Photo by Daniel von Appen, courtesy

Let me set my current mood for you. It is a beautiful, picture-perfect summer day in Westerville, Ohio. One of my backdoor neighbors is having some work done on his home’s exterior, and the rhythmic sound of busy hands and happy hammers has been heard through our little corner of the world practically non-stop since eight o’clock this morning, which, all things considered, is a reasonable time to start working. The carpenters, however, are also playing music. The song they have been playing over and over without pause is “Photograph” by Ringo Starr. I decided that enough was enough about a half-hour ago. Since my emotional development was arrested at age eighteen and sentenced to life I decided upon a passive-aggressive approach. I am playing “Psychosocial” by Slipknot through a Bose SoundDock amped to eleven and pointed out the window in the direction of the workers. “Psychosocial,” for the uninitiated, sounds like a freight train commandeered by demons and driven straight at the listener. We’ll see how this develops. 

That said, today’s topic comes by way of a lifelong friend of mine. He spends what some might consider to be an excessive amount of time on YouTube but it gives him a unique perspective on what is currently happening in popular culture and, perhaps more importantly, where it is going. My friend suggested that I go to YouTube and search for “short stories.” I did so. A number of videos popped up on the menu. Some were videos which consisted of stills of pages of books in the public domain, synched with a sonorous reading of the appropriate page. There were also videos which displayed each page of a children’s book which someone read the page aloud. Those were interesting, but I hope that parents aren’t using that as a substitute for reading their children a bedtime story. 

I eventually found what my friend was referring to. I located several videos, each of which consisted of a written story, comprised of white text being slowly scrolled against a black background while an acoustic guitar played as accompaniment. The stories are original, (mostly) graphically erotic in nature,  and generally running from between three to twenty minutes. They have names such as “Pastor’s Daughter” and “Short Story #031.” The stories are variously credited to “Jim Bray” and “Stacey” but I suspect that the same person is writing each and all of them. I can’t attest to the quality of the stories as they weren’t really what I like to read. I was surprised, however, at the number of views that each of the stories has obtained. These ranged from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. I don’t think it was because of the subject matter, either (though a number of comments for each of the videos were very laudatory in nature). 

The reason that I was surprised is that I don’t get it. I asked myself, and will ask you: why would someone go to YouTube to read a story in such a fashion? The format is similar to an eBook.  A reader, however, can control the speed at which one reads with an eBook, while this video book — let’s call it a youBook — scrawls at a slow pace which cannot be increased or decreased. It’s not as if reading material of an erotic nature is unavailable as an eBook, either. YouTube is free, of course, but one can sample almost any eBook on a Kindle at a similar cost and can often purchase the entire work for an amount equal to the change one can find under their car’s floormats. I asked my friend why he read them in the format. He told me that he doesn’t like eBooks but loves YouTube and that this was another way that he could enjoy the website, one that did not feed into his addiction to Taco Stacks videos and stop-motion animation.  

What say you? Forget about the erotic genre, which seems to be the exclusive genre in the format for the moment. Ask yourself if this format appeals to you as a reader of any genre or as an author. You could utilize YouTube in this fashion to get your own work out there — it apparently isn’t too difficult to set up  — in order to see if your work flies with an audience or not, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble. I don’t really see this as something an audience would want, what with other, and to my mind better, formats being so readily available. I’m not always the go-to guy to ask about such matters. I appreciated the concept of eBooks almost immediately, but it took me years to embrace the idea of digital music. So what do you think, as a reader and as a writer? 

And just like that…no more “Photograph.” Enjoy your weekend.




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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

32 thoughts on “youBooks?

  1. I’m resisting the urge to check out either “Photograph” or “Psychosocial.” I’m sure the inner strength is there because it’s Saturday morning, I had a really good night’s sleep, and I’ve just read another Joe Hartlaub column.

    Re YouRead: Your YouTube friend may be part of a market segment waiting to be reached. He likes to read, but doesn’t like ebooks. He’s on YouTube a “lot” already, so finding and reading a story there is natural and easy. He doesn’t have to download anything. He doesn’t need another gadget.

    I would add that live readings with the reader on video can also attract. The leader of the Cleveland Writers Group touts the young woman with scads of followers who reads from (and comments on) Fifty Shades. My buddy, when i taught at Capital U, would grouse that he was going to hire a pretty speech major from Denison U to read his lectures to the class. (He never suggested Otterbein. Sorry. I think dissing the Otters was de rigueur at Cap.)

    Sure the “Fifty-Shades” lady has a unique schtick. But both live readings and the scroll approach are potentially robust–wIth a link to one’s website, where viewers can sign up for goodies and a newsletter.

  2. First! Eric, thanks so much for all of this. I think you’ve got your finger precisely on the pulse of what this YouTube lit is all about. I think your idea about linking to one’s website (or for that matter embedding the video in one’s website, to tout a new story or book) is terrific as well.

    No reason to apologize for your comments about Otterbein, which is within a couple of miles of my house. There is a reason why your friend never suggested Otterbein, but that is a discussion best reserved for another venue.

  3. This reminds me of the filmstrips we used to have a school. I hated that I was finished reading the slide but had to wait until there was a ding so the teacher would advance the slide. I don’t like book trailers because I can be done in a fraction of the time it takes them to run. I’d rather read the book description. I don’t want to see pictures, I want to read the book. When MTV came out, I objected because it imposed someone else’s visions on what I saw in my head when I listened. I’m a cranky old lady.
    I’m learning I need to look outside myself, especially when it comes to marketing (which is why I’m revamping some more of my book covers), but it’s a tough sell.

    • Terry, I had forgotten about those filmstrips, and I hated them too, for the same reason (and I don’t listen to audiobooks, either, as they are too slow).

      I was addicted to MTV in its early days, primarily because it started to drive the radio playlists instead of the other way around. If a music artist had a half-decent video MTV would play it because they needed product to fill the twenty-four hours of every day.

      Marketing books is difficult in the current climate. I may address that issue in a future post, comparing and contrasting book marketing with music. Thanks for the idea!

  4. What you said about Eric’s response. As a forward-thinking writer, I agree.

    As a cranky old 60mphh writer, I’ll never use YouRead or YouBook or YouWhatever myself. I’ll leave it for the younger folks. I just love telling stories. It’s hard enough for me to stop writing long enough to slap a cover on my short stories or novels and get them out the door to the aggregators. (grin)

    • Thanks, Harvey. I agree with you all the way. I still prefer books, but use a Kindle because if a book has more than a few characters I get confused as all get-out as to who is doing what to who. I suppose, with respect to scrawling, that anything which gets people — particularly young people — engaged in reading is worthwhile, no matter how unusual it may be.

  5. Good morning, Joe.

    I’m glad you were able to out-Psycho the Photograph and get some peace and quiet. That’s why I live out in the boonies. Privacy and peace are priceless.

    I don’t know what to think of the youBooks you discovered. It would be an interesting way to gain attention for your books and website. Keep us posted on how this activity is developing.

    Last weekend JSB posted about creating an audio book. Thinking about both posts together, are we approaching a time when the only way to get a reader’s attention will be to create a movie? Has anyone done the research to quantitate the percentages of people who prefer the written word vs. the audible word vs. the visual word? I believe that Abe Lincoln said that he read out loud so that he could do all three at the same time.

    I shake my head thinking of new crazy ways to capture “readers” attention. Perhaps we will be able to rent space on a banner (for our short story) as a blimp drifts across a sporting event. Or maybe cars will drive through neighborhoods with loudspeakers on top, shouting out our stories while Psychosocial pumps in the background, or maybe a staccato of bullet-sounds, like a drive by reading. Or…we will be able to pay construction companies to blast our audio books from their boomboxes while they do remodeling in Westerville, Ohio. Hmm.

    Have a QUIET weekend. We have grandkids for the day, so it will be audible and visual here. Hey, maybe I can have them march up and down the sidewalks of Westerville, reading the book in which they are characters.

    • Good morning, Steve. I’ve got my granddaughter here as well. It’s the noise I love. That said, I’m totally with you on the peace and privacy thing.

      As far as getting the reader’s attention is concerned, I’m more and more inclined to do a post about how musicians do it, and what can and can’t be taken from that model. More on that later.

      With regard to movie/television adaptations of novels as a method of attention-getting…a few years ago the short stories and novels by Elmore Leonard which involved a U.S. Marshal named Raylan Givens were adapted to an extremely popular television series titled JUSTIFIED which ran for several seasons. The show was popular enough to prompt Leonard to write another novel featuring Givens titled GIVENS, by amazing coincidence, and which featured an artist’s rendition of the character (after Timothy Olyphant, who played Givens in the series) on the cover. The book dropped on a Tuesday, which was the night JUSTIFIED was on. That night a short commercial advertising the book was shown at the beginning of the episode. The episode opened with Givens, all dressed up, walking into his office. Someone said, “Why you could put that face on the cover of a book!”
      That’s cross-media advertising!

      I like your idea about having the grandkids playing their own characters on the Westerville sidewalks. If I apply for the permits Monday, we should be able to get them by this time next year!

      Thanks, Steve, and have a great weekend!

    • Industry-wide, audiobooks are the current growth industry so, obviously, lots of people like to listen to books on the run. The smart author, these days, has their books available in every media available.

  6. I’ll come at this sideways, Joe. I recently read (on another blog) about folks bemoaning the amount of garbage out on Amazon and wishing there was a way to re-install the gatekeeper concept. All I have to say is, those days are gone. Media has been democratized. Your example is proof that there are still ways to reach an audience. It still takes content people are interested in, and maybe a bit of forward thinking.

    • I’ve been around publishing for forty years, so long before self-publishing, and the gatekeeper nonsense about fewer books being published seems to come up every other Thursday. Usually, it’s from some writer who thinks that, if everyone else’s garbage would disappear, their God-anointed novels of genius would actually be read.

  7. Agreed, Ed. Thanks! Re: Amazon’s content… Marcus Tullius Cicero is credited (perhaps erroneously with stating sometime around 50 BC that “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Or making a video. Or recording a song. Time is indeed a flat circle.

  8. I just hopped over to Youtube and searched, “Scrolling Story”. There were several. I clicked on “The Tomb”, by H.P. Lovecraft.

    It took about ten seconds to see the merit of this medium. I had a cup of coffee in my hand. So, I’m sitting here, sipping hot coffee and reading the story. I did not have to do a single thing to keep reading. No clicks, taps or swipes… nothing. Just drinking my coffee as the tale rolled along at a comfortable pace.

    I love the idea of embedding this into a website, as was discussed earlier. But for me, this morning, the appeal was all about – I don’t have to do a damned thing besides drink my coffee and keep my eyes open.

    • Carl, thanks for this. It kind of answered a question that I formed but didn’t ask when talking to some folks last weekend who told me that they didn’t have time to read and then later mentioned that they had binge-watched the latest season of “Stranger Things,” which takes ten or so hours. If you can sit and watch the story unfold/scroll and stay engaged, then what’s wrong with that? Interesting!

  9. On reading speed, media/content, and one other thing: I was in 5th grade when the US observed the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of our Civil War, which Topps Bubblegum commemorated by issuing packages of gum which included cards with an artists rendering of a CW battle or event on one side and a maybe fifty word description on the the reverse. I and my friends bought many of those over the following year or so, and I developed a life-long interest in Civil War history as a result.
    On a visit to Fort Sumter with some members of my AF national guard unit twenty years ago, I moved around the structure perimeter reading each information display in turn, then taking in a view of the scene described before moving along to the next. I’m a fast reader, and I commented to these fellows that I was glad they read fast, too, and we were able to proceed at the same pace. One of them said that he wasn’t actually reading the display information, just enjoying the pleasant morning and the harbor view, and the other said he was doing the same thing.
    Then these twenty-something’s shocked me by asking what this civil war thing was all about, and just who was it with, anyway, while you’re at it. I thought they were &*#%ing with the older guy, and said so, but it didn’t take long to determine they were absolutely sincere. They were educated in different states, and in age were about 5 years apart.

    • Richard, I remember those cards, which were very well done. My initial exposure was through a set of plastic Civil War soldiers. I didn’t know what the Civil War was so I went to the library and got some early reader books on the subject. Thanks for the reminder.

      Your story does not surprise me. I don’t even want to get started. All I will say is that the level of knowledge and context of history and the like has sunk dramatically in the past thirty-plus years.

  10. Hmmm… As an AVW communicator (Audio-Visual-Word), this is starting my mind to spinning. Read book snippets? Read blog posts? Don’t read but scroll? Add music? Don’t?

    Did you see the one called SF Sister that plays Taps in the background? Unbelievably stupid and wrong.

    Who knew?

    • Thanks, Harald. I just checked it out. You’re right on point. She needs a proofreader (she’s worse than I am, which is saying something) and someone else to pick her background music. Among other things.

  11. Honestly, you cannot set aside the erotic element. The market has shown, time again, that people have an endless demand for erotic content in any medium. I doubt there’d be similar interest in a “YouBook” hardboiled mystery short story.

    I have some experience in this area. I spent a couple months churning out erotica short stories “for the money” and with no editor, no professional cover designer, no marketing or advertising, no beta readers, and no investment other than time, I made $1,500/month from Amazon.

    When it comes to sex in entertainment, if you build it they will come (no pun intended).

    And no, I’d hate this format for stories. I don’t like audiobooks either. I like to read as books were intended.

    • Thank you, Philip. Many authors, including Lawrence Block and Gardner Fox, kept the lights on in the 1950s and 1960s by writing erotic fiction anonymously and under their own names.

      When DVDs were first introduced and everyone wondered whether they would be a viable format or go the way of laserdiscs, my brother was considering the purchase of a DVD player and asked me what I thought. I told him, “Wait until they start showing up in adult bookstores. If the format shows up there, buy a player. It will have succeeded.” Erotica is often the canary in the coal mine when it comes to formats. So, here too, apparently.

  12. Narrated creepypasta stories (horror short stories from places like Reddit) are extremely popular on YouTube and other podcast sources.

    I doubt that the erotica stories will survive for long on YouTube which has started taking away all ad revenue from channels that they consider inappropriate. One narrrator of non-erotic true life stories I listen to now changes “asphalt” to “gravel” because “asphalt” starts with “ass.” Yes, really. Also, words like “murder,” “kill,” “blood,” etc. are trigger words to cut off ad revenue.

    YouTube has almost passed the horrific level of ridiculousness set by AOL who closed down a breast cancer survival forum because the word “breast” was in the description.

    • Thank you, Marilynn. Re: AOL…there is a substantial demographic that does not know what AOL is, even though it is still around and functioning. As for YouTube’s censoring, it is interesting that YouTube (and Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made their bones by being open forum settings and are now closing the cattle chute on the very people that got them where they were. Someone with a bit of knowledge and some start up money could, I think, make a fortune by filling the gap.

      • AOL still offers free email, and I have used it for many years. So, yes, it is still around for those who don’t want to sell their souls to Google and g-mail.

        For podcasts, there are all kinds of options outside of YouTube. Some are aggregators of specific subjects like the paranormal. I don’t think the visual channels have quite so many options, though. Monopolies like YouTube and FaceBook either buy the small guys out or they destroy them with lawsuits, etc. Minnow creative content providers and aggregator sites have little luck against the big business sharks.

  13. This remind me of the other day when I dropped in on my son and my two grandkids, 3-year-old twin boys: They were watching YouTube clips of kids their own age playing with toys they had in the other room! Really??!! My son finally said, Enough already, which, to me, was gratifying. But this little family narrative also reminded me of the unique way in which each person takes in the world through the senses. To each his/her own.

    • Thank you, Nancy. That’s interesting. Maybe they felt a kinship or a connection with the children in the video.

  14. Something similar was done by Nick Phoenix. He’s one half of the music studio, Two Steps from Hell. He and his partner, Thomas Bergersen, write trailer music for movies. Phoenix always wanted to be a writer. In 2014, he published Colin Frake on Fire Mountain. He and Bergersen wrote a soundtrack for the book. It’s available only on Apple devices because back then (and mostly now, too) it’s a problem syncing the music to the pages currently displayed. I would imagine the syncing issue accounts for why cross-media authors are using video as a quick and dirty alternative. While I have often thought a particular piece of music would be perfect to accompany the reading of a particular section of a book I’ve written, as a reader, I’d go crazy having to read at the speed forced on my by the author/display medium.

    • I would have the same problem with the display speed issue, KS. Thanks for the 411 about COLIN FRAKE ON FIRE MOUNTAIN. I know of Nick Phoenix but am not familiar with his work and was totally unaware of the book soundtrack project. I don’t have an Apple device (other than an iPod) but I’ll attempt to borrow my granddaughter’s iPad (since it is glued to her) to check it out.

  15. I realize that as a writer I need to be cognizant of different mediums for my story, but I would hate that format for reading. I don’t want to see a story scroll. I don’t want to listen to someone tell it. I just want to read it. Period.

    Glad the battle of songs ended well this morning. LOL!!!!!!

  16. I agree with you concerning the reading, BK. I hope that we’re not becoming dinosaurs, watching the comet coming.

    I should have been clear that I was typing my post yesterday afternoon. They got the message. The music resumed, but it was softer and more varied. They wrapped up this morning and went on to another project somewhere else. Thanks!

  17. As a reader, the slow scroll would drive me crazy. As a writer, I can see it’s value as another platform to showcase our work. Maybe create a video of the sample chapters with a link at the end to read the rest of the book? I do a similar thing on Facebook with “Notes.” It’s an effective way to draw readers in.

  18. The slow scroll drives me crazy as well, Sue (and for me it would be a short walk back) but yeah, as a writer it attracts attention. Maybe putting a short story up on that platform with a link to a longer (paid) work might be the ticket. Thanks!

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