Harnessing the power of YouTube for books

Harnessing the power of YouTube for books

Can YouTube really sell books? Naomi Bacon's answer is a resounding yes - and she's developed a three-step strategy to help you get there. This digest of her presentation from Frankfurt Book Fair is a must-read for any publisher hoping to improve their success with social video.

The social media mogul that is Mark Zuckerberg reckons that “video is a mega trend, almost as big as mobile”. Companies have spent the past few years rolling out strategies to ensure that they are fully optimized for mobile, but now many industries are elevating video as integral to their brand stories, Red Bull and Go Pro being prime examples.

If done correctly, YouTube can become a powerful marketing platform and sales driver, when integrated with wider content strategies such as newsletters, blogs and other social media platforms. So here's a crash course in how to create your own effective book-based YouTube strategy in just three steps.

Jen Campbell, book vlogger


Start by getting to know the audience. The predominant audience on YouTube is of course millennials and Gen Z. But this kind of audience segmentation is far too reductive. There’s comedy communities, feminist communities, beauty and fashion, parenting, cookery, science, gaming, and of course Booktube.

So, get in there, and get watching. Understand the kind of content that works in that space. So often we are blinded by our own objectives, that we forget about the audience. There’s no point creating content around, for example, commercial crime fiction or chick lit, because there isn’t an audience for it on YouTube. 

So many companies still think of YouTube as an archive for outdated video content: author interviews, trailers and footage of events. But YouTube’s decision to launch the Community tab in public beta - a social feature introduced to rival Facebook that lets creators post text, GIFs and live video, and switch on push notifications - shows where its future lies. So treat YouTube as a community, an interactive, relationship-based social media network like any other, not a video repository. 


There are six key points you need to remember in terms of content creation. I use the acronym SCHEMA.

SEO: Tap into search terms such as ‘How To’, ask and answer common questions, make sure all videos are tagged and titled, and use keyword tools such as Google Trends or http://keywordtool.io/youtube to discover what’s being searched for.

Consistency: the YouTube algorithm favours “frequent, regular uploaders” so upload content on the same day each week. Keep videos a similar length once you’ve determined optimum time for maximum retention.

Housekeeping: Customise thumbnails, rather than using the auto-generated snapshots, and always use the same font. Make sure the style of your content is mirrored in the channel branding and design.

Evergreen: Avoid OUT SOON/OUT NOW messaging in videos and descriptions. It will just mean videos date quickly. Make content that lasts a lifetime.

Management: Moderate and respond to comments, ask questions in the description to get conversation going and include a call to action to subscribe or watch more content on end cards. Adapt content depending on viewer feedback. 

Analytics: We tend to think that a high number of views equates to success, but this is a community, and your aim to is to get the same loyal subscribers returning each time you upload a video. If you’re getting 10k views on one video, and only 10 on the next, you’re doing something wrong. Make note of where your audience drops off; ask yourself why. Always check your audience demographic, too. Sometimes you’ll see that your video has appealed to an unexpected demographic, perhaps with a much higher percentage of men, when your channel has a predominantly female viewership. This is where you can be clever with paid for media by putting more spend behind targeting this unexpected audience with a greater frequency.


YouTube influencers are professionals, so treat them as such. Instead of approaching a collaboration with your own agenda, start by asking what can you do for the YouTuber. They’re always looking for creative ways to engage  their subscribers so approach them with ideas that will resonate with their audience – rather than sending out an impersonal, blanket email. 

Collaborations don’t always have to cost a lot of money. You can run a low budget campaign by working with YouTubers with smaller subscriber numbers, spreading budget across several channels. The emphasis here is on the relevance of their channels to your brand or book, not on numbers. This kind of campaign is potentially more cost-effective anyway as smaller channels have the more dedicated fanbases. This will also show your support for up-and-coming YouTubers as well as for those that are already established. 

And f you are paying influencers to create content, be sure to always check the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or refer to the YouTube Help pages in case the guidelines have changed.

Dodie Clark made a brilliant video on brand collaborations. Watch and take note.


So, the big question: can video content convert into sales? Short answer: YES. But how might we measure this?

Firstly, always include trackable links to buy in the description. You’ll at least be able to see click throughs to Amazon. By checking Bookscan, you’ll be able to then determine if there was a corresponding peak in sales. When collaborating with YouTubers, ask them if they’d mind including a trackable link.

Many vloggers also have affiliate links. I spoke to Jen Campbell about this: “I have an affiliate link, so I can see how many books are bought by subscribers clicking the buy links below each video. The average number of books bought per month through those links is 200-250. This is obviously not all of the books sold, and I would guess that (by the emails and tweets I receive from people telling me that they have bought a book based on my recommendation), that this number makes up approximately 30-40% of actual books sold per month through my channel.”

Many of the books that Jen recommends come from small presses where affiliate links aren’t available. Last year she made a video about a backlist poetry collection, published by a small press in the US. After her video, they received over 200 orders.

Rosianna Halse Rojas doesn’t sell books from her channel as she prefers to drive footfall into independent bookshops. As she says: “I'd love for there to be some kind of metric for how many people I've driven to buy from independents, but all I have are the pictures people send me of their purchases and the comments on the video. […] Some of the best metrics are in the content of your comments.”

Both Jen and Rosianna touch on something crucial here: anecdotal data. Just by reading comments sections, you can see how many impulse purchases are happening off the back of videos. Subscribers are proud to assert when they’ve pre-ordered or bought copies.

I was at Summer in The City this year and it was an absolute joy to see how many teens were spending their precious pocket money on books. Everyone I asked said that they would buy and read anything recommended by their favourite YouTubers. These 16-year-olds are the future of the industry and the market – the next generation of book buyers –  so we need to make sure that we’re absolutely nailing our means of marketing to them.

 YouTubers, it would seem, have this down pat.