YouTubeThe Next Big Thing in author discovery, according to a Wall Street Journal article anyway, is YouTube. Book promo videos have been a coming thing for a while now, as any fule kno. But now Big Publishing is turning the equation round, by using the power of rich social media to discover rather than to market authors.

One of the key titles in the new surge of YouTube celeb signings is – appropriately enough – “The Pointless Book,” by UK video blogger Alfie Deyes. Then there’s also “Make Up,” by YouTube makeover celeb Michelle Phan. And unsurprisingly, the names of the publishers snatching at the tailgate of this particular bandwagon make up a Big Five checklist: Penguin Random House, CBS’s Simon & Schuster, etc, etc, ad nauseam. Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books division has even started a dedicated imprint, Keywords Press, “the first major publishing imprint specifically created for digital influencers and their fans.”

At this point, Keywords Press is barely more than a signup front end, with – again, no surprise – an introductory video. But it’s been started in conjunction with United Talent Agency, “a premier global talent and literary agency” based in Beverly Hills, no less, Sounds like two bloated media players fearing that social media disintermediation will kill off their ecosystem and teaming up like the stars of Ice Age – but far less cute.

“We believe that this generation of digital stars, who are unprecedented in how they’ve built their brands and relate to their audiences, gives us an opportunity to rethink the traditional publishing model,” declared Judith Curr, President, Publisher and founder of Atria Books. And obviously traditional publishing feels it needs to rethink its model fast, with all those stars reaching their audience directly, without leaving lucre in the Big Five’s sweaty mitts. Creating entire new divisions to pick up talent identified by others through entirely different platforms certainly suggests zero self-confidence when it comes to spotting winners.

From the YouTube celebs’ POV, of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using book deals to capitalize on their success – it’s one more revenue stream to diversify away from YouTube’s not over-generous base, along with the blogs, product endorsements, and other money-earners. You do wonder, though, what all those highly paid Big Five editorial teams are doing when they’re not poring over YouTube. Working with authors, perhaps? Are there no depths to which the Big Five will not sink to prove how utterly useless they are at discovering and developing new literary talent?


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