The BookTube Panel took place on the Saturday of Summer in the City 2018 in Panel Room C. It featured Rosianna Halse Rojas, Sanne Vliegenthart, Olly Thorn, and Vix Jensen, and was moderated by Christy Ku.
Christy opened the conversation by asking the panellists to introduce themselves with, of course, the book(s) they are currently reading. Sanne was reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth; Rosianna was reading Salt Houses by Hala Alyan; Vix was reading There There by Tommy Orange; and Oli was reading The Transparent Traveler by Rachel Hall – just in case you needed some recommendations!
The first question Christy posed to the panel was about how YouTube, and their experience of the site, has changed. Rosianna began by discussing how “BookTube” is a new term, and neither it nor the community it describes existed when she started her channel around a decade ago. Now she has found there is much more of a “connection between channels” and a community. She also noted that publishers have become “more involved” and, as a result, paid reviews have led to some “homogeneity” in opinions. Sanne added that more and more niche channels have started appearing as a result. Olly said his philosophy-centred channel means his book-related videos are about “relatively obscurely academic texts”, and added that his audience often pick out and suggest books for him – which, Christy joked, is an example of “the influencer… being influenced”.
Vix, on the other hand, has felt pressure to stick to book-related videos and expressed that she has struggled to feel that her disability-related videos would be interesting to her audience. Sanne agreed that people expect you to produce certain types of content.
Later on in the panel, Christy asked whether any of the panellists find the BookTube “style” restrictive. Sanne began by saying that she finds that the regular format of hauls and to-be-reads work well, but breaking out of that will make your channel stand out. Rosianna said, “I don’t think it is restrictive but it can feel restrictive” due to the algorithm favouring consistent content. Similarly, Olly has felt pressure to be positive when reviewing others’ work due to the amount of time spent on academic texts.
The panellists moved along to Christy’s next question: what are some of the most interesting opportunities they have been given? Rosianna described her experience working with the UN Refugee Agency which combined her interest in books and human rights: she interviewed Yusra Mardini, a refugee from Syria who was chosen for the Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016 and had written a book (Butterfly) about her experiences. Sanne talked about having enjoyed the opportunity to visit sets of book-to-film adaptations, and Vix about getting to feature one of her favourite bookshops (Antigone Books in Arizona) and showcase its LGBTQ+ Pride selection, while Olly’s videos led to him giving a lecture at The Hague!
Subsequently, Christy asked whether the BookTubers found they had to approach brands, or whether opportunities tended to come to them. Sanne felt that most agencies didn’t “know what to do with us” but the right brands know how to get in touch, often due to interns or book-lovers working at the company and suggesting them for a brand deal.
The conversation moved on to the lack of diversity within the BookTube community, as Christy noted that she is the only East Asian BookTuber she has found. Sanne said she certainly believes BookTube is not diverse enough, and the community needs to do more to encourage diversity. This fed into Vix’s point that diversification of content will diversify the audience by relating to their personal lived experiences; she personally struggles to address disability but by reviewing So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, which tells the story of a person becoming disabled, she had the opportunity to discuss her own experience.
Olly said he has made an effort to include a wide variety of philosophers, to which he has received “disheartening” pushback from a small group of people – which he described as “shocking but not surprising” – and also noted that his audience is mainly white men. This led to a discussion regarding the dominance of women within BookTube and that, while it was good to have a field where women were prominent, their audiences were largely female too. Rosianna suggested that young boys are “not taught to engage empathetically with books” and are not comfortable doing so publicly online even if they feel they can read fiction in private. Reading fiction is heavily gendered as female while reading non-fiction is gendered as a male activity, which Olly aptly summed up by commenting that boys are raised to be “ambitious” rather than “curious”.
An audience member asked at the end whether it was okay that their father was a part of an all-male book-club. Rosianna suggested that motivation is key here: “Is it for them to feel safe and comfortable? Or is it because they think women are annoying or cannot understand books?”
Christy finished on a much lighter question by asking the panel for their BookTube recommendations. Rosianna recommended Marisa Jue, a.k.a. littlespider9, who she described as having wonderful, thoughtful reviews. Sanne recommended Jen Campbell‘s fairytale videos. Vix recommended Ink and Paper Blog, saying she wants to read every book he recommends. Finally, Olly recommended Shaun who makes super well-researched videos.
Another audience question concerned how to fall back in love with reading when having to do loads of academic reading instead of reading for pleasure. Vix suggested watching BookTube to remind yourself of how enthused you used to be, and Rosianna suggested “finding that one book that draws you back in” and specifically suggested a pacy book, while Olly said he seeks out less famous books by very famous and popular authors.
Finally, an audience member asked how to get into publishing if you live outside of London, and Sanne offered some useful advice: there are smaller publishing housing around the country, it’s just a matter of finding them. There are also societies for young publishers and a range of online communities to join.
Photos by Emma Pamplin.
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