Hey Booktube – Speak Up!

Something has been bothering me about Booktube lately, and no, it’s not the fact that every single booktuber and their mother seems to be in the process of writing their own book. (I think writing a book is awesome and the recent controversy surrounding this topic is understandable, yet not really necessary. But anyway!)

I initially shied away from this topic because I was unsure how to articulate my thoughts. I also didn’t want to be harping on about diversity again but you know what?! Until things are truly diverse (a.k.a. until we reach a point in life whereby ‘diverse’ in itself is an outdated word) I’ll be harping on about it.

This article is in no way intended to demonise Booktubers, and nor is it hard fact. It is rather my opinion (as a hardcore Booktube fangirl) and an attempt to disseminate a rather disturbing trend happening across Booktube right now.

For those of you who don’t know, Booktube is a growing reading community on the Youtube platform. Booktubers are famous for posting videos such as ‘book hauls’ (in which they share the books they have just bought), ‘book reviews’ and silly/fun  ‘book tags.’  Booktube has also been stereotyped as only being a platform to discuss YA books (very often YA Fantasy) and contemporary novels. It is also worth mentioning that I am personally inspired by many Booktubers.

Now, for a few Booktubers with thousands of followers, Booktube has become a job. Some publishers work in partnership with booktubers and send them ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books in exchange for a review on their channel.  Sometimes booktubers will receive books months in advance, and will speak about these ARCs on their channel, giving their honest opinions on things such as the book’s blurb and cover.

Now herein lies the problem. I won’t name names but some of the biggest (and my favourite) booktubers – the crème-de-la-creme of Booktube, shall we say – really lead the community. If they create a tag, sooner or later, you’ll see other booktubers creating similar tags. If they ramble on about a book, sooner or later, the entire community is obsessed. The biggest booktubers instigate major excitement regarding ARCs, set up book discussions, and attend some of the biggest book conferences and meet-ups in the Western world. They are the first to be on any sort of book hype and the first to know about a release…

So why are they so alarmingly quiet when it comes to diversity?

Now we all know that Booktube in general has diversity issues (namely that the big booktubers with very few exceptions, tend to be white) and that this is not an issue exclusive to Booktube. BUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, why are the biggest Booktubers so quiet when it comes to Diversathon for example? Diversathon, in case you are unaware, is a large booktube initiative to encourage readers to read more diverse books, whether these books are diverse in terms of race, sexuality, and so forth. So why do I see Diversathon featured on BAME Booktube channels but not on the FOREFRONT leading channels? It’s beyond disappointing to see people you support, people who are vocal on pretty much everything else for a living, clam up when it comes to supporting the community as a whole. Arguably, these big platforms, these white youtubers, cannot help being in their privileged position, but I have a real problem when said privileged position isn’t used to help others.

I’m writing this because I’ve noticed how shockingly quiet these big youtubers have been around Angie Thomas’ book The Hate U Give, which was birthed out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and explores deeply moving topics regarding race in society.

Everywhere I looked (left, right, centre) I saw ARC copies of The Hate U Give being spoken about on Booktube. This was very inspiring until I noticed that Thomas’ novel was *mostly* being championed by black Booktubers. This is crazy! The Hate U Give is a BIG BOOK. Everyone was talking about it.  John Green called it ‘a classic of our time’ for goodness sake! And if there’s one thing we know about much of Booktube, it’s how much we LOVE John Green and LOVE to take authors’ opinions into account when deciding what to read next. Logically, The Hate U Give spelled B-o-o-k-t-u-b-e with a capital “B.” This is the kind of book that Booktubers die to get their hands on, that the major booktubers won’t stop talking about months before its release date.

Except it wasn’t. This book with a black protagonist about super important political issues, wasn’t being spoken about. It got to the point where frankly, it was embarrassing, awkward, and strikingly obvious that big booktubers were blatantly refraining from even mentioning the largest trending book in the contemporary youtube sphere (heck, in the YA publishing industry as a whole). And yes, the big Booktubers are finally mentioning this book now & yes, saying some lovely things about it (some of them, anyway) but we have to ask ourselves- if big booktubers always instigate a trend, how could it have missed their radar? Short answer: It didn’t. So why did it take so long? The biggest booktubers get the news first. That’s just how it works. They certainly don’t get the news months after smaller channels.

Now, we could say it’s down to the publishers. Maybe the publishers deliberately sent ARCs to black and minority ethnic booktubers, knowing it was a YA book which may resonate with certain ethnicities more? But I really am grasping at straws here because no matter what, publishing is a business, and regardless of race, a publishing house will send out ARCs to the channels with the biggest followers.

What seems more likely? That publishers who have great working relationships with all these big youtubers suddenly decided, ‘hey, let’s just not send them our book’ or that these youtubers at the top of the food chain were staying silent for another reason?

Now this other reason could be fear of discussing race. This makes a little more sense when discussing readathons such as ‘Diversathon’ (but actually, don’t get me started on the silence surrounding Diversathon because I might get angry), but how does it makes sense in relation to simply SHOWING a book and saying ‘I’m excited to read this’ which booktubers do with Every. Other. Book? Often in a book haul,  it is acceptable to mention a book for just a few seconds. Title. Author Name. Publishing House who sent it. Blurb/Vague Idea of What It Might be About. Moving on! So really, I’m not sure fear is the culprit.

Again, I’m not demonising the community. No community is perfect and Booktube is such a big inspiration for me. Whilst I don’t consider myself a Booktuber, my interest in creating content for Youtube has, in part, stemmed from my interest in Booktube.

So Booktubers,

don’t be scared to discuss diversity (if you are). You are in a unique position. Do not think your viewers don’t notice when you stay quiet on topics. Staying quiet does not mean being neutral. It means contributing to issues. Get your act together. You are at the forefront of an important community and helping the readers of tomorrow. And in a community where you are the leaders, the instigators at the very forefront of every discussion and championing new releases, it really is unacceptable to remain quiet for so long on books as pivotal as The Hate U Give.

If you have any thoughts regarding the silence surrounding certain topics on Booktube, give me a shout! I would be very interested in hearing another explanation for this lack of discussion around race.

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