What I learned You-tubing for a year
So all last year I was on a reading odyssey, more on that here, and as part of that challenge I set myself the goal to vlog the whole experience in the form of weekly book reviews. I have always enjoyed YouTube and it’s instantly accessible platform and I found myself keen to experiment with it.
I also wanted to review and recount each book as the year went on, partly just to keep track of everything I read over the year, but also to help clarify and cement my own thoughts on each finished novel. I was due to read a lot more than I ever had and I wanted some form of tangible documentation of all of that, mainly for myself and not in any misguided attempt to become an internet celebrity.
So I set up a channel and started uploading on a weekly basis, reaching a total of 56 videos by the end of 2016. As always there was much learnt during this endeavour so anyone looking to experiment with YouTube will find the following of interest.
Making the Videos
So it may sound the height of simplicity, sitting in a room and talking to a camera for a few minutes, but I quickly found that recording videos takes a lot more preparation than that. You have to make these video entertaining and informative so just rambling aimlessly about a book doesn’t cut it, you need some structure and an interesting level of detail and analysis in order to make watching your review worthwhile
So off to google I would go to collect information on the book and the author and pick out any further details that may have been of interest regarding the work. Then I would try to break down the premise, or plot, in a pithy and spoiler free manner, before concluding with my thoughts and opinions on the book and my experience reading it.
Sure none of that is particularly difficult but 20-30 minutes of research and note taking was necessary before pressing record.
So once the camera is rolling a whole different set of problems quickly revealed themselves. Camera setup and setting, backgrounds, audio, lighting – all aspects that require attention in order to get your videos looking presentable.
I live in a small house so finding a different and interesting background against which to film wasn’t easy. Initially I would record in front of my bookcase but I felt compelled to mix it up over the year so I would move rooms and settings just to add variety to the videos. Then every time you try a new location the audio and lighting are altered, leading to dark videos with poor audio in some cases. The logistics of recording yourself talking are a lot trickier than I had anticipated.
Then it comes to the actual talking part.
On average I would record around 10 minutes of footage, 70% of it would be mumbled takes, mispronunciations and straight up unbroadcastable nonsense. I would edit all that down to short and swift 2-3 minute videos as I suspected more views would be encouraged if the videos were shorter. I would also struggle at times to find enough interesting chat to fill a video, some books were just meh, so talking about them for even 3 minutes was sometimes a challenge.
I quickly realised too that filming all of this on a mid range smartphone probably isn’t the level of video and audio quality necessary to really capture professional videos, which probably goes without saying really.
Urghhh Editing! Editing, editing, editing. For every 2-3 minute video I would have to spend at least an hour at the computer cropping my 10 minutes of rambling into a coherent video. My day job involves heavy computer design work so I know my way around a desktop pretty well and can work quickly, but editing always felt like a slog. Recording was actually fun but editing is a painful and tedious job. Especially when the computer crashes or the files get corrupted and you have to re-record everything!!!
Editing always felt like pulling teeth.
So once uploaded the platform itself is fairly straightforward and simple to use, nothing too complicated or interesting to report other that the small matter of monetization. YouTube stars make their money from adverts played before and during their videos and a simply tick of a box in your video managing section turns this on or off. Monetizing videos is how people get paid on YouTube
Now when you’re Pewdiepie this little tick box can mean the difference between millions of $ per year, for me however, with my max viewing figure of 360 odd I stood to make nothing whatsoever.
Not that I was ever expecting to make any money or was I every motivated by it anyway but as it stand my channel has around 2250 total views and my balance still sits at 0.00p.
In short – don’t give up your day job to start a YouTube channel anytime soon.
But this leads me to an interesting incident of note however. YouTube can, at any point and without warning, deem any video of yours unsatisfactory for advertising due to its content (graphic images, swearing, controversial content etc…),and remove its ability to be monetized.
This happened to me with my review of the excellent book Badass Librarians of Timbucktu. The title of this video had the word Ass in it so was deemed unfit for advertising due to the coarse language and its monetization ability removed.
Now this is not even worth noting for a channel and a video as minuscule as mine, but vocal YouTube stars have reported this particular policy costing them thousands of dollars after videos with many hundreds of thousands of views have had their revenue streams removed overnight and without consultation.
It also points to a sanitized and self regulated future for a site famed for its accessibility and the ability to offer a platform for all people from all backgrounds. It would seem, to please advertisers, YouTube only really wants family friendly, mass market appeal videos. If career performers can’t make money on the platform if they choose to swear or approach controversial subject, then the future would seem to hold a lot of potentially bland, PG rated content.
So 56 videos in, 2250 odd views and counted – what are my take aways?
Personality, personality, personality.
I knew before I started that successful channels have talented, outgoing and necessarily entertaining characters fronting them. I’m not shy in front of a camera, but a lifelong introvert, Ive never been one to scream from the rooftops or neither do I have a bold and camera friendly persona or personality.
I’m the introvert and the shy guy in the corner with his head in a book. To make this YouTube thing work well you need to be out there and have a strong persona, or at least the ability to put on a similar act.I never really developed one to be honest – too low energy and too much mumbling.
To do it properly you need good equipment and tools. I was filming with my phone propped up against books and with plain, underlit backdrops around my house. My favourite YouTubers all have dedicated studios to record in, relatively expensive recording equipment (including microphones and backlighting), and professional editing software.
I was doing all this without spending a penny and it shows in the technical aspects of my videos.
Ahhh time, that great every dwindling resource that seems to hold the key to most things. Like pretty much every aspect of life, the more time you invest into the endeavour the greater the results will be.
I was spending a hour or two a week on each video and towards the end (when the enthusiasm had long gone), even less than that. Really you need to record a few takes of your video then stitch something together meticulously in the edit. I was doing all this as quickly as possible, partly because I wasn’t really enjoying it, but it was nowhere near enough to produce real quality content.
Better equipment + much more time invested = infinitely better videos. Better videos = more views, more subscribers etc.
So I know where I was going wrong, and towards the end my views were beginning to creep up – so why aren’t I posting anymore?
Quite simply I wasn’t really enjoying it. It felt like a chore and a slog at times and something not really suited to me on a personal level. I don’t want to spent hours editing videos of myself talking, I want to spend it writing and reading.
So there you have it, a years of YouTubing broken down into a few key points. It was a fun, interesting journey and I learned a lot about myself but I move on and leave a whole catalogue of substandard book reviews just here for the world to discover.