07 September 2017

Are booktubers the future of reviewing?

Photography for Curtis Brown CreativePhotography for Curtis Brown Creative
by Jack Hadley Opinion

There was an interesting piece in The Times last week discussing the recent and intriguing phenomenon of the so called ‘booktubers’. It is, unfortunately, behind a paywall, so unless you’re a subscriber you won’t be able to access it. To summarise – it profiles a few prominent video bloggers whose focus is not on delivering make-up tips, or lengthy videos of themselves playing computer games, but on books.

Informal, intimate, and usually under 35, these vloggers are growing in relevance. Simon Savidge over at Savidge Reads, with almost 9,000 subscribers on his channel, delivers unpretentious round-ups of the latest in crime fiction. On the more literary side of things there is Jen Campbell, with an impressive 30,000+ subscribers.

Perhaps the most interesting is the precociously talented Lucy Powrie, over at her channel Lucy the Reader. She’s already amassed 12,000 subscribers, and a lot of clout, and she hasn’t even finished her A-levels.

Though she got started off talking about YA novels, she’s now a passionate enthusiast for classic nineteenth-century fiction. Videos with many thousands of views offer tips on how to get through doorstop classics like George Eliot’s Middlemarch. She’s currently reading Charlotte Brontë’s unloved novel Shirley and is waxing lyrical about it. She’s worth checking out.

What’s heartening about this is not only the passion these vloggers are showing towards fiction, but also the hunger for this kind of content there is online. When books coverage on television is noticeable only in its absence (though, in the UK, the forthcoming appearance of BBC’s Front Row on our TV screens is welcome), and newspaper critics are seeing their column inches shrinking by the week, the popularity of the so called ‘book tubers’ shows how much readers still desire trusted and informed book coverage, from passionate experts.

That’s not to say that these short vlogs can replace written criticism – these videos tend to be round-ups of the most interesting new releases, and which lack the forensic detail of the best reviewers. The publishing industry is often understandably fearful of the ways new media might steal their audiences. But it’s important to acknowledge how platforms like Youtube can actually build buzz and enthusiasm for novels, and even get people into reading the classics. For debut authors, or writers who are publishing through less conventional means, an endorsement from this new breed of critic could be essential in finding, and keeping, your audience in the future.

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