Last Monday, The Wall Street Journal had an interesting blip about a new trend in publishing, the Youtube guru book deal. It seems Youtube has become the new "hunting ground" for break out authors who are, in most cases, as far from an author as one can get, but who've managed to cement for themselves a strong fan base through their Youtube channel, be they a beauty guru (think Michelle Phan), a comedian, a food blogger, or what have you. The bet appears risky as the act of watching free videos doesn't always translate to shelling out for a book and then spending even more time reading it. A quick video is the preferred method for our information age and the I-want-it-now instant gratification generation. However, if you have millions of subscribers on your channel and even a quarter of those people purchase your book, that can still translate into millions of book sales and even more millions of dollars.
"I am happy to sell 6 to 12 copies of a bestselling novel in a month," says a co-owner of the Changing Hands Bookstore in Arizona. "But when a Youtube star comes in, we sell hundreds in a few hours."
Yikes. The sales for unknown, non-bestselling authors must be practically nonexistent. I can attest to that one. This isn't so much about the fairness or unfairness of this trend, because money will always rule with big publishers. No matter how loudly they proclaim a need for good material and fresh authors, none are willing to take a chance on somebody truly unknown. Part of it is a simple lack of interest; the other is a load of red tape. It just isn't worth the gamble. The Hollywood machine operates much the same way. Thinking out of the box is encouraged on paper, but in practice, well, you know what's playing at your local multiplex most of the time.
I suppose my biggest beef with this phenomenon is the allowance for anyone to be called an author as long as they've been published. Never mind that these personalities produce what are at best coffee table books and at worst recycle bin fodder. Titles such as "The Pointless Book" and "Grace's Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up" don't foster much of my own interest, but I am far from the target audience. Only time will tell if they have staying power in our fickle throwaway culture.
In short, such developments don't leave much room for the rest of us with real stories to tell, or worse, attempting to make a living telling them. This is to say - support your local talent the way many proudly support small, local businesses. You never know if that tired office worker living next to you is actually a writer by night, doing his or her damnedest to make the passion a full time endeavor.