The Reality of BookTube: An Analysis of how BookTube Affects Marketing Within the Publishing Industry

The growing BookTube community has become a powerful marketing tool and publishers are beginning to take notice. BookTube is an online community of people who are passionate about books and create YouTube videos about what books they have recently read, purchased, or are looking forward to being released. Some of the biggest names in BookTube have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and are able to promote their favourite books to large audiences of potential readers. There is currently very little statistical research about the content that BookTubers produce and how that influences the publishing industry. For the purposes of this project data was gathered from the ten BookTubers with the largest subscriber counts about the types of videos that have been produced in 2017. Through the analysis of this data and considering the format of BookTube videos as well as the books that are being featured within this community it is evident that while BookTube is a powerful marketing tool it also reproduces many of the existing power dynamics within the industry between large and small publishing companies.

The most popular type of videos within the BookTube community are videos that rapidly discuss many titles. This includes bookstore hauls, monthly updates on what books were read, listing anticipated upcoming releases, or tag videos where BookTubers answer a series of book related questions. These videos not only make up a substantial amount of the type content that BookTubers are creating but also are often the most viewed videos on the channel. These videos that feature many titles but only a brief description of each very much resemble the popular online format of list articles or “listicles”. Listicles are defined by Nordquist (2017) as following a standard two-step format:

First, you need an introductory paragraph that sets up the article by explaining the purpose of the list. Since these articles are straightforward, the introduction should be brief and to the point. Second the list is presented in either a bulleted or a numbered format.

BookTube videos such as hauls, monthly updates, anticipated releases, and tag videos also follow this format. The reason for the list is briefly introduced with a sentence or two, such as “these are the books that I read this month”, and is then followed by a quick discussion of each book. The transition between each title is minimal and typically done with a “jump-cut” where the transition is edited out in post-production. The other key element of these listicle style videos is that brevity is crucial, this is because “contemporary media culture prioritizes the smart take, the sound bite, the takeaway-and the list is the takeaway in its most convenient form” (Nordquist, 2017). Viewers do not click on these listicle style videos and anticipate a detailed review of a book; the expectation for these videos is that each book will be discussed in a minute or less. When examining the type of videos that the top 10 most popular BookTubers have created in 2017 it is immediately apparent that listicle style videos make up the majority of book related content and that some channels such as Katytastic only use the listicle format for book related videos. For the purposes of this study the type of content that BookTubers produce were broken into three categories; reviews-any video that discusses a single title, listicles-any video that discusses numerous titles, and non-book related videos-any video that does not directly discuss the content of any book such as vlogs.

In fact when examining the overall type of videos uploaded by the top 10 BookTubers this year it is clear that listicle videos are the majority of content formatting, followed by non-book related videos, and finally detailed book review videos make up a small overall percentage of content being uploaded.

Listicles and therefore listicle style videos are organized in a pattern that aids memory. Konnikova (2013) explains that the structure of listicles allows for:

both immediate understanding and later recall, as the neuroscientist Walter Kintsch pointed out back in 1968. Because we can process information more easily when it’s in a list than when it’s clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs, a list feels more intuitive.

Therefore listicle BookTube videos are more likely to have the viewer remember the information that is being presented and if they are persuaded by the BookTuber’s presentation of the title they are more likely to remember the title the next time they are purchasing books. This is obviously something that publishers would be interested in because it could potentially raise the visibility of their titles in a significant way. This however raises the question of if listicle style videos are able to adequately persuade viewers to purchase a book if it is only discussed briefly amidst many other titles. There is currently very little research about what type of BookTube videos result in viewers purchasing books so a comparison must be drawn with other ways that publishers gain visibility within the book market. If book being featured in listicle style videos are seen as comparable to books being placed face-out on a bookshelf in a bookstore then books that are featured in review videos are comparable to books being placed on a display. The books in the listicle videos are still being given more visibility than other books but not as much as a book that has an entire seven minute video dedicated to it. The listicle nature of BookTube still is a powerful marketing tool but it is limited by its focus on brevity.

One defining feature of BookTube is that there is an expectation of what books should be reviewed and many titles are reviewed by large portions of the community. This therefore reduces the number of unique titles that are being promoted within the BookTube community. When comparing the titles that have a review video created about them by the top 10 BookTubers there is a considerable amount of repetition of titles being reviewed.

Given the minimal amount of reviews produced in the BookTube community this means that  the number of titles being reviewed is even smaller yet. This means that it is very difficult for a publisher to have their books be featured prominently on a BookTube channel through a review. Similarly the type of books that are being promoted on BookTube are predominately produced by major publishing companies. When examining the books that have a dedicated review video produced by one of the top 10 BookTubers in 2017 it is clear that over two thirds of reviewed books are published by one of the Big Five Publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster). The titles that are published by other publishers are mostly published by Bloomsbury which is still a larger publishing company.

This leaves very little room for smaller publishing companies to compete to get visibility within the BookTube community in a significant way. The type of books that are most likely to attract a BookTuber’s attention are ones that are highly anticipated through expensive pre-publication marketing promotions or by paying large advances to secure the most popular authors. Due to the repetitive nature of the BookTube community this means that popular titles produced by major publishing companies are promoted multiple times within the community. Philbrick (2016) explains that the type of books that are promoted on BookTube channels follow six pieces of criteria: the books are recent releases, they are hardcover, they are written by a popular or mainstream author, they are published by a major publishing company, they are ordered from a major book distributor such as Amazon, and they have existing hype. Philbrick goes on to say that this sends the message that “used books, library books, mass market books, paperback books, ebooks, indie books, etc. are all somehow inferior”. This results in powerful marketing for major publishing companies that is inaccessible to small houses. Therefore BookTube actively reproduces the existing dynamics within the publishing industry; the major publishing houses continue to turn a sizeable profit due to the sheer scale of their operations and small publishing companies cannot compete. It should be considered that the scope of this research was limited to just the ten most popular BookTubers in 2017 but that other BookTubers are potentially willing to feature smaller publishers’ books that could still reach audiences of thousands of people.

By gaining a better awareness of some of the structures that influence the BookTube community it is evident that while this is a potentially powerful marketing tool for publishers it is still very limited to major publishers. Small publishing companies struggle to have their content featured in a meaningful way by the major BookTubers and most of the community continues to reproduce similar content. BookTube is still a relatively new community and it continues to grow and evolve, so while it is currently dominated by books produced by the Big Five Publishers that is not to say that this will not one day change. Publishers should continue to be aware of the BookTube community and the power that it holds in reaching younger audiences.


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