Paweł Dębowski, a YouTuber and creator of P42, a popular book channel, and a technical physics student at the Faculty of Physics at WUT. He tells us about his passion for books, his beginnings on YT and how to stand out from millions of others.
Let me start from the end. You have recently posted a new video where you say goodbye to your viewers. Do you mean to stop creating YT videos once and for all?
My decision was influenced by several factors. One of them, of course, is the exam season. With so many things to do and learn, it would be difficult to find enough time to shoot videos. And then there’s the topic I deal with. When I went to university, I found myself in a new environment, met new people and started to wonder if books are all I want to do. I felt it was time for me to change something or give something up. I started to wonder how much I wanted books to be part of my life.
Exactly, you study technical physics, but in your channel you talk about books.
I felt there was more to life than books and what I was really attracted to was science. I was afraid studying the humanities could discourage me from reading books. I’d rather it remained a hobby. This allows me to focus on science, which I like more. And so physics has prevailed.
Let’s go back to the start. Who instilled a love of reading in you?
I remember my parents would read to me when I was a child. Then I was given various books to read myself. Sometimes I read more, sometimes less. I was also extremely lucky to come across two or three titles that showed me the books we read for school is not always the kind of literature you read for pleasure. This is how I caught the reading bug. I’m always in the middle of a book, even when I’m extremely busy.
You decided to share your passion for reading and open a YT channel.
Long before starting my own channel I tried to write things, publish photos. Then I found out I could combine my interests by creating my own YT channel. I started watching other people’s videos to see what they recorded and how often. I was wondering if this would keep me interested for a longer time rather than bore me after two months. I decided to give it a try and I uploaded my first video. I was 17 then.
What did your parents say? Was their reaction positive?
I was afraid they would find it strange, me sitting in my room and talking to a camera. But they turned out to be very supportive, saying I should go ahead and try my hand at that if this is what I want. They just warned me to protect my privacy, for example, by not showing where I live. Now, two years after publishing my first video and coping with all the related challenges, my parents admit that this experience had a positive influence on me. I am more self-confident, less nervous speaking in public. As a matter of fact, I showed my mother things worth watching and now she prefers YouTube to TV.
Now that you feel confident you are thinking of changing the channel format. You study at the Warsaw University of Technology. Have you considered creating a science channel? “TO JUŻ Jutro” by Rafał Masny or “Emce” enjoy increasing popularity.
Such YT channels are a great idea, but at this moment I do not feel competent enough to create this type of content. I can’t think of a fresh approach to a popular science YouTube channel. When recording such videos, you need to strike a balance between the seriousness of the scientific topic and accessibility of the content. There are different ways to do this: people draw or carry out experiments. If I decided to venture into popular science videos, I’d like to take a different path than everyone else. Maybe in a couple of years. We’ll see.
Who do you think YouTube creators make their videos for?
Everyone! Just look at the “Czytam i piszę” channel, where Ania, a 60-year-old woman, publishes videos about little-known books. Of course, she is unlikely to get her message across to a wide audience. But she has a group of followers who, in turn, are unlikely to subscribe to my channel. They are people her age who prefer the format of her channel to mine. This showed me that YT is for everyone. Another thing is whether you crave popularity or are happy with a small group of loyal followers. This determines the content you create.
And what do you want to share with your viewers?
Most of all, I want to infect them with passion for books. I’m happy every time people write to tell me that I inspired them to take up reading or go back to reading books. If I started reading suddenly like that, it would be a huge change in my life. It is an awesome feeling and so I enjoy such messages very much.
Did you hope for such effects when you started your channel?
I was thinking more of becoming a member of a community. Getting to know people who read similar books. A typical high-school student has a rather limited circle of friends. Thanks to YT, when I look at the map of Poland I don’t see towns but names of BookTube channels.
So it’s more about fun than education?
The emergence of the BookTube community has transformed reading into fun, a trend, taking it to a completely new level. Any book-related challenges or tags that we do have the form of a game. We don’t compete against one another who will read more books. We want to show that reading is done for pleasure.
You shoot your videos with a digital SLR camera. Can a YouTuber who records videos with a webcam or smartphone become popular? Or is it true that YouTube is no longer a place for people who don’t offer HD quality?
As I was interested in photography, I had the right equipment from the very start. But what I have learned in the two years of watching other channels is that quality is not the most important thing. If you have something interesting to say and you can engage your viewers by how you speak or what you say, you can get them to subscribe to your channel. The technical aspect is not so important then. Other issues matter, too. Many people just don’t know how much good lighting can help. A girl I know from the BookTube community recorded her videos, as it turned out, with a laptop camera. But she always made sure that the “film set” was well-lit; she used ordinary lamps for this purpose and it was OK. This doesn’t work the other way round, though: you may have great equipment but you won’t attract people without good content.
So is interesting content enough to stand out and attract viewers’ attention?
I would distinguish between two groups. The first one are niche channels focused on particular topics. You become a member of a community and you get noticed through your increased activity – shooting and watching videos, commenting on other people’s channels. This is how things went in my case. On the other hand, there are authors who attract a very wide audience. Rather than shooting videos focused on a particular topic, they make films anybody can watch. I mean videos with cute puppies or shopping hauls, for example. But it is not always easy to get noticed this way. In my opinion, the best way is to be active, for example, by posting comments. This is how I managed to create a great network, which is quite large considering my niche. I would recommend that approach to anybody starting out on YouTube.
Tell us, what’s the largest number of books you managed to read in a year?
Last year, I had the longest holidays in my life after I passed my school-leaving exams and before I started studies at the university. As a result, I managed to read 70 books. You would think that binge-reading is not a good thing, but spending 5 hours non-stop with a book is a great experience.
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