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We are the margin scribblers, Part 2

Leena Normington continues her exploration of what today’s readers want from literature focused media. Read her first post on the problems and solutions facing literature centric media here.

On 20th June 2013 Mariella Frostrup, of Mariella’s Book Show offered up her last husky formalities and brought us her last book recommendation, showcased her last guests, saluted the final flag of book television as we know it. When Sky announced it was axing the programme earlier this year I can’t have been the only one asking where we go from here.

Is the yellow brick road of publishing crumbling before our ruby-red slippers? Is this the beginning of the end of our interest in books? There are some pretty intimidating pie charts being thrown around the media right now to suggest that audience retention, especially in relation to the printed word, might be at an all time low.

And it is a truth universally acknowledged that introverts love books.

Reasons given for loving them are vast, most often cliché but always heartfelt – it is the calm, the immersive nature of its narrative power, its excitement, its intrigue, its ability to transport and inform … it is the joy of hearing about Cheryl Cole’s failed marriage or Elizabeth I secret lover. Of Alain de Botton’s theories on religion or Orwell’s outlook on communism.

But for me, if I’m honest – what I love about reading is the privacy.

Historically such a private fetish and still one of the few remaining activities that is totally acceptable to do alone. I’m quite a bubbly, outgoing personality but in my experience it takes five humans to ruin a day and one book to fix it. I gain energy being on my own, and reading is a good excuse to be left well alone.

I’m not the only one – to pull up a wealth of stats about the amount of introverts that show up on surveys you don’t need an advanced google search. So by my estimations if a good chunk of the population are introverted, and a further guesstimate that over half of those introverts are book lovers – coupled with the fact that the UK physical book market alone is estimated to be worth 3.1bn – – then why, cries the general public, were Sky Arts forced to pull Mariella’s Book Club from our screens?

As book-users using social hubs like GoodReads rise daily and stats for those households housing at least one ereader set to rise even higher than last this Christmas, questions are being asked. It’s a conflicting message from the low view count programmes like Mariella Frostrup experienced this year, so much so that the outside spectator has to ask – have we stopped talking about books?

Again, to object to the common misconceptions about introverts – I’m not scared of people. Guess what? I actually really enjoy talking to them … especially about books. On this point it is obvious I can’t speak for all introverts everywhere, but I would like to offer a small clue as to what might be going on.

Before I say this, let me make it clear that I really loved Mariella’s weekly instalments of literary discussion, engaging interviews and overviews of the industry as a whole (I think I re-watched the episode with Alexander McCall Smith at least three times on my boyfriend’s sky box). I was sad to see it go. Indeed this week I was stuck behind a woman in a lift with a ‘Mariella’s Book Club’ tote bag over her shoulder and I was surprised at the still-fresh twinge of longing I felt.

So why Sky? Why?

Secretly, I know why. If I were ever to meet Mariella at a fancy party, I’d tell her over the canapés and stick-javelined sausages;

‘Mariella, its not you. Its us.’

Because it is.

In my spare time I make videos online*. I started to make YouTube videos in my bedroom during my first year of university, discussing books – books I’d read for class, books I loved, books (like Catcher in the Rye) I couldn’t stand to see the spine of.

And people watched. At first in their hundreds and then their thousands.

Not only that but I met lots of people my age who were doing the same, and often with view counts to easily outrun my own. That was almost four years ago and it still remains my favourite hobby. The most interesting thing is demographics. In my first year of making videos, 85% (give or take) were 13-17 year olds. At first I thought my channel was an isolated incident but as I started making friends who were also video creators I realised it was not so. They all had similar viewerships and as time has gone on it doesn’t seem to be ‘phase’, like badly died hair or being prone to outbursts of randomlychosen emotions. Our audiences have grown up with us and we’ve stayed as a community, watching each other’s videos and striving against and together alongside each other to make better and better content. As I’ve aged so as my audience – as it grows the weight is becoming more even – now 24% of my viewers are now 18-24. Youtube videos aren’t just things that are ‘trending’ on twitter anymore, they’re setting the trends. With the top 5 YouTubers on the net having a combined view count of 8.9 Billion, these are numbers the television companies can’t ignore. Or The Culture Show apparently.

As I discussed in my last article(link), we have become increasingly suspicious of a screen that won’t let us prod, won’t let us type, won’t let us comment. We are more immediate in nature to those watchers who have come before us. We want to touch. And not only on forums, comment boxes, twitter. We want people we can reach out and touch. People like us, reviewing second hand copies of Jonathan Safran Foer from our bean bags on a Saturday between our fried breakfast and the weekend stroll to the shops. People of all ages, with questionable camera equipment and an internet speed slower than the BT advert would have you believe.

As we avert our eyes from the studio lights, from the deluxe armchairs and murmurs of the on-screen audience, I wanted to let you know where ‘us kids’ are directing our gaze instead. Yes, it’s away from the TV screens and towards the displays of our phones, of our tablets, our on-demand community-sourced content. But it is not away from communities. Were still gathering, our mugs of tea in hand, to talk about what riled us about this new book or what made that novel soar. We’re still talking, still surfacing from our private reading times, still sharing our love of books and reading and literature.

It may be lit by LEDs and not studio lights, there are dusty bedroom floors where there were once plush couches, where there were studio presenters there are just novices like me, muddling through our reviews with jump cuts, mumbling, making mistakes – but with a real passion, real warmth and a real eagerness to share our latest bookshop treasures.

We’ve stopped watching, Mariella, but we haven’t stopped talking.

Won’t you come join us?

*not as weird as it sounds

By night Leena runs the youtube channel ‘justkissmyfrog’ and accompanying blog  – by day she is the Digital Sales & Marketing Executive at Icon Books.
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