Monday musings on Australian literature: And now it’s booktubers

Book Stack

(Courtesy: OCAL, from

Well, actually, it’s not quite “and now” because booktubers have been around for a while – apparently. Or, so I read in an article, sent to me by occasional commenter here Neil. (Thanks Neil.) The article is from ABC RN’s The Hub program: it contains a link to the segment on the radio program, as well as a written article about booktubers. One of the booktubers has been posting videos for 9 years! Fascinating.

Here is the link on the ABC’s website, if you are interested.

It’s probably not surprising, however, that this corner of the book-internet has escaped my notice because, firstly, booktubers seem to come, primarily anyhow, from a younger generation than mine, but secondly, and probably more significantly, booktubers apparently tend to be lovers of fantasy and YA fiction, neither of which are big (as you’ll know) in my reading diet. However, we are ecumenical here at Whispering Gums in our interest in book and reading culture, hence today’s post.

So what or who are booktubers? Well, firstly, booktubers are, if I understand correctly, a subset of vloggers (ie video-loggers). In other words, they are book reviewers who, instead of writing their reviews on a blog, present them orally via a video service like YouTube.

Some Australian booktubers

  • G-Swizzel Books(Grace): Commenced 2015, with nearly 5,000 subscribers. Marvel Books, are among her special interests.
  • IsThatChami (was Read Like Wildfire): Commenced in 2014, with nearly 20,000 subscribers. She seems to do more than books, but books feature in a significant number of her vlog posts.
  • Happy Indulgence (Jeann Wong): Commenced in 2014, with nearly 2,000 subscribers. A recent vlog post of hers was about a book haul. Her audience is comparatively small, but she told the ABC that she also blogs and Instagrams about books, and has a good relationship with publishers.
  • Little Book Owl (Catriona Feeney): Commenced in 2011, with over 181,000 subscribers. According to the ABC, she’s our most popular one. Fantasy fiction is apparently her specialty. An example is her recent vlog post on unboxing book boxes.
  • Noveltea Corner (Stef): Commenced in 2014, with nearly 2,000 subscribers.
  • Piera Forde: Commenced in 2011, and now has over 32,000 subscribers. earlier this month she posted a video on setting up bookshelves in her new home. She also likes fantasy, and the ABC report quotes her as saying that “Apart from BookTube, I rarely see reviews of fantasy fiction in newsletters or in the paper.” She needs to check out the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and our Speculative Fiction Round-ups. There are many many fantasy fiction book bloggers – not newspaper reviews I know, but they are written form reviews.
  • Tilly and her Books: Commenced in 2014, with over 14,000 subscribers. YA and Fantasy seem to be her main interests.

You can find more Australian booktubers at The Noveltea Corner. I haven’t checked them all out, and some seem to have not posted for some time, but it’s a start if you are interested.

As well as talking about books, these bloggers seem to talk about their reading lives – about unpacking book boxes (their book hauls), for example, or setting up their book shelves. Apparently, according to the ABC, “book haul” posts are a “sub-genre wherein BookTubers name-check recent yet-to-be-read acquisitions.” Like book bloggers, they’ll do posts on top reads, or recommending books on a theme. Little Book Owl, for example, produced one last week for Halloween. Indeed, in my quick survey, I saw more of these general vlog posts, than ones specifically reviewing one or two books.

Interestingly, the three identified by the ABC are all young women. Most of those on Noveltea’s list are women (just a couple of exceptions) and another list I found of ten favourite international booktubers seemed to be all women too.

The ABC noted that publishers are recognising the influence of this “new wave of digital-native bibliophiles.” Digital natives they may be, but I’m loving that they love the printed book. Many of them, when describing their book hauls, comment on the physical book – on its feel, its look, its size and weight. And they do so with obvious passion and delight. They don’t seem to be heavily into e-books – which corresponds with some recent research which suggests that younger readers still prefer hard copy for their recreational reading.

Anyhow, back to the publishers … the ABC quotes Ella Chapman, who is head of marketing and communications at Hachette Australia. She says that the booktubers enable them to “tap into a readership that perhaps we haven’t been able to reach via traditional means.”

I’ve enjoyed my little introduction to this booktuber phenomenon, and love that there’s an enthusiastic bunch of younger readers out there communicating about books. Their focus seems to be different to mine, and their presentations tend to be a bit too fast and excited for me. I think I’ll stick to blogs, but supporting diversity in how we share and engage in literary culture can only be good for us all.

Have you come across any booktubers? And if you have, do you have favourites?

Do you consult consumer reviews?

I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts. (Mark Twain, Wearing White Clothes speech, 1907)

In asking this question about consulting consumer reviews, I’m talking not only about those for books (such as on GoodReads and Amazon), but for restaurants, hotels, and all sorts of other things like clothes and appliances. I use them – though not for books. That is, I never use sites like Amazon or GoodReads to find books to read. When I consult book reviews, it’s usually after I’ve read the book, and I want to compare my response with my favourite bloggers and reviewers.

But, I do check consumer or user reviews for other products and services, most commonly restaurants and hotels when I’m travelling. And, I generally find them very helpful. I can’t think of a time when a TripAdvisor* restaurant review, for example, has led me astray. Similarly I find user reviews on clothing sites extremely helpful. However, I do read sites like TripAdvisor with my antennae out, with, that is, my critical faculty fully engaged.

Here are some of the things I look for:

Date: how recent are the reviews? I check that TripAdvisor hasn’t listed reviews by my “friends” first. Some of these reviews can be significantly older than the latest reviews and may even be for an earlier iteration of the place I’m checking out.

Frequency: how many reviews are there? And are there several for recent dates? Places, particularly restaurants, can change quite quickly, so old reviews may not be very useful or relevant to what the place is like now.

Content: what do the users actually say? I focus more on that than the rating they give. Reading what users say and how they say it, is not only relevant for the actual content, but can give you insight into how closely they may match your preferences and expectations. (See under “the reviewers” below).

Ratings (particularly the ratio of good to bad): one or two bad reviews rarely faze me. They usually mean a mismatch between what the restaurant (or whatever it is) offers and what the reviewer was expecting or, it can be that the restaurant just had one of those days.

The reviewers: while I almost never know the reviewers, I try to understand where they are coming from. It’s usually easy to tell if a reviewer was looking for something different. Diners may complain about small portions or slow service in a fine dining establishment, or a reader might criticise the lack of plot in an experimental novel. You can also look at the reviewer’s profile and check out their other reviews to get a sense of how they review overall. I particularly love clothing  reviews when the reviewer shares something about her body shape, particularly height and weight. It helps me calibrate, for example, their assessment of example of whether an item is “true to size” or fits small or big.


It’s worth it – Wine Glass Bay from the lookout

I thought I’d share here an example showing how the needs and abilities of individual reviewers can impact what they write. They are comments on TripAdvisor about the Wine Glass Bay Lookout Walk in Tasmania:

  • “It’s a short walk to the lookout and it’s totally worth it”
  • “A bit of effort but not too ambitious, a bit of sweat, but the view is worth it”
  • “we did find some parts of the walk tough on the way up, but it was well worth it”
  • “Prepare ye for this! It is a hard slog and a fair way, but the end result is stunning, especially if the sun shines at the right time”
  • “Challenging hike to get to the lookout but definitely worth it”
  • “The walk/climb up from the carpark to the lookout is not for the unfit … especially the elderly”
  • “The long walk up the hill was certainly worth it”

So, “short walk” or “a hard slog”? Mr Gums and I would concur with the second dot-point commenter. We found it a little strenuous but comfortably doable, and not particularly long. Indeed we went on to complete the 11km Hazards Bay circuit rather than just do the return 3-4km lookout walk. It’s a well-trodden well-made path, but it is uphill and has some steps. We’re moderately fit late middle-aged people. Those who are overweight, well on in years, or who suffer from physical conditions like arthritis or breathing issues, though, would not find it easy.

Owner responses: how does the owner respond to reviews, particularly bad reviews? Are they defensive, or, worse, aggressive towards the reviewer, or do they respond calmly, explaining the situation and/or what they’ve done to rectify the situation. Even where the reviewer is being unreasonable, I like to see the owner, as in all good customer service situations, attempt to mollify the situation rather than inflame it.

Authenticity: there is always the risk of fake reviews.There are owners/authors/relations/paid reviewers etc who write good reviews about themselves and, worse, bad reviews about others, and there are those who tick the box that they have no business or personal relationship with the product or service when they do. There’s not a lot we consumers can do about that except to look closely for the “rat”. Sometimes it will stand out (be over the top in one direction or another, for example; be too specific or not specific enough), but often it won’t. My approach is to not rely solely on one platform. I check the product/service’s website, where there is one, and other review services or listings, including, where possible, professional ones. No-one ever said research was easy!

Images: I love it when reviewers include photos of dishes they’ve eaten at a restaurant or cafe, or of the rooms in a hotel. Photos can complete the “picture” beautifully. And pictures rarely lie – though of course, they are selected. TripAdvisor identifies where the photo is management supplied (providing management is honest of course).

So, yes, I do consult consumer reviews regularly for certain products – particularly for clothing, eating and travel. The downside, particularly when travelling, is that you can lose the spontaneity of, and sense of achievement in, discovering your own treasures. So, we don’t use reviews slavishly or exclusively. And, we always watch out for opinion-givers like Mark Twain! Following this approach, I find that on balance consumer reviews are one of the benefits our out digital age.

What about you? If you do use them, what sorts of products do you use them for? Do you use them to choose your reading? Is your experience mostly positive or negative?

* I use various consumer sites/reviews but TripAdvisor is the one I know best.