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YouTube’s New Book-Club Series Features Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood and More

YouTube, as part of a stepped-up investment in educational and learning content, is debuting a monthly “book club” original series with bestselling authors talking about their latest books with top YouTubers.

The video service’s “BookTube” kicks off with Malcolm Gladwell (“Talking to Strangers”), on Oct. 17. That will be followed by Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Testaments”), James Patterson (“Alex Cross”) and Melinda Gates (“The Moment of Lift”). New episodes of “BookTube” will premiere the third Thursday of each month on youtube.com/learning.

The series is a follow-on to YouTube’s special featuring Michelle Obama discussing her memoir “Becoming,” which has over 1.5 million views since its March debut.

YouTube is plowing more dollars into learning content as it has dialed back spending on scripted originals. It also has shifted the monetization strategy for YouTube Originals, now making them all available for free with ads (although YouTube Premium subscribers typically get early full-season access of programming with no ads and exclusive extras).

“We’re committed to empowering both the creators who want to share their knowledge with the world and the users who come to our platform to learn — from home improvements to the basics of physics to grammar lessons,” said Malik Ducard, YouTube’s VP of content partnerships, who oversees YouTube Learning.

Ducard comes from a family of educators — his mom was a teacher in the Bronx public school system — and he said YouTube is trying to leverage the platform for societal good: “We’re trying to democratize the way people learn.”

There’s also a business rationale behind the YouTube Learning programming strategy: How-to, DIY, tutorial and educational videos are among the most-viewed categories on YouTube. “Candidly, a lot of this activity happens naturally,” said Ducard. And the aim is to fuel revenue growth for those ad-supported videos.

In the first episode of “BookTube,” Gladwell talks about his latest book, “Talking to Strangers,” which examines our interactions with people we don’t know. He’ll be joined by guest moderator Derek Muller, the creator behind the Veritasium YouTube channel, and YouTube creators Nai’a Perkins (NaiaReadsAndSmiles), Danielle Bainbridge (Origin of Everything) and Ellias Hoang (Ellias).

“BookTube” is produced by Boardwalk Pictures and YouTube. Executive producers include Andrew Fried, Dane Lillegard, and Jordan Wynn at Boardwalk Pictures. Supervising producer for YouTube is Lauren Vrazilek, former deputy press secretary to Michelle Obama. Jenya James Hamidi serves as co-executive producer.

Along with “BookTube,” YouTube is releasing four other learning-focused originals launching in October.

“Glad You Asked,” which debuted Oct. 8, is an explanatory series from Vox Media Studios delving into such questions as “Why do we cry?” and “Will we survive Mars?” Also bowing Oct. 8 was “The School of…” series, from Alain de Botton’s The School of Life philosophy channel on YouTube tackling topics like the secret of happiness and whether democracy is dangerous.

Premiering Oct. 21 is “Could You Survive the Movies,” hosted by Vsauce3’s Jake Roper, considering silver-screen scenarios like “Back to the Future’s” time-traveling DeLoreon and the jungles of “Jumanji,” produced by Ample Entertainment. The one-hour “Mindfield Fear Special” (Oct. 24) will feature demonstrations of what happens to the human brain when fear takes control.

And in December, YouTube’s learning originals are set to include the eight-part “Age of AI” with Robert Downey Jr. and “Retro Tech” with Marques Brownlee.

Last year, YouTube announced it would invest $20 million in YouTube Learning to support education-focused creators and expert organizations that create and curate high-quality learning content. Part of that investment included a Learning Fund to support creators who want to build multi-session learning content on YouTube. Such “EduTubers” include channels like AsapSCIENCE, Physics Girl, Socratica and CrashCourse.

YouTube also rolled out Learning Playlists, which let creators divide a collection of videos into chapters around key concepts ranging from basic to advanced. Additionally, video recommendations are hidden from the watch page on Learning Playlists, allowing viewers to focus on the lessons at hand.

Watch the trailer for YouTube’s “BookTube” series:

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