I recently discovered the existence of Booktube. I know I’m a couple years late, but I hadn’t heard of it before, so I explored a handful of Booktuber channels and watched quite a few of the videos.
In case you don’t know what Booktube is (like I didn’t two weeks ago), I’ll explain. A Booktube channel basically showcases various book-related topics: recommendations, current reading trends, new books, bookcases, etc.
Booktube channels are pretty popular, too. Most of the ones I landed on had subscribers in the thousands and views in the tens of thousands. If you want to see an example to get a better idea, just run a Youtube search.
At first, I thought Booktube was really entertaining (and still do, to a degree). But the more I watched different channels, the more I realized I wasn’t too thrilled with some of the messages Booktube sends to its viewers.
Disclaimer: I’m not in any way speaking out against the Booktubers themselves, nor am I questioning their intentions. I’m simply making observations on the overall trend itself.
Here are 3 harmful messages Booktube is inadvertently sending:
Message 1: you have to spend a lot of money to enjoy books
One of the most popular video types on any given Booktube channel is the ‘book haul’, in which the host opens packages full of new books. Sometimes those packages are gifts from subscribers, and sometimes they were bought by the host. Regardless, book hauls usually feature 10-20 books, and a lot of Booktubers do these videos on a monthly basis.
That’s a lot of money. I’ve looked up a lot of the books these channels showcase. Most of them are in the $15-$25 range on Amazon. On a good month, I can afford one used book. Watching those videos made me start to wish I had more books, more expensive books, prettier books, and of course, fancy bookshelves to keep them on.
That’s a skewed view of books and a lifestyle I don’t foresee being able to afford anytime soon. And, worse, it takes the focus off of reading good stories and puts it on owning expensive hardcovers.
Message 2: owning books is more important than reading books
One thing you’ll never see in a Booktube video is a small or empty bookshelf. Booktubers own a lot of books, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (the more books, the better, right?).
The problem is Booktubers will openly admit they haven’t read half the books they own. They even have TBR (to-be-read) videos featuring stacks of expensive hardcovers, or videos like ‘books I bought but will probably never read’.
Not only that, but the videos in which hosts actually talk about the content of books are, in my observations, the minority. Far more frequent are videos about opening new book packages, reorganizing bookshelves, etc.
By spending a lot of money on expensive books (or receiving them as gifts) and not actually reading them (or placing little emphasis on the reading), Booktubers communicate, even without realizing it, that having a photogenic shelf full of ‘only the best’ books is more important or more exciting than the reading experience itself.
Message 3: only a select type of book is good enough to own and read
In general, Booktube channels showcase a very specific book type. The vast majority of their books will be:
- Written by a mainstream author
- Produced by a major publishing house
- Ordered from one of several distribution powerhouses (think Amazon)
- Hyped by the general public
None of those characteristics are inherently bad. But the message that ends up being received by hundreds of thousands of viewers (those that pay attention, at least) is that used books, library books, mass market books, paperback books, ebooks, indie books, etc. are all somehow inferior.
I know there are exceptions. Please don’t blast me with “but this channel…”. I’ve seen wonderful channels that genuinely want to talk about books they’ve been reading or plan on reading, be it self-published, used, borrowed, etc. But the popular Booktube channels, those that have subscribers in the hundreds of thousands, tend to follow the aforementioned pattern and present a very limited view of the vast universe of books.
Those are the three main dangers I’ve seen during my foray into the Booktube realm. That doesn’t mean I’m condemning Booktubers at all, nor am I suggesting we boycott their channels. I do, however, think that most of these channels are missing the point of what reading books is all about. If and when you watch, do so with discernment. I wonder how many subscribers get caught up in the luxury-hype.
I will not be one of them.