

These authors have been wildly successful, both in book sales and in personal influence on the lives of those who follow their daily thoughts, blogs, and projects. While social media can be a tool for the marketing and sales of a book, it can go much further. At the end of the day, YA authors are creating a space that goes beyond the stories they tell. They are highly caring, empathetic people who have something to give to a younger generation in whom they are putting a lot of hope. The world of social media and YA is one of understanding that allows young readers to feel seen, encouraged, and empathized with by showing them bravery in characters who are like them.

From Digital to Analog: Why Digital Content Gets Turned into Books

Take a walk through a bookstore, and I bet you will find a surprising amount of books displayed on the shelves that used to be something else before they were also books. Perhaps they are also Instagram profiles, popular blogs, YouTube channels, Tumblr accounts, or Tweets. There is a trend in book publishing where publishers are sourcing new book concepts from pre-existing media content, particularly digital content. This trend aligns with the rise in print book non-fiction sales over the past year. This rise in sales especially included memoir, cookbooks, and photography books—all books commonly sourced from digital material.

When so much original content is accessible for little to no cost online in digital form, why is that this content is being turned into and sold as physical books, and what does this say about the value of a book? Why would someone buy the book when they can get the content for free? After much research, I have found a few main reasons why someone might be willing to pay for one of these books.

For starters, books are used as collectibles. The psychology behind the desire to own and keep a physical object is part of the reason why we collect physical books. In a study about preferring physical books over ebooks conducted by the journal Electronic Markets, focus group participants reported that they use their physical book collections to express their identity to guests who may see their bookshelves.

Another contributing factor for the phenomenon of making books out of digital content could be the movement of reviving old media as a part of a postdigital revolution—a trend holding on to the technological past. The postdigital phenomenon suggests that millennials, in particular, are keen to use outdated technology as novelty items as a way of rejecting the digital revolution. Some examples of this include the resurgence of Polaroid cameras and the recent rise in vinyl record sales.

Lastly, books can be tokens of personality. Perhaps people buy them as tokens of fan dedication to the influencers who write them. These books may be used as real-life souvenirs of virtual experiences. They are a physical reminder to ourselves and others of how that experience helps formulate our identity.

There is no shortage of examples of influencers’ digital content being transferred to the physical page. Instagram, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, and webcomics have all inspired the creation of print books. Some examples include, but certainly aren’t limited to, The Dogist (Instagram), This Book Loves You (YouTube), and The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library (Twitter). Perhaps this strange concept can be mutually beneficial for both the consumer and the publisher. How can acquiring these types of books be useful for marketing teams?

Publishing influencers as authors and popular content as books has useful marketing advantages. A book that is easily marketable is less of a risk for a publisher to acquire because books easily marketed are books easily sold. In the case of most of the books mentioned previously, the author worked as a spokesperson for their book. These authors, or influencers, also were taken on by publishers because they had a built-in following. There is a pre-existing audience for their book, and publishers will have to make little to no effort to reach that audience. Along with these pre-existing audiences come fans and established online communities surrounding the influencer and their content. As many marketing professionals know, fans serve as excellent grassroots intermediaries for spreading word of mouth publicity for a book.

Another important marketing advantage for these books is their established brands. They come with a pre-formed brand aesthetic because digital content is typically visual content. Solid branding, especially in social media, is proven to be effective in marketing books. Books with well-branded authors and a strong social media presence tend to be more successful. It is also important to know that their already-existing metadata makes them already identifiable and searchable online.

Bookstores are also embracing digital media-based content, which makes it easy for the customer to locate and easy for the publisher to market. Barnes & Nobel once posted an article about “Bestselling Books By Our Favorite YouTube Stars.” Bookstores also have been known to make in-store displays playing off the theme of social media content becoming books.

By factoring in recent sales trends and rising competitiveness between new books being published, I believe it is safe to say that sourcing new book concepts from existing media will continue to play a major role in the future of book publishing.