Are you really a Roald Dahl fan if you don’t know about royal jelly: a thing that bees secrete and humans use to solve fertility problems? Or if you haven’t read Switch Bitch cover to cover? If you’re clueless about either, you need to up your nerd quotient by a few notches through YouTube, or maybe even Instagram.
Whoever thought the advent of digital technology would pose a threat to the written word underestimated the bookworkm’s dedication. Book-loving communities took to the Internet years ago, carrying their beloved print-and-bound totes with them; Indian booktubers first began making headlines in 2014. They kept pace with YouTube’s evolution, its myriad changes in algorithm and policies, and as the medium came into its own, so did they. Now, the same players have hopped on to the Twitter and Instagram bandwagons: reviews, discussions and unboxing sessions in tow.
Books on Toast, for instance, has about 18,000 followers on YouTube, and a little over 9,000 on Instagram. “We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. We follow a different strategy for each. It’s really fun engaging with readers from around the world on social media. We get to discover so much more about books and our reading habits are only getting better,” says Sharin Bhatti, founding member of the channel.
Bhatti and partner Anuya Jakatdar are voracious readers and candid about it. When they don’t know a genre, they say so: like the time they brought in standup comedian and fellow-geek Azeem Banatwalla to educate them about video games based on fantasy novels.
“We have experimented with length, format, show style and guests,” explains Bhatti, “As of now we have the long-form podcast called the Botcast in which we discuss a complete genre. Then there are ‘bot shorts’, where we talk about must-reads by an author in under five minutes. We also have two author-led formats: one called Clueless Critic with Kunal Kamra, where Kunal interviews an author in his signature dry, fun way in front of a live audience. There’s another called Unlikely Pairings where we get an author and a celebrity guest to have a discussion with one another.”
Though their YouTube channel has evolved by leaps and bounds, their Instagram feed is something of a supplement to their main podcast, featuring the occasional “challenge” between snippets from their YouTube episodes. On the other hand, for Manpreet Kaur aka Indian Booktuber, Instagram has a life of its own. Amid the regular “new video alert!” posts are daily quotes, giveaways and short descriptions of books she’s reading at the moment.
“Instagram has a huge book-lover community,” she says, “I have just started focussing on the platform to create unique book-related content, that will help me connect with my audience better. They love Instagram lives.”
Kaur’s Instagram following, however, is still quite small. Her YouTube channel has over 9,000 subscribers. “There is a benchmark that you have to hit, after which growth is exponential,” she explains, “I had to struggle to get people to hit ‘subscribe’ in the beginning. But once I gained a certain number of followers, my videos became more visible, and growth was much faster. Plus, YouTube now works in such a way that those who post more regularly, get more visibility.”
Her following is substantial, but not enough for a steady revenue. She does upload sponsored posts once in a while, but is careful to keep it ethical. “I give three disclaimers: one verbal at the start of my video, one in text at the start card or end card, and one in the description below the video.”
For Books on Toast too, the revenue is “negligible”. Says Bhatti, “This whole exercise is self-funded, because we really want to make a dent in the books space.”