Authors on YouTube: I'm a celebrity, and I'm shameless

Big names are using YouTube videos to promote their books. Do their unsubtle tactics really work? By Arifa Akbar

Would a YouTube clip of Russell Brand speaking directly to camera and urging you to buy his Booky Wook (2), telling you that "it's better than the other one" inspire you to rush out to the shops?

How about a more earnest sales-pitch by the TV chef Jamie Oliver, delivered within clear view of his hob, which promises, no, PROMISES, to transform you from a microwave slave to a mini-me with the help of his latest book? Or Nigella Lawson's beguiling two-minute address extolling the virtues of her latest recipe book, Kitchen, with mentions of her home and hearth, her children and her siblings, and all that cosy, Aga-ish stuff that might appeal to your unconscious desire to be part of her domestic set-up?

These videos, made by Waterstones.com, are so commercially brazen and awkward that they are a wonder to behold. Waterstone's has long been making YouTube videos that tie in to book releases, but many feature the likes of Ian McEwan and Jacqueline Wilson giving mini book readings or discussing the themes of their latest works, rather than blatantly employing their charms to get you to buy the book. This clutch of "celebrity" addresses, however, appear much more geared up to a personality-driven hard sell, for book-chart purposes, rather than focusing on a genuine discussion of the book in question.

Waterstone's has clearly sharpened its advertising campaign in recent times, and some may view such strategies as movie-style trailers (complete with deep throated voice-overs) as the book industry catching up with the rest of the world. And who knows, Oliver's YouTube pledge might have helped Jamie's 30-Minute Meals to top the book charts last month.

Lawson, Stephen Fry, Alan Sugar, Michael McIntyre, all of whom made Waterstones.com videos, also made it into the top 10 of the Christmas charts. So there is every reason to think their online appearances might have helped to shift books off shelves. Yet there is something undignified, at best, and cheaply manipulative, at worst, about them.

A number of these "personalities" appear on their clips like slippery-tongued salesmen with pleading eyes. Some go for a hard sell, others don't even bother with the sales pitch and just implore us to "buy my book" as if that alone could turn our heads.

Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer, cajoles future readers as if they were friends. "Hey, guys. Justin Bieber here. Just wanted to say 'whats up'. I'm coming out with a book... It's got a lot of cool stuff about me and how I got discovered. I wanted to say go buy it". Alan Sugar, the businessman and television host of The Apprentice, goes for a sharper spiel: "Whether you are a youngster that wants to be inspired, a business person who wants to pick up a few tips, a football fan or an Apprentice fan, you need to go out and buy this book because you are going to get a bit of everything in it."

Harry Hill laughs ironically as he reads from his autobiography; Michael McIntyre puts on a similar performance of being enamoured of his memoir, Life & Laughing; and Dawn French ends up answering questions from readers that range from "What is your hair-care routine?" to "What is your perfect day?" while promoting her first novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous. She gives wonderfully inventive answers to them all, although seems slightly stumped by a mother's request for advice for her aspiring-novelist daughter: "Obviously I'm a new fiction author so I probably haven't got many tips for a 10-year-old yet..."

French's natural charisma aside, the idea behind the videos appears to be built around the cult of personality. On-screen charisma does not, of course, necessarily translate into good writing, or reading, as anyone watching these videos will know, but there is the irritating implication behind this advertising concept that we will be seduced by these starry little YouTube turns into forgetting this fact.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition