Booktube and Booktok reach new readers
Short videos about reading, recommending and reviewing books are gaining popularity in Australia, a much-needed restorative fix to fill the void as mainstream publications continue to downsize their literary pages and reserve valuable space mostly to well-known authors at the expense of genre writing such as YA fiction, fantasy, science fiction or romance.
Booktube and Booktok offer readers a chance to connect and form a hive of like-minded readers and offer a new generation a voice with which to profess their interest in and champion particular books or genres online. Users often adopt a casual conversational tone, with sincerity and passion being the foundation of their delivery rather than a strict critical focus.
Booktube is basically an offshoot of YouTube where video channels display all things bookish. Newer on the scene is Booktok, a niche of the social media platform TikTok, where bibliophiles also congregate. Like TikTok, Booktok caters to a younger market (under 30). Being digital natives, they are more likely to use video messaging than print media.
ArtsHub contacted a few Booktube and Booktok practitioners to investigate the terrain.
Booktube ideal platform to promote Australian content
Jaclyn Masters started her Booktube in 2018 while in Texas ‘as a way to find other readers who read Australian literature because there was no one I knew there who did. I used it more as a conversation starter. It might be useful for publishers as a marketing tool, which might be a different angle for those creating content,” she said.
Masters started with tags and collaborations in its early days of booktubing before moving more into literary reviews and award content. As for navigating visual content, she pointed out that “it requires a bit of planning/configuration but is still easier than Instagram, which mostly relies on the image to do the talking more than the written legend”. At least video content gives you more movement by being able to explain a point you’re making.
Stella Glorie agrees. His Booktube channel is called Thirty Books “because someone in the literary world figured out that if we all bought thirty Australian books a year, the Australian publishing industry (and writers) would thrive”. Glorie uses her booktube primarily as a vehicle to promote local talent, “I can do more than review and discuss books. It allows me to flex my performance muscles and I also interview writers…which other booktubers don’t really do.
“I think Booktube and other social media reach readers (especially with genre readers). I picked up so many books watching Booktubers.
Booktuber Stella Glorie
Glorie points out that American Booktubers have thousands of followers, but she said: “We need more Australians talking about Australian books.”
Booktok powers one of the fastest growing social media platforms
Writer, editor and fledgling photographer and booktoker Jess Gately (@Jess_Gately) primarily publishes reviews of sci-fi and fantasy novels as well as forays into other genres, and intends to do a series related to editing and later publication.
She started dropping videos in January this year, “I’m still very new to being a ‘Booktoker’. Before that, I was mostly on Instagram and I loved sharing about books and posting there. I was amazed at how quickly I could reach people on TikTok and the vibe was very different. My videos don’t have to be “pretty” like Instagram photos do. There was something quite liberating in there,’ she told ArtsHub.
@jess_gately Bookstores always attract me with checkout displays 😩 I’m in control of myself until the moment I’m actually on the front line #booktok #bookworm #bookrecommendations #detectivebook ♬ original sound – Jess_Gately
“My first video was a time lapse of my partner and I reorganizing our personal library. I then turned more to conversation with the camera. At first I was afraid to do this, but I realized that all the accounts I liked the most worked with this style of video so I tried to do the same. It didn’t seem as weird as I thought because TikTok is like that – it’s not smug or big to think you’re worthy to be on camera there. I’ve had great feedback and engagement on these videos and my following is growing a little every day.’
Gately joined because she noticed how many videos on her Facebook and Instagram feeds she enjoyed were from TikTok and because she knew there was a big book presence there. “I also help emerging writers grow their presence online, especially looking at social media and I couldn’t ignore one of the fastest growing social media platforms on the planet. I really wanted to understand how it worked and the more time I spent there, the more I liked it. It’s now my favorite platform,’ she continued.
Booktok’s ability to tap into a young market is particularly beneficial when it comes to reaching potential readers who avoid traditional channels, Gately pointed out.
“This is a generation that is very aware that there is a big difference between the editors of mainstream media and themselves. And so they are turning to social media, where they can find a community of people like them, to recommend books. There is a greater variety to choose from than the limited column space offered to professional journalists, and there is a greater sense of conversation.’
“They can stitch together and duet each other’s videos, or play each other’s audio on their own reactions and recommendations. There’s a greater sense that they’re not just consuming books, but also sharing their love for them. It’s more of a two-way street,” she added.
Marketing potential and community building
Melanie Saward, a college professor of creative writing, editing and publishing (whose Booktok is @littleredwrites) notes that her students were very interested in using social media “to boost their profile as writers and get publishers.” They told me that many Booktokers who talked about their own writing, got picked up by agents and publishers, and I’ve been watching them ever since. I’ve definitely noticed a lot of people saying they got business or became agents that way.
“The other reason I wanted to jump on it was because I wanted to create engaging and interesting content for them, so I started playing around with putting together “how to” videos and posting how-tos. haven’t done many, but whenever something comes up that I think I can succinctly explain, I give it a shot (sometimes more successfully than others).
Saward echoes fellow Booktokers and Booktubers on the inherent fun that is possible on these platforms. “Look at all these young people sharing and getting excited about books because talking about books, making aesthetic videos and sharing their reading lists is exciting. They’re building communities around books in ways that I’m not sure we’ve ever really had outside of those of us who studied writing and literature in college and/or were involved in book clubs.
“These are people who lived through those crucial years of social development in early adulthood/right out of high school in the shadow of a pandemic that forced everything online…it makes sense to me that they want to connect and build communities this way.
Editor’s point of view
Michael Windle of the Penguin Random House digital team told ArtsHub: “The Booktok and Booktube community have some of the most enthusiastic readers out there, so we need to make sure we get the right books to the right people. Just as we engage with booksellers, podcasters, Facebook users, and even actual book clubs, this is the right message for the medium.
‘Booktok (and TikTok in general) is synonymous with authenticity and entertainment. While an Instagram post can be a carefully crafted flat lay, a TikTok post can be someone throwing books at a doona or sharing a list of books that made them cry. It’s as much about the feelings the book evokes as it is about the story.
Michael WIndle, Penguin Random House digital
Windle notes that the publisher is evolving with the platform and that it has the potential to “age”, but agrees that at the moment Booktok is mainly aimed at a young audience who are “less receptive to traditional mass marketing …we need to listen and offer solutions, rather than just telling them what they should like; putting the right books in the right hands. Every content creator has their own niche and an audience that is there for that niche. .
Martin Hughes, publishing director of Affirm Press, is also impressed with both forms of social media as a means of delivering book content: “We love it. Anything that encourages reading, especially among teenagers, is great for us. We just wish there was more Australian content flowing through the US-dominated TikTok algorithm.