Before reading this article I was totally ignorant about even the concept of BookTube. That may be generational given the apparent ages of the participants featured in this article. As an avid reader myself, I’m thrilled to see any approach that encourages people not to stop reading anything but periodicals after they leave school. Now to dive into the article and try a few to the featured participants’ videos.
And yes, there are many links in the article to worthy representatives of Booktube. Check it out.
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF BOOKTUBE, ACCORDING TO BOOKTUBERS
Danika Ellis May 26, 2021
BookTube is the bookish community on YouTube, made of up a wide range of different channels making regular book reviews, hauls, tags, discussion videos, reading vlogs, and more. There is no official definition of what counts as BookTube or who can call themselves a BookTuber, but if the content is mostly book-related, it’s a safe bet that it falls under the umbrella.
While book-related videos have been made since YouTube’s inception, the BookTube community began in earnest around 2010. It was originally very small: BookTubers tended to know and follow each other, and the comments sections would be full of other BookTubers’ comments. Since those humble beginnings, it’s grown dramatically.
I made my own BookTube channel back in 2013, though my videos have been sporadic. At the time, there was very little LGBTQ content on BookTube, which is why I wanted to contribute. Luckily, times have changed in the years since I started, with a lot more diversity in what kinds of books get coverage. I find it fascinating to look at how this community has grown and adapted over time, including what it’s lost and gained along the way.
I wanted to take a snapshot of BookTube as it is today, about a decade in. I reached out to a variety of BookTubers — some with large subscriber counts, some smaller, all interested in a variety of books and content styles — and heard back from about a dozen. Each of them has been on BookTube for years, and here’s what they have to say about the state of BookTube today, how we got there, and what might be next. I will be linking each of their channels, and I highly recommend you check them all out! I’ve also included some of their videos throughout the post.
FROM CLOSE COMMUNITY TO SUBCULTURES
When asked about what’s changed since these creators started BookTube, the first thing that came up was sheer numbers! Rincey of Rincey Reads (and who used to run the Book Riot YouTube channel!) noted, “When I started [in 2012], it was easy to keep track of who is in the community, and now I discover new people every day who have a significant following that I had just never heard of.” CeCe of Problems of a Book Nerd pointed out that some BookTubers have found popularity now and broken through into large subscription counts, which wasn’t possible before. “There is a constant influx of new creators who push the envelope every single day, and when I look at my sub box, I always find videos that I never in a million years would have thought to make.”
When Saajid of Books are My Social Life started BookTube in 2015, it was “fairly popular,” but “over the years it’s really grown into its own solid sub-community of YouTube. I think channels have the potential to grow bigger now than they did back then, and there are more opportunities for fairly smaller creators to work with publishers, sponsors and authors, whereas that was something we only saw with the exceptionally big YouTube channels.”
When Nicole of Books & Waffles started in 2014, there were very few subgroups on BookTube, such as channels that focused on a particular genre. Channels tended to have a broad focus, and they were almost all small: no one expected to make money or get a lot of subscribers on BookTube.
Nicole also points out that YouTube as a whole has changed a lot since the early days of BookTube: “No one blinks at a mention of sponsorship now, which in my opinion is for the better. Are we finally valuing the time that comes into creating a video? I hope so.” But while the community’s growth has brought a lot of positive changes, it lacks the closeness of those early days: “the sheer size of the BookTube community makes it harder to feel like there is an actual community there. We’re all in our own bubbles now, doing our own thing.”
FROM TAG TEMPLATES TO CRITICAL DISCUSSIONS
In the early days of BookTube, there tended to be a lot of takes on the same format of content, such as tags, book hauls, and monthly TBRs and wrap-ups. “When I originally joined,” CeCe says, “I think BookTube was much more rigid in terms of content. We were all doing very similar videos because those were the type of videos that built the platform.” Adri of Perpetual Pages agrees, calling book tags, book challenges, and book discussions the “video currency” of the early BookTube community. Even book reviews were discouraged, Adri shares: “There was a lot of discourse around whether reviews were worth making or not, since they tended to get lower viewership, or whether reviews were too spoilery and therefore ‘not helpful’.”
While those early styles of videos continue, there is a lot more variety and creativity on the platform now. Adri says, “Book tags are still around and occasionally get created, but now the community has shifted towards longer form videos like reading vlogs and themed videos where a creator might deep-dive into three or four titles. There’s also a lot of focus on reading challenges, read-a-thons, TBR games, and niche recommendation videos. Even with the 2020 COVID pandemic, we saw another shift in BookTube where there’s now more interest in liveshows and live ‘reading sprint’ hours where people tune in, share space, and read together in real time.”
If you’re not familiar, Njeri of Onyx Pages started Quarantined Pages in March of 2020, which was hosted by several different BookTubers. They would have Zoom calls where people could tune in and read, a way of spending time together while everyone was apart. This became hugely popular and even made the news! It shows how BookTube can adapt to whatever viewers need at the moment — especially with creative BookTubers like Njeri leading.
Marines of My Name is Marines also found that when she joined BookTube in 2015, “it was more difficult to find channels that were providing critical reviews. In fact, a lot of the community conversation happening around the time I joined was about whether or not we should give negative reviews or low star ratings at all. I feel like that has changed a lot in the years since, and while there are still people whose content is more focused on the non-review aspects of reading and collecting, it’s much easier to find channels that critically engage with media!” Speaking of critical discussions, one of the biggest topics that came up in what has changed from the early days of BookTube is the culture around diversity and inclusion — but we’ll be discussing that more in depth soon!
THE BEST THINGS ABOUT BOOKTUBE
A BOUNTY OF BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
I asked BookTubers what their favorite things about BookTube are, and unsurprisingly, one of them is the books! Sanne of Books and Quills says, “My favourite thing as a BookTube watcher is that I now have so many book recommendations at my disposal, and they’re super tailored because you know which BookTubers have similar tastes to yours. I really struggled finding good book recommendations before I joined BookTube, which is definitely not a problem anymore now!” Bear of Et Tu, Brody? agrees: “The best thing about BookTube is the fact that there’s quite literally something for everyone. The YA side of BookTube seems to get the most acknowledgement, but there are people making fantastic content for any and every genre, age range, or format you can imagine.”
Many BookTubers got started because they didn’t have a lot of people to discuss books with. Joining the BookTube community means being surrounded by people who share your passion! As Rincey says, the best thing about being on BookTube is “how excited people get about books and reading. That type of excitement is contagious.”
READING AS A COMMUNITY AFFAIR
The biggest thing people cited as a plus of being a BookTuber, though, is the community. Cece says, “I love being a BookTuber. I love the friends I’ve made, online and those I’ve met in person. I love talking to other people who love books. I love being creative and making content about books because that’s something I could only dream about doing when I was a bookish kid. Reading always seemed very solitary when I was younger, and I love how much reading in my life now gets to be about sharing my passion with others.”
The joy of turning the solitary act of reading into a bonding experience is echoed by other BookTubers. Saajid says, “Reading is often viewed as a solitary activity, but BookTubing turns it into a community affair, which I deeply appreciate.”
Adri agrees that “The best thing about BookTube, by far, is the community. While the community is not perfect and has its own deeply-embedded systemic problems, if you find people who you genuinely connect with, it creates this reciprocal bond of joy and support.
“Especially because we’re a community that’s so focused on stories, that creates a real opportunity for empathy and vulnerability that you don’t really get to see in other online communities. It’s a two-fold experience on BookTube where you’re sharing someone else’s story but you also have the chance to connect to the story of your own life as you go — whether it’s showing people glimpses of your life in a reading vlog or just verbally explaining something a story reminded you of or sharing how it connects to you on a personal level.
“And if people connect with what you’re saying or what you’re sharing, it creates such a genuine bond and it opens the door to them sharing not only their thoughts, but their experiences in return. BookTube, at its best, is an ongoing conversation between people who are passionate about stories, and there will always be something magical about making those connections and helping people find the stories that speak to them.”
While every community feels like they have a unique connection, I have to agree with Saajid here: “BookTube has a kind of intimacy that is lacking in other YouTube communities. Even though we’ve grown considerably in recent years, I would say that we’ve still managed to retain that friendly and intimate atmosphere.” While, as Adri pointed out, the community has its problems, it’s kept a welcoming and supportive atmosphere, not a competitive one between creators.
CeCe discussed how the community supported her at a vulnerable time: “We have created a place where we can be passionate about reading, sure, but this community has become a place where I feel safe and loved. I came out online and to most of the people in my life in a BookTube video, and the support I received then and continue to receive is just a small sign of how much the community means to BookTube.”
While books bring people to the community, it’s the connections that make them stay. Marines says, “The reason I’ve stuck around for six years is because I can’t imagine not chatting with everyone about what I’m reading.” Nicole has been hosting Hannibal-themed live streams every Saturday, and “it’s the best part of my week.” Many BookTubers mentioned making lifelong friends through BookTube!
THE WORST THINGS ABOUT BOOKTUBE
“THE GRIND NEVER ENDS”
If you’ve never made a YouTube video, you may not realize the amount of time and work involved. Editing along is a time-intensive process that can be excruciating — personally, I find it tedious, and it’s sometimes hard to look at your own face for an hour or more at a time, trying to stitch together flubbed sentences into something comprehensible. Setting up and filming is also a time-intensive process, and one that rewards having specific equipment and space. When I asked what BookTubers thought were the worst things about BookTube, this intense time and energy investment was near the top.
“I put about 60 hours of work into every video I make,” Bear estimates. “Planning, reading, filming, editing, uploading, description boxes, tags, it all takes up more time than most people think. I spend an hour minimum making every thumbnail. I also work a full-time day job and have done so throughout the pandemic. I’m engaged. I don’t even know how I have time to sleep! It’s a lot of extra work and stress that I’ve decided to put on myself, but I love making content.” In a recent video, Bear discussed how this stress affected their enjoyment of reading.
Adri agrees that “it’s a very time-consuming ‘hobby’ that many of us put hours and hours of labor into. Not only are we taking time to read these books, but we’re constantly thinking of content that relates to the books we’re reading, we’re writing reviews, we’re cross-posting content on multiple platforms, we’re scripting, we’re filming, we’re editing. The grind never ends.
“Of all the bookish online medium, probably with the exception of book blogging, BookTube is one of the most long-form platforms to sustain. Obviously, those of us who do it hopefully enjoy it and take joy from the process and the community, but I don’t think people realize how much work is going on behind the scenes. And, related to that, another frustrating aspect of being on BookTube is putting in all that work only to have people leave comments that show they very clearly didn’t watch the video, because if they had, they would have come across the answer to their question.”
Ashley of Bookish Realm points out that on top of the time investment, there’s also the need to always have new, exciting ideas: “the most challenging thing about BookTube can be coming up with creative content. Sometimes it feels like you can only talk about books in so many different ways before it feels redundant. However, I think that a lot of us keep doing it because it’s our passion.”
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
This time and energy investment can be even more difficult if you start comparing yourself to other BookTubers. Nicole says, “It does feel sometimes like you have to be on every single app, read every single hyped book, post every single day to be relevant. I just want to talk to people, entertain them, make their day better and not think about my content too much but is it realistic? I don’t think so.”
Since most of the people joining BookTube read far more books than the average, it can create a warped sense of your own reading. Rincey says, “The worst thing for me is the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ type of feeling that comes with being part of a community of exception readers. Whether it be with the number of books I read each month to the specific books I read or the number of books I buy. Or even the comparison to the popularity of channels and views.”
Sanne adds that on top of the pressure of creating original videos and trying to get views, BookTube has the unique aspect of feeling the need to read enough to generate content, which is a big time commitment in itself. “I’ve definitely gone through periods where I’ve felt the pressure, but it’s so important to keep checking in with yourself and remember the reasons why you started making videos in the first place! And I think BookTube viewers get similar experiences, where they feel left behind because they can’t read the new ‘it’ book, or they feel like everyone is constantly talking about the same books.”
DIVERSITY & BOOKTUBE
This was the topic that kept coming up in every answer: how diverse and inclusive is BookTube? It makes sense, because this is a conversation happening within the community — and it has been for some time. Saajid and Rincey both talked about nuance missing from these kinds of discussions. Rincey says, “I think the simplest answer is [BookTube] does about as well as publishing and the rest of the world does with diversity. There are people who care a lot about diversity and all of its different meanings and they are constantly championing books by authors from a variety of backgrounds and books from smaller presses, but they do make up a smaller percentage of the overall. I think just like in every aspect of the world, it is very easy to find people who only read the most popular books and do not pay attention to diversity in any sense of the word.”
THE HOMOGENEITY OF BOOKTUBE, THEN AND NOW
Many BookTubers noted that the community has gotten a lot better than where it began. Adri, a queer, trans, nonbinary Latinx creator, remembers “When I joined back in 2013, BookTube was a very White space with a capital ‘W’. It was also very cis, very straight, very able-bodied, and very neurotypical.”
Cindy of With Cindy says, “When I joined [in 2018], I grew very quickly and became the first ‘big’ (over 100k) non-white-passing BookTuber. (Hannah from A Clockwork Reader was the first and only big POC BookTuber before then.) It was an anomaly to see a BookTube channel grow that quickly, or have many big POC creators. Now, thankfully, we’re seeing a lot more diverse creators growing in the community and gaining attention, as well as a diversity in personalities — which is great if you’re seeking diverse creators but don’t find me to be your cup of tea!”
CeCe, who came out while running a popular BookTube channel, agrees that “there has been a huge shift in the last few years when it comes to marginalized creators getting the support and viewership they deserve. We have always had queer BookTubers, BookTubers of color, disabled BookTubers, and more, but that support was not nearly as present in 2015 as it is now. I still think this community is incredibly white, and I think that the BookTubers who have been doing work the longest rarely get the credit for that work, and there is a devastating lack of support for disabled BookTubers and viewers. But our community has grown so much in terms of uplifting one another, and there is a noticeable difference between 2015 and now when it comes to marginalized creators and the support they get.”
This lack of inclusion for diverse BookTubers led to a narrow kind of book being covered on BookTube. Adri explains, “Because there was a serious lack of perspectives [in the early years of BookTube], there was much more a ‘hive mind’ mentality than there is now, where a lot of the focus and value was being put on certain books that made the rounds on every channel, big or small. While there are still definitely popular books that get a big boost from the community, I think it’s more possible now to find creators who are outside of that bubble, who are dedicated to reading within certain under-spotlighted niches, and create for the purpose of sharing and educating rather than creating an echo chamber.”
They also remember that “there were entire discussions around whether you ‘should’ mention that a book is queer or not because some people (incorrectly) felt queer identity was a ‘major spoiler’ in a book. How people talk about books has drastically shifted, especially as conversations about the importance of representation took off within the publishing industry itself, especially with Corrine Duyvis’s creation of the #OwnVoices hashtag.”
Nicole agrees that “white, straight, cis, ‘blank canvas’ YA protagonists were everywhere” back then, and adult romance was seen as a “niche genre” that didn’t appear in any big BookTubers’ videos. When diverse books were included, they weren’t always covered well: “I remember yearning for more queer bookish content and getting excited when bigger BookTubers were getting ARCs of queer books in the mail, only to be disappointed by ‘3-stars-couldn’t-connect’ ratings in their wrap-ups. (I even remember the specific title it happened to. It was Proxy by Alex London.) I loved those books and had no one to talk about them with until I found Danika Leigh Ellis [that’s me!], Cece (from Problems of a Book Nerd), Joseph (The Boy Who Cried Books), and Adri (from Perpetual Pages). In a community that was so tight-knit, I felt a little bit lonely for a while.”
“IT ISN’T ENOUGH TO JUST SAY THE WORDS”
While the community talks a lot more about diversity than they used to, several creators expressed frustration at viewers and creators who play lip service without enacting meaningful change. Cindy says, “BookTube can fall into the trap of performative activism, using books and characters as props for virtue signaling or to prove moral superiority.” Similarly, Adri discussed how marginalized creators are harmed when viewers “click subscribe because we think a creator checks off some kind of ‘diversity’ box for us instead of caring about the actual content they make.”
“I’m often frustrated by BookTubers who speak up for diversity and for inclusion and then don’t reflect any of that in their reading”, CeCe says. “It isn’t enough to just say the words, you have to be willing to do the work. It leads to BookTubers with huge audiences still recommending the same big releases by white authors even while they talk about how important it is to read from authors of color, or the constant complaints from readers that there aren’t enough queer books while queer creators are begging anyone who will listen to look at the hundreds of options that already exist.
“Complaining that you want your sub box to be more diverse, or that you want publishing to include more own voices work in their lists, is useless if you aren’t willing to step up and take on at least some of that responsibility for yourself. And while a lot of BookTubers say that they are uplifting and supporting marginalized voices it matters to look at who actually is following through on that promise.”
Adri points out that viewers have to actively work to find marginalized creators, because they won’t be equally promoted by YouTube: “The algorithm — in fact all algorithms — still very much work against people who are not white, who are not traditionally beautiful by Western standards, who are not English-speaking, who are not able-bodied or cis-passing, among a myriad of other harmful ‘standards.’” Nicole agrees: “Is it harder to grow if you don’t have a certain look or don’t talk about books that are popular? Yes. Can you now find the exact thing or creator that you’re searching for though? Yes, but you need to be proactive about it. The algorithm is certainly not going to help you look.”
SUPPORTING MARGINALIZED CREATORS
While there has been a lot of discussion on BookTube around reading more diverse books, what I heard the most from respondents was the need to shift the conversation towards supporting marginalized creators as well. “What’s important to remember about these conversations is that they go beyond books,” Ashley says. “While I think that books give us the power and knowledge to enact change, the act of reading/recommending books doesn’t solve the issues that our community and communities around the world face. We have to take what we learn from the books that we love so much and make lifelong impact and change. We have started the work, but like so many other communities we have a long way to go.”
Bear discussed being pigeonholed on BookTube: “I often feel like a token Native American creator or nonbinary creator or autistic creator, and it feels like people rarely ever try to view me outside of that lens. I usually only get invited to do things during Native American Heritage Month, which is ironically when my schedule is fully booked.”
Marines also mentioned the challenges of being a marginalized creator online: “The worst thing over the years has definitely been the challenges that come together with being a person of color making public content. I know this isn’t something exclusive to BookTube, but there are a lot of ways that being of a marginalized identity and online takes you through the wringer. BookTube as a community hasn’t always been great at supporting its creators of colors, which can add to the exhaustion. There have been times when the genuine desire to engage in conversations about representation or publishing structures or how privilege plays a role in our community have been painted as stirring up ‘drama,’ and it can be discouraging.”
Bear points out the need to stop repeating the same discussions around diversity and to start fixing systemic issues on the platform: “BookTube itself (as far as the content creators) is a very diverse community, but there’s no denying the fact that racism, queerphobia, ableism, fatphobia, it all has a negative impact on the community. From the people that the YouTube algorithm boosts to the YouTubers selected to work with publishers, and even the way that community members engage with each other’s content. I wish we as a community would steer away from the conversation of ‘diversity’ and start actively working to fix these issues. The community is diverse, yes. Now let’s put in the work to support and boost the individual community members themselves.”
“From the outside it looks like our community has made strides — and it has — but that doesn’t change the fact that the biggest creators on the platform are still overwhelmingly white and cisgender,” CeCe says. “When I started making videos in 2015, I didn’t know of any big BookTubers who were queer. Carving out a space for queer readers to loudly love queer books took work, and that work has to keep going if our community actually wants to be a safe place for all readers. I can’t believe how much the queer book landscape has evolved in five years. It absolutely blows me away when I think about the amount of work it took in the beginning to create the kind of inclusive content that I wanted to. But diversity doesn’t begin and end with the LGBTQIA+ community, and that’s where BookTube seems to have a hard time.”
Other creators agreed that while the community is diverse, the most popular BookTubers with the biggest subscriber counts are almost all white (and straight, cis, abled, neurotypical, etc.).
“A lot of what dictates a ‘successful’ BookTube channel is so deeply tied to privilege and access, which are both rooted in systemic oppression, and that’s something we still don’t talk about or factor into how we cultivate our BookTube feeds,” Adri points out. “Whether something — or someone — ‘looks high quality’ or ‘looks professional’ is tied not only to privilege, but to our biases. We talk about how the algorithm favors creators who post consistently, but we don’t talk about the disadvantage that presents to disabled creators, creators who experience chronic pain, and creators who are dealing with mental health issues that impact their ability to create consistently. We talk about representation and accessibility, but we still don’t see even a fraction of the community captioning their videos.”
Marines speaks to how the creative output of smaller BookTubers can also end up benefiting big BookTubers the most: “I’d love to see more credit go to smaller creators who are doing creative work or who are providing the community with most of the language they use to talk about topics of diversity. Those speaking points or creative ideas are adopted by the largest creators, who then reap all the benefits of someone else’s hard work. I’d love to see more boosting and less co-opting.”
BOOKTUBE’S GLOBAL NORTH-CENTRISM
Saajid’s answer to my question about diversity on BookTube is worth a post in itself! It made me think differently about my conceptions of “diversity” and how I contribute to this issue.
“My issue with the book community is the Global North-centrism. I should say that by Global North (GN), I am referring to countries like the U.S., Canada, the UK, and to a lesser extent Ireland, other European countries, and places like Australia and NZ (which, although they are in the Southern Hemisphere, they are socio-economically and politically adjacent to the Global North).
“As someone from the Caribbean, I often feel like the conversations surrounding and celebrations of diversity are often centred in the Global North experience. For instance, when recommending or talking about diverse books, people would often recommend diverse books that are set in the U.S. or in the GN by non-white people in those countries. Even when books set outside of those countries are celebrated, they are oftentimes written by diasporic authors who are still writing with a GN lens — think The Poppy War and Clap When You Land.Sometimes it can feel a bit isolating, because I have been trying to read works by more Caribbean authors that are obscure to most of the platform, and that most people do not seem to be interested in.
“The community also loves to celebrate heritage months like Black History Month in February, AAPI Heritage Month in May, etc. These months are very American and were created to celebrate ethnic and diasporic communities in America, but the rest of us are sometimes expected to be a part of it and observe it. I have been asked to do stuff and collaborate for AAPI Heritage month, but although I am Asian-descended, I am not Asian American, so I typically decline because I feel like that is not my space.
“Now do not get me wrong, I think it’s excellent that people in the community are celebrating diversity, but I just wish that people would acknowledge that their discussion of diversity is limited to the American context — and that’s fine. Global diversity is tricky, and I do not expect Americans to talk about diversity in the Caribbean for instance, I just wish that they would stop applying their very American conversations and experiences to the rest of the world.
“Another thing worth pointing out is the privilege that most GN BookTubers have. They tend to be more accessible to major publishers (who are based in the GN) and can thus receive PR, books, and collaborations more easily than those of us in the Global South. And monetization of videos is only available in some countries. A lot of GS countries, like mine (Trinidad and Tobago) are not eligible for monetization, so I cannot make any AdSense off of my videos even though my analytics more than qualify. I talk more about this in this video that I made on my channel, where I delve deeper into the topic of Global North centrism.” (The video below.)
WHAT’S NEXT FOR BOOKTUBE?
While no one can tell the future, I asked BookTubers to predict how they thought BookTube will change in the future.
THE BOOKTUBE FORMATS OF THE FUTURE
Sanne has been making BookTube videos “before BookTube was a thing!” She started in 2008, inspired by other YouTubers who included books in their content. She notes that “It’s been so interesting seeing trends come and go, and also seeing similar discussions and conversations go around and come back again as new people join the community.” Marines agrees that “BookTube seems to follow cycles. Things become popular in and out of season and other platforms crop up and garner excitement.”
Speaking of other platforms, Bear predicts “BookTube moving to shorter content. BookTok is really taking off, and people’s attention spans growing shorter and shorter, so I think the next step for BookTube will be quick, easily digestible content in contrast to the hour-long vlogs and three-hour liveshows we’ve got going on right now.”
Nicole thinks that content will move to “more general entertainment content and less content about reading, which sounds counterintuitive but actually makes a lot of sense. More channels mean more book recommendations but realistically people have only so much time.” She adds, “That’s why challenge videos, videos about adaptations, and nostalgic content about older popular books are doing so well.” CeCe believes the trend towards more creative, less formulaic content will continue — and who know what will come out of that!
THE FUTURE OF BOOKTUBERS
Many creators talked about the close community on BookTube, hoping that stays intact in the future. “The only thing that I hope is that we will maintain that sense of intimacy,” Saajid says.“I would hate it if we became like the gaming or beauty communities.”
Though the community has changed over time, Marines says there is one constant: “I think the amazing thing about BookTube is that the core of it keeps steady: a bunch of story-lovers sharing their passion for books online. I hope that that sticks around for many more years.” Ashley agrees that “I hope that creators in the community remain just as passionate as they’ve always been.”
Other BookTubers discussed how the connection between publishers and BookTubers could strengthen over time:
“I’m always hoping for more collaboration (including paid ones) between publishers, bookshops, authors and BookTube,” Sanne says. “I’m of course influenced by working in YA publishing for the last seven years and also setting up collaborations with BookTubers (and doing my own partnerships with publishers), but I think there’s so much learning left to do and so many untapped ways for everyone to work together.”
Adri agrees that publishing has recently began to view BookTube as a “marketing tool,” and that will hopefully develop into “more paid partnership opportunities for creators and facilitating more collaboration between creators and industry professionals.” Cindy agrees and predicts “BookTube will continue to have more opportunities to collaborate with production companies like the YouTube Original Series and Netflix.”
Many BookTubers expressed hopes that BookTube will be more diverse and inclusive in the future. Adri says, “I hope it becomes a place that values marginalized creators instead of tokenizing them, and I hope it becomes a platform that is accessible and safe for as many people as possible. I hope it continues to be a space that encourages transparency and vulnerability, and a community where we translate the power of our platform into action and empathy.”
“I hope that our community is more willing to recognize when they’ve done something wrong so that we can work to fix it, instead of comforting the person who needs to be apologizing,” CeCe says. “I hope that our community in the future can do the work. We have growth that still needs to happen and I think the most important thing BookTubers can do is be willing to see when we do something wrong. Being told that you only read books by white authors isn’t an attack, it’s stating a fact!”
THE IMPACT OF BOOKTUBE
For many of the BookTubers I asked, BookTube has has a lasting impact on their lives. “BookTube has changed my life in profound ways,” Njeri says. Adri shared, “BookTube has done so much for me as both a reader and a person” and CeCe says, “How hasn’t BookTube changed me?”
READING AS A BOOKTUBER
Of course, the most immediate effect of BookTube is on your reading life, whether as a viewer or creator. Nicole and Saajid both related that their reading before BookTube was sporadic. “Now I dedicate time to reading. I have to read or I won’t have anything to film videos about,” Nicole says. Saajid added, “I am convinced that, had I never found BookTube, I would not have become as avid of a reader as I am today.” Rincey also noticed that BookTube has caused her to be more conscious of how much time she spends reading.
Just watching those videos regularly will cause your TBR pile to increase exponentially, but Adri points out, “it’s not only that I’m reading ‘more’ in terms of quantity, but the quality of the books that I’m choosing from has increased dramatically, because there are so many wonderful people out there sharing the stories that I’m looking for.” Bear agrees that BookTube allows you to discover new books and authors: “I’m reading a lot more, picking up books I never would’ve heard of otherwise, and getting to talk about them with other cool people on the internet who are just as excited about them as I am.”
Njeri started her channel with a clear vision of what she wanted to cultivate by doing it, and that has paid off. “I started ONYX Pages because I wanted to rekindle my love of reading for pleasure and get back in the habit of reading and discovering Black Science Fiction and Fantasy. Working on my channel has allowed me to discover more authors and books and bookish communities. My reading has changed a lot: I read faster and more purposefully and I talk about books more.”
Not only did BookTubers find they read more and better book since starting BookTube, they also found themselves thinking differently about the books they read. “BookTube has helped me be more mindful of what books I read and how I explain my thoughts on them,” Cindy says. “Before I joined BookTube, my impressions of a book tended to be along the lines of ‘I liked it,’ ‘it was okay,’ ‘I didn’t like it,’ etc. Now that I post videos about books, I think more deeply about why I did or didn’t like a book and articulate my reasonings. This helps me better figure out myself as a reader and writer as well.”
Marines agrees that BookTube has helped her refine her taste in books, as well as developing her critical thinking when it comes to reading: “Through making content and practicing how I want to express my opinions, I’ve learned so much about myself and my reading tastes. I continue to get stronger and stronger as a critical reader. And I definitely pick up random books from a bookstore or the library way less frequently! BookTube is responsible for like 90% of my reading and recommendations!”
Cindy and Rincey both also noted becoming more conscious of the kinds of books they pick up. Cindy says, “Supporting marginalized authors and having diversity in your reading is highly encouraged [on BookTube] and therefore pushes you to expand your boundaries as a reader.”
BOOKTUBE AND THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY
For many BookTubers, this has also been a way to interact with the publishing industry and authors in a way not possible for the average reader. Bear has “gotten the chance to work directly with some of my favorite authors,” and Adri says, “I’m also so much more connected with the industry and with writers themselves, which younger me could’ve never imagined. So I’m hearing about projects that are coming out as soon as they’re announced or sometimes even when they’re pitched in an online pitch contest! That helps me feel so much more connected in the books I read, when I get to follow them and their creators through the early stages, and when I feel invested in a story coming to exist. I also follow so many content creators, librarians, trade reviewers, and reading organizations who are really putting in the work to connect the right books to the right readers.”
BookTube has even helped develop creators’ professional skills! Nicole only reads in English, and this development of her second language skills has helped her with job prospects. For Sanne, it was a way into her career: “it provided me with the skills to join the publishing industry as a Digital Producer and Social Media expert (especially in the field of books), which was not the goal initially but a nice side effect. Like many YouTubers, I’m totally self-taught, and the skills you can gain from setting up a BookTube channel are almost unlimited. You learn how to pitch a book to an audience, what gets other readers excited and the best ways to reach new audiences, all while learning how to edit, do public speaking and lots of other creative things.”
I actually became a Contributing Editor at Book Riot because of my BookTube channel — I took over for Rincey when she left. Although I consider writing my strength and have been writing for Book Riot and running my book blog for many years, it was BookTube that directly led to that opportunity. Now, I’m working full time at Book Riot, and who knows if that would have been possible if I hadn’t had that BookTube experience!
Outside of the publishing industry, BookTube can also open up opportunities for collaborating with other creators. Njeri says, “Last year, I started to collaborate with popular YouTuber Evelyn From the Internets. In our video series #ReadADamnBook, I curate book choices for her that we buddy read and then discuss on a live show. I was initially nervous to reach out to Evelyn, as she’s one of my favourite content creators. But, I worked up the courage to ask her, and it has been an incredible experience! She’s brilliant and exquisitely talented. And even though we’re in different generations, have very different skill sets and drastically different audience sizes.. it WORKS! I’m learning a lot from the experience, and get a special thrill from engaging with someone from outside of the BookTube community on the YouTube platform. In our latest collab, we gush about The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus-Nasah.” (Video below)
“BOOKTUBE HAS MADE ME PROUD TO BE A NERD”
Making YouTube videos can be a double-edged sword when it comes to confidence. It can make you very self-conscious of your appearance and the sound of your own voice. On the other hand, though, that constant exposure can help you become more comfortable and confident in yourself. Being part of a community of like-minded people can also help cultivate a sense of belonging. “BookTube has made me proud to be a nerd,” Ashley says. “I think growing up I felt awkward being that kid that loved to read so much, but through BookTube I’ve found confidence in what I love to do.”
“Over the years, BookTube has challenged me and shown me who I am as a writer and a content creator, but it’s also allowed me to grow more confident and to see myself (literally) in a way that most people don’t ever get to see themselves,” Adri shares. “I’ve learned about how I talk, how I present myself, how I carry myself, how I create. I’ve learned to hone in on what works for me and not somebody else, and how to create in a way that’s true to me. Being on BookTube has allowed me to find my voice. As I’ve said before, I came to BookTube during a trying time in my life where I didn’t feel like I had a voice and I didn’t feel like I had value. Being on the platform gave me a chance to practice sharing my thoughts, my perspective, my expertise, and it showed me that people actually do connect when you take the internal and make it external. Each video is an exercise in valuing myself and my thoughts, and figuring out how to make that part of the larger conversation.”
For CeCe, BookTube has been a key part of her becoming the person she is today. “When I started my channel I was a closeted incoming college junior who had read two queer books. Now I’m an out and proud lesbian, I make content every day about queer books online, and I make that content about books for a living. I’ve made lasting friendships with other BookTubers, viewers, readers, publishers, authors, and so many other people who love making bookish content.
“Getting good at talking to a camera gave me more confidence to speak in person. It gave me the power to be myself, and gave me the chance to help others. I’ve had the chance to meet several people who watch my channel and I’ve had several encounters with people who have said my videos helped them realize they were queer, or even helped them to come out. The weight of that responsibility isn’t lost on me, but I can’t believe the fact that BookTube has given me the ability to have that kind of impact.
“I have always wanted to create a platform that was about love and kindness and uplifting people. And I absolutely believe that making content that fits these things has made me a happier and more open person. I’ve been able to read hundreds of queer books and explore new worlds and stories I never would have dreamed existed when I was a 15-year-old Mormon kid in Utah.”
“BOOKTUBE HAS INTRODUCED ME TO SOME OF MY FAVORITE PEOPLE”
That sense of community has led to many BookTubers developing lifelong friendships through the platform. Bear says, “I’ve met so many amazing people, made some incredible friends” and Cindy shares that “I’ve made so many new friends from the community. I get to hang out with BookTubers in real life whenever we’re in the same city,” and she plans on (hopefully) attending a friend’s wedding soon who she met through BookTube.
Marines says, “BookTube has introduced me to some of my favorite people” and that she’s “forever grateful to BookTube for introducing me to some of my best friends in the whole world. We went from each other’s comments sections, to a private group chat, to book events, to traveling together just for fun. The last trip I took before quarantine was to a BookTube friend’s wedding in Mexico. I think that’s a pretty cool outcome from making videos online.”
Njeri has also found that BookTube has helped develop an international network of friends: “I have made incredible lifelong friendships, which I didn’t think possible over the internet. I also have a much broader international network; because of BookTube, I have friends and acquaintances in Germany, Nigeria, Guyana, Peru — places I’ve never travelled to but have been curious about.”
HOW TO HELP AND HOW TO GET STARTED
If you want to support BookTubers, especially marginalized creators, here are a few tips: “People don’t understand how crucial watch time is, and how important it is to follow people whose videos you actually care to watch all the way through,” Adri says, “because that will actually help their channels exponentially more than a high sub count.” Nicole adds, “Comments are why smaller BookTubers are doing it, so I just want to remind viewers that we appreciate them!”
Njeri points out that “Hashtags are a great way to find BookTubers, so pay attention to those. Right now, I’m interested in learning about and supporting the channels of South African BookTubers, which you can find by searching #SouthAfricanBookTuber.”
SMALL BOOKTUBERS TO WATCH
I asked everyone if they had any smaller BookTube channels they wanted to shout out, and I got so many excellent recommendations that I made a playlist of them all! (I just went a recent video from each channel.) As CeCe says, “The community of small BookTubers that exists is making the most inventive, inclusive content on our platform and the biggest thing we can all do is support that content!”
Specifically, Brody says, “I’ve recently been diving into the horror side of BookTube and my favorite person right now is Nakia from Nakia’s Hideaway. Her videos feel like I’m just sitting down and talking about spooky stuff with a friend, and it’s so relaxing. She’s such a kind person and the interactions I’ve had with her have been so great.”
Cindy regularly shouts out small BookTubers on her channel. Here’s her playlist of small BookTubers she recommends!
THINKING OF JOINING BOOKTUBE? JUST START!
“If you’re interested in joining Booktube, just go ahead and do it,” says Cindy. “The great thing about the community is that you don’t need to have any flashy video or high budget. In my first two years I just filmed on my couch in front of a blank wall with my phone propped on top of random objects. (Now I film on my tax-deducted camera and tripod, but I’m still sitting on my ass in front of a wall.) It can be super simple and lowkey!”
“If you’re considering being a part of the community GO FOR IT!” Ashley encourages. “I hear so many people say they don’t know where to start, but my advice is to just sit down and talk about what you love!”
Bear says that while people may talk about the BookTube community being oversaturated, “I think it comes from a place of fear.” They recommend, “If there’s anyone reading this who wants to be a BookTuber but has heard that the community is too full, I want you to ignore that statement and join anyway. Your voice is just as necessary as everyone else’s, and who knows what you can bring to the table?”