Young and quirky YouTube stars lift traditional book publishersa

03 Sep, 2015 12:45 am

LOS ANGELES – Videos like “Walking Around Naked” and “Apps That Need to Be Invented” made Connor Franta a star on YouTube. More than nine million watched “Coming Out,” in which the introspective 22-year-old told his young fan base that he was gay.

When he wanted to stretch beyond the format of a six- or 10-minute video, the new media sensation chose an old-fashioned media form: a book. It took a year to write and publish the 224-page memoir “A Work in Progress” and, to his surprise, it stuck on the New York Times best seller list for 16 weeks.

With that kind of appeal to young readers, Franta is part of a generation of YouTube stars giving a boost to the book publishing industry.

More than a million books, both physical and digital, by online stars have been produced globally by Franta’s publisher, Keywords Press, alone. Such authors have sold nearly 700,000 physical books in the United States in the past year, according to data provided to Reuters by Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 85 percent of the U.S. printed book market.

Their inspirational, quirky and often personal writing takes the form of advice manuals, cookbooks and collections of essays such as Shane Dawson’s “I Hate Myselfie,” or fiction such as Paige McKenzie’s “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.”

“I never thought of myself as an author,” Franta told Reuters in an interview. His best seller about his Midwestern upbringing, his path to YouTube stardom, and his struggles with sexuality and body image, has sold more than 200,000 copies. “It really blew mind.”

For comparison, Franta’s YouTube channel has almost 4.9 million subscribers.

While YouTuber titles are only a small fraction of the 2.7 billion books sold in the United States each year, they are part of a resurgence in reading among kids and millennials that is helping to keep the publishing industry alive in the age of the Internet.

Overall U.S. book revenue is expected to total $28.8 billion this year, according to research firm IBISWorld, a 9 percent decline from a decade ago. But young adult and children’s books – fueled by popular series like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” – are bucking the downward trend. The number of juvenile books sold rose 63 percent from 2004 to 2014, according to Nielsen BookScan.

The success of YouTube authors is a further sign that people who grew up surrounded by screens like reading books.

“As someone who would like our youth to read a little more, I appreciate that they are telling their story in a different way,” said Stephanie Horbaczewski, CEO of StyleHaul, a video network that is home to YouTube creators such as fashion expert and author Zoe Sugg.

Publishers who understand the financial appeal of the young adult are now looking for new authors on YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc, and social media platforms such as Vine, Tumblr and Snapchat, said Sara Sargent, an executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

She joined the publishing house in July in the newly created role of acquiring teen, middle-grade and picture books from digital and social media personalities.


In a time of media saturation, YouTube stars come with a marketing edge: fervent followers and a ready-made place for promotion.

Franta revealed his finished book in a YouTube video posted in March. Weeks later, thousands turned out for a book tour that stretched to Britain and Australia.

The authors “mobilize their fan bases,” said Liz Perl, chief marketing officer for the Simon & Schuster publishing house owned by CBS Corp. CBS highlighted hit books by YouTube stars when it reported higher profits for the publishing house in its quarterly earnings report in August.

Simon & Schuster’s Atria Publishing Group and United Talent Agency last year created Keywords Press, a division for books by online celebrities. Five of its first six titles, including Franta’s, became best sellers.

Books are one way online stars are branching out to generate steady income beyond YouTube, where the site typically keeps 45 percent of the revenue from the ads that run with their videos, which can be difficult to predict. Book publishers generally pay upfront advances and royalties on sales.

At least 20 YouTube personalities have released books since the beginning of last year, and publishing executives said they expect the pace to increase. Several top YouTubers, including Tyler Oakley and Shay Carl, already have announced coming titles.

YouTube’s biggest star, the Swedish gamer PewDiePie who attracted 39 million subscribers with his high-pitched screams and comic musings, releases “This Book Loves You” in October.

PewDiePie’s book offers unlikely self-help advice, such as “You can never fail if you never try.” That brand of humor is a big hit on YouTube.

Franta said he worked to make the humor and enthusiasm of his videos apparent on the printed page, putting extra letters in words like “yay!” or “amazing!” His editors had to get used to his writing style.

“They would ask, ‘Why did you add ten Y’s to that word?’,” Franta said. “I would say, ‘It’s on purpose. Keep it in there!'” –Reuters

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