The Dark Side of Booktube

You know what Booktube is. It’s youtubers who talk about books. The kind of videos they produce looks a bit like this:

  • Book haul
  • Book haul
  • Weekly wrap-up
  • TBR video
  • Book haul
  • Book haul
  • Monthy wrap-up
  • Review
  • Book haul
  • Book haul
  • TBR video
  • Weekly wrap-up

YouTubers started reviewing books, and some of them got very popular and started producing other kinds of content, like the type of videos I listed above. Some booktubers have stopped reviewing books altogether and just produce vlogs with lists. Book haul videos are sometimes not even books that the booktuber bought themselves, but books they have received in the mail from followers. They receive piles of books, all the time, and if there are any interesting books in there that they mention they have received, you can’t expect a review of it, because no one can read all of these books. It makes little sense to me why you show the books that you have obtained if you’re not going to read them or review them, except of course to show appreciation for receiving them. But then all you’re doing is pointing covers at the camera without having in-depth discussions on books.

I am exaggerating a bit. But only a bit.

Almost every booktuber these days has a Discord server. Which is a dedicated forum/chat-room for the channel, and if the channel is big enough, hundreds if not thousands of viewers congregate on these Discord servers to talk about books. This is where most book talk on the internet takes place nowadays. This sounds appealing and exciting, and it can be fun, but it is also superficial because individual messages are quickly lost in the cacophony. The server also creates a culture of sucking up to the leader. The booktuber is lord and ruler over these servers, the eye of the storm, the celebrity, the Influencer, the big Personality around which the community revolves. Among those thousands of followers on the server, there will be loads of people hoping for a short interaction with the booktuber, a moment of recognition. The server is the booktuber’s personal universe. Whenever the booktuber receives a critical or nasty comment on the YouTube channel, that comment will be copy-pasted to the discord server so that a horde of Yes-Men and Yes-Women can rage over that comment and pump up the booktuber’s ego.

Add to that the earning model of Patreon, where people can give creators like booktubers a monthly few dollars for their work. Get enough people paying and you can be a youtuber full-time. Paying a booktuber on Patreon comes with Discord privileges. Thus a hierarchy is created on the Discord server in which the Patreon people become de facto moderators and inner circle of the celebrity. The booktuber, of course, feels that it is only fair to restrict his/her precious time to interacting with patreons on the server, with the end result that as a follower you will receive personal interaction with the big Personality if you pay for it. It’s a bit like paying Instagram influencers to talk to you. The adoring crowd on the server is an excellent pool to milk that model. Newly starting booktubers see the appeal to becoming the centre of attention and earn money, so they set up Discord servers from the start in which only a few people show up and it is a bit pathetic.

The type of content that the booktuber produces on YouTube is linked to this whole sociological feedback loop. Patreons and other followers send books and other material to the booktuber so that they get mentioned by name in the next book haul video. You could be famous. You could be part of the in-crowd. And I can’t blame booktubers for all of this. If people start paying you for your content and start sending you stuff for free, it is only natural and friendly to give them that recognition. But there is still a nauseating celebrity culture going on. And less actual book talk.

The good news is that as a viewer you can ignore all of this if you want to. Watch the videos that interest you and follow readalong threads on Discord to talk about the latest chapter you read. But other than that, social media sucks!

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42 Responses to The Dark Side of Booktube

  1. Andreas says:

    I don’t watch videos, like at all. When there is a transcript available, I rather read that.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Manuel Antao says:

    The “reviews” they spit out are laughable to say the least…and they the current generation has very attention spans…this is taking it its ultimate level. What the world is coming to. Sign of times: too much fluff and not much content.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I have to be very careful now how I answer you, because I write reviews myself. I think there are good reviews to be found on YouTube and interesting, in-depth conversations, by channels such as A Critical Dragon and Philip Chase. But the most popular channels have reviews in the style that highlight the personal emotional reactions of the reviewer. So we get book commentary that is not much more than “I liked this book. I liked it sooooo much!” Whereas I would like to see more textual analysis in my reviews. What bothers me the most is the underbelly of personality cults and social hierarchies and how that is connected to online payments.

      Liked by 5 people

  3. bormgans says:

    Very interesting, I was totally unaware of this. But I’m not surprised obviously. Still, mindblowing. I’m going to check out A Critical Dragon and Philip Chase though, thanks!

    I agree with Andreas though that I’d rather read a review than listen to it, reading is much quicker. That’s also the reason I don’t click with podcasts, too slow medium.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bookstooge says:

    I am exaggerating a bit. But only a bit.

    I’d go so far as to say you’re not exaggerating, at all. Back in ’15/16 when it was evident that Booklikes was circling the drain, I was looking at other platforms. I checked out booktube’ing. It is a ridiculous time suck of a hobby. And the emphasis on the video side instead of the written word really bothered me. So I never even joined or gave it serious thought.

    The whole money/hierarchy thing never bothered me mainly because I don’t buy into the social media buzz. Blogging and Reviewing is a fun hobby for me, nothing more. So when other people take it from being a hobby to a business (or try to, in most cases) I just roll my eyes. Like I do at 99% of indie writers 😉

    Anyway, this was a great post to wake up to Saturday morning. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome. I got into this stuff over the course of this year. Some content I like and I like putting up a video during lunch, but most of the material is very superficial. And yes, a time sink if you’re bothered to keep up with the channels. Also, all these channels cover the same books and the same authors.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        In regards to your last sentence. It holds true for bloggers as well, sadly. Netgalley has turned bloggers into a well oiled advertising machine for the latest book, whatever it may be.
        That is why I don’t follow nearly so many young(er) people on wordpress. I don’t want to see 15 reviews of the Latest Book by Author B all gushing about how wonderful it is but giving NO details because “I don’t want to spoil it for you”. Oh, I’ve learned to hate that phrase :-/

        Anyway, sorry to keep digging this hole deeper, hahahaa. I don’t want be a Negative Nancy all the time.

        Like

        • Oh yes Netgalley is also an entire thing. We’re all part of the hype engine, my friend. Fueled by the pressure to get likes and views.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Bookstooge says:

            I’d like to say otherwise but my own post gives lie to that 😀

            however, I will say I am Proudly Not A Part of Netgalley. And even that, there are so many books available that you could still get a wide range of reviews from that. I think of SavageDave in this regards. He reads a lot of stuff from NG but he doesn’t come across as one of the sycophants that I see on other blogs.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I did watch a couple of reviews on YouTube and while finding them interesting enough I think I prefer to *read* reviews of books because this way I can stop at a particular paragraph and mull it over if I want, while with the video format – even though you can of course go back and listen again – my attention tends to wander. It’s the same kind of problem I encounter with audiobooks: I need a printed page…
    Still, it might be a way of changing perspective now and then 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I can’t do audiobooks. Can’t follow a story that way.

      I also prefer written reviews, because I like to think that people think more carefully about the words that they use when they are writing. And then they have to think more carefully about their opinions. And then the review will be more thought through. This might be a giant preconception on my part.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        There’s a guy on Goodreads that listens to audiobooks on 1.5 or even 2 times the normal speed. He listens to books the entire time at an incredible rate. Either he is a genius, or he enjoys his books only superficially, or the other things he has to do while listening suffer in quality.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t consider it a preconception at all. When I write my reviews I let them “simmer” a little for a few days – sometimes even more – and revisit them before posting: it’s rare when I don’t change anything from the original version….

        Liked by 1 person

    • bormgans says:

      Same for me. No audiobooks either.

      Like

  6. The whole BookTube thing (and more recently BookTok) is dominated by the YA “community” which is why it is so shallow and lacking in substance, not to mention toxic as hell. And you’re right about the tedious, repetitive nature of the content that 99% of the BookTubers create. You rarely actually see a real review from the channels that are YA focussed. Usually the whole video is just a brief running commentary of the book, followed by how much they loved or hated it.

    I’m definitely not a fan of the increased dumbing down that worthless fads like BookTube is contributing to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right about all of that. If you want to be popular on YouTube, post about YA novels and a handful of authors and gush about how you love it sooo much. That’s all you need to do.

      BookTok, I don’t even know how that works. I’m an old man. Dying, possibly!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Ola G says:

    LOL, that was fun! 😀
    I don’t watch reviews. Like Bart, I much prefer reading to viewing, so I generally don’t watch much Youtube, and Booktube just like BookTok seems more like a PR thing than a real in-depth attempt on analysis, so I steer clear. Now I got a substantiation of my hunch, so thanks, Jeroen! 😀
    As for NG, I seem to be an outlier with so many negative reviews of the new books 😉 I guess soon enough the publishers will realize and stop sending me books alltogether 😀 Though on the bright side, I just got an automatic approval for all Columbia University books, so YAY! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I may have too much time on my hands. I always watch some YouTube during lunch, and it’s fun watching channels about books. Congratulations on the university books! Do they publish good stuff?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ola G says:

        Thanks! Pretty cool stuff, yep. Not everything, but there are some books I’m quite interested in, so for me it’s a perfect way to get books that may not make it to the public library 😁

        Like

  8. oliver says:

    My problem with BookTube isn’t the concept (a book ‘community’ to talk about just about any and every type of book/genre) – that’s fine. It’s the people who seem to like themselves more than the books they talk about. The very best channels (and this seems to be true of YouTube as a whole) have the least amount of viewers/subs. People who perhaps have a slightly muffled sound, a dodgy webcam, who don’t look like they live in a mansion but have a bit of passion, a bit of ‘difference’ about them. These people soldier on despite the fact that (1) The YouTube algorithm will never be in their favour (2) No one will watch them outside people like me who value them more than they will ever know and (3) they aren’t seeking fame and fortune but wanting to communicate their feelings and thoughts and seeking out others to make friends with. Sadly, YouTube – where even the adverts SHOUT LOUDLY at you – do not encourage this kind of content creator.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah these problems are mostly inherent in the platform itself, I think. I know a couple of channels with very intelligent, eloquent people who make content about books that no-one else is talking about, yet they are not popular at all. One example is Raf Blutaxt. he’s blind, so his visual presentation cannot be compared to other shiny, popular channels. He sits in a hole under his bed and can’t look into the camera. But he is very good and presents good arguments for everything he discusses, and wants to go in depth. But he will never be as popular as many other channels.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Megan Hinde says:

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one that writes about the ridiculousness of Book Tube.

    Closing Thoughts on #BookTube

    Liked by 1 person

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