As society continues to become increasingly digitalised, the book industry has had to move away from traditional publishing methods and practices in order to remain of interest to the public. From publication formats to content, book publishing has changed significantly within the last decade and, although sometimes reluctantly undertaken, these changes have enabled the industry to reach a wider and more global audience. According to Ofcom;
‘The average weekly hours spent online has increased in total since 2013 to more than 20 hours’ Ofcom, 2015
Social media, in particular, has facilitated a new dynamic between the producer and consumer. By enabling a new form of interaction with their audience, producers, such as book publishers, are able to reach out to their readers successfully. According to Katie Leimkuehler from Social Media Today, the internet has also enabled publishers to gain an effective form of marketing momentum before their books are released and creating buzz that they would never have had before.
John Green is a successful author, writer and producer who has flourished within the genre of young adult fiction. So much so that there are over twenty-four million print copies available in more than fifty-five languages. With multiple titles taking pride of place in the New York Times’ ‘Bestsellers’ list, John Green has been graced with countless awards for his writing.
Two of which include Paper Towns (2008), winner of the 2009 Edgar Award for ‘Best Young Adult Mystery’ (John Green Books, 2016), and The Fault of Our Stars (2012) which was chosen as ‘TIME Magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 1012’. John Green is also one half of the “vlogbrothers” on YouTube and is a regular user of a various social media platforms including Twitter and Tumblr. It is through his use of social media that The Fault in Our Stars was titled as a ‘bestseller’ before it even went to print. He achieved this through Twitter and used the platform to heavily promote his work as well as tweeting promises to sign all copies that were pre-ordered. As well as Twitter, another social network being increasingly used within the industry as a marketing medium is YouTube and it is through this medium that a new form of user-generated marketing came to the attention of publishers.
The Phenomenon of YouTube
YouTube has more than one billion users worldwide and is used by almost a third of internet users who spend millions of hours watching videos and generating billions of views. The use of YouTube as a popular social network, particularly within the eighteen to thirty-four demographic, soon came to the attention of publishers as knkPublishing found that ‘YouTube is 60% more popular than television’. It then comes to no surprise that, when watching YouTube content, the preferred platform is their smartphone with ‘more than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices’. It is also through this medium that the standard viewing session is gradually increasing and now averages at roughly forty minutes.
This social media platform has also risen significantly in popularity over the past decade and continues to grow in both the number of users and subscribers on a daily basis. From gaming to beauty videos, this platform has become a popular medium for uploading and viewing online videos created by anyone who is keen to share their interests to the world through a mobile screen. This has caught the attention of multiple industries, including book publishing, as a means to interact and engage their audience and, more importantly, market their products. It is now commonly known that a ‘video of someone talking about your business or succeeding with your product can be much more powerful than a written testimonial.’ This can only suggest that companies who do not take advantage of this marketing strategy are making a crucial mistake.
Book publishers in particular have, in recent years, developed current marketing strategies by using YouTube as a means of reaching out to their younger and more technology-driven audiences. Over the past few years the migration from print to digital book formats has taken a significant toll on print sales with revenues in adult fiction in particular declining by over one-hundred and fifty million pounds since 2009. The Bookseller’s editor Phillip Jones shared his opinion on the matter by saying:
‘[t]he ebook has quite demonstrably hit the commercial end of the fiction market’ Guardian, 2015
Due to digital platforms becoming increasingly preferred by readers, the industry had to find new innovative ways to engage with their audience. Marketing Director Kristin Fassler, from Penguin Random House, agreed with the significance of the platform as she was quoted saying ‘YouTube is the second-largest search engine, so video is very important’. Book publishers now use YouTube to disseminate marketing content such as interviews with authors and book trailers. However a new phenomenon has developed through the platform which has resulted in an extremely effective marketing technique for publishers but with one twist; it is user-generated.
The New Reading Community of BookTubers
The ‘BookTuber’ is an online digital community of avid readers who want to share their passion for books with a global audience by regularly uploading book orientated videos. The BookTubing community creates user-generated content which has contributed significantly to the success rate for the publishing industry in regards to online marketing. These engaging ‘vlogs’ are often either book hauls showcasing their recent book purchases, reviews, recommendations, reading challenges as a form of promotion, or even bookshelf tours.
The content produced gains a considerable amount of views and can result in the owner of the channel becoming a well-know face within the community. BookTubers such as ‘polandbananasBOOKS, ‘abooktopia’, ‘Katytastic’, ‘jessethereader’ and ‘PeruseProject’ dominate this increasingly popular community with each of them having over one-hundred-thousand subscribers, gaining more than ten-million views. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the industry has started to get involved with this phenomenon as a marketing strategy. By doing so it guarantees a high volume of publicity surrounding the product which will then, in turn, encourage book sales.
The secret behind the success of BookTube stems from the fact that these vloggers fall into the same, if not similar, demographic to those they aim their videos at. This then means that they are creating visually appealing content that their audience are guaranteed to enjoy and engage with. The younger generation’s media consumption and online behaviour has enabled this community to grow into a significant resource for the publishing industry. knkPublishing found that 70% of peers within the eighteen to thirty-eight demographic said they preferred using BookTube as a means of finding new content to read. The peers within the study claimed this was due to the ‘perceived authenticity of the respective BookTubers and authentic exchanges within the community’. Therefore, suggesting that due to their honest and ‘authentic’ book reviews, they are successfully selling publications to the global online audience. According to Knut Nicholas Krause from knkPublishing, there has been evidence of this as three book recommendations from respected BookTubers have resulted in the publications hitting the top one hundred and sold more than six million copies.
However, recently there has been a change in dynamic within the BookTube community as it continues to become increasingly popular with individual channels gaining more views and subscribers every day. This shift has resulted in the user-generated network becoming more commercialised and professionalised as publishers begin to work alongside well-known BookTubers. Unfortunately, as these channels are entering the realm of professionalisation, ‘[t]he question of authenticity has arisen’. If BookTubers are becoming successful enough to sign deals with publishing companies, are they still conveying their own thoughts and opinions when producing sponsored content?
Having said that, the beauty and gaming communities that are fully established on YouTube are still maintaining their popularity amongst viewers as they continue to collaborate with brands and organisations and producing sponsored videos. According to Amanda Kirkham from Business 2 Community, is it the deals and sponsorships that are necessary for YouTubers to become full-time contributors to the platform as well as providing inspiration for future and aspiring channels. (2014) The commercial shift within the BookTubing community was perhaps inevitable and it is most likely that is will follow in the footsteps of existing channels which gain income from producing sponsored videos.
The BookTubing community is growing in terms of channels, views and subscribers and publishers are now aware of this trending social network as an efficient marketing strategy. Unfortunately, this user-generated community may become increasingly commercialised, and could affect the level of authenticity and trust perceived by the subscribers of existing BookTube channels. However, this network of passionate and enthusiastic readers will most likely maintain this phenomenon, as it has transformed the private pleasure of reading into a social hub of interaction. YouTube continues to attract millions of subscribers with nearly five billion videos being watched every day. Therefore the publishing industry will be able maintain the online interaction needed to remain existent within a digital-orientated society.
Feature image source: © About To Read, 2015