• Tiffany Obeng

Are Recorded Read Alouds, "Free Milk"?

I presume whomever is reading this post, knows the saying, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" So, when it comes to recorded read alouds of children picture books, particularly for self published and/or newbie authors like ourselves, are we betting on ourselves or against ourselves?


As a self published author, we're always looking for avenues to get our book(s) in front of potential buyers. One of the avenues commonly used by self published authors are recorded read alouds, either paid or unpaid, often hosted via YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or all three. Authors use recorded read alouds for exposure and hope of book sales. It is a marketing strategy, but is it a marketing strategy that works? Do recorded read alouds lead to book sales?


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I conducted a "poll" to see how many people AKA potential buyers would buy a book after viewing a read aloud. The overwhelming consensus was that they would not buy the book; they would just watch (and re-watch) the recording. Teachers especially had this thought, considering school budget issues and the virtual push in classrooms.


I had a conversation with another self published author on the topic. She opined that if she submitted her book for a recorded read aloud, then she would prefer it be by someone who does not have a following and thus would not have many views or reach. So, in other words, not an influencer. That way, the author reasoned, her book would only be viewed by a few people. This is an interesting thought, in deed. But the caveat to this logic is that on YouTube and other recorded platforms, the recording lives in perpetuity, forever! So, when someone Google searches your book, the recorded read aloud could likely come up in the search results and the potential buyer will be able to view your entire book FOR FREE, anytime they want, without buying it. And what's worse is if the YouTube performer is really good and engaging with read alouds! You know, the ones with the costumes, music, or some other enticing performance element that really livens up the read. Of course, kids would prefer to watch the performance of your book rather than read a "boring" soft copy in comparison. Think about it!


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For children's picture books, those that average around 32 pages, I cannot help but provide the unsolicited advice to forgo recorded read alouds. Instead, opt for a book trailer, record an excerpt or teaser of your book, do an author interview, or offer behind-the-scenes looks into your process. These are ways to market your book and leave some allure, some wanting.


However, if you MUST do a read aloud, maybe try a read aloud that is not recorded or one that mainly focuses on the text with only glimpses to the illustrations. The latter format would be sort of like a teaser. 🤷‍♀️


Alternatively, if you just cannot pass up an opportunity to have your book read aloud on a recorded platform, do what the big publishing companies do to protect their product...


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Enter an online reading permission agreement! Here is language by Harper Collins:


If you are an author who would like to do a recorded or live reading of your HarperCollins Children’s book: We are granting you permission to read your HarperCollins Children’s Books titles online through December 31st, 2021. These virtual readings may be streamed live via digital platforms, or if recorded, posted in closed educational platforms. If a closed platform is unavailable, recorded videos of readings may be uploaded to YouTube as long as they are marked “Unlisted”. We ask that you work with your editorial and marketing contact so we can amplify appropriately. This permission grant is to best serve the community of readers out there who need us right now.


If you are an author who has received a request from a teacher or librarian to read your HarperCollins Children’s book online: We are extending the ability to our authors and illustrators to grant permission to educators and librarians to read their HarperCollins Children’s Books titles online through December 31st, 2021. These virtual readings may be streamed live via digital platforms, or if recorded, posted in closed educational platforms. If a closed platform is unavailable, recorded videos of readings may be uploaded to YouTube as long as they are marked “Unlisted”. We ask that you ask the requestor to do the following, as conditions of this grant of permission:

1. At the beginning of the reading, state it is “with permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books”. 2. Send their name, school or library, city and state, and the title and author/illustrator of the book they intend to read online to ChildrensPermissions@HARPERCOLLINS.com.

3. Delete uploaded videos or, in the event the applicable platform does not permit deletion, disable access to uploaded videos, by the end of the local school year.


If you are an educator or librarian who would like to read a HarperCollins Children’s book online: We are granting permission to educators and librarians to read HarperCollins Children’s Books titles online, on video, through December 31st, 2021. These virtual readings may be streamed live via digital platforms, or if recorded, posted to closed educational platforms. If a closed platform is unavailable, recorded videos of readings may be uploaded to YouTube as long as they are marked “Unlisted”. We ask that any educators or librarians performing or posting readings please do the following, as conditions of this grant of permission:

1. At the beginning of the reading, state it is “with permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books”. 2. Send their name, school or library, city and state, and the title and author/illustrator of the book they intend to read online to ChildrensPermissions@HARPERCOLLINS.com.

3. Delete uploaded or archived videos or, in the event the applicable platform does not permit deletion, disable access to uploaded videos, by the end of the local school year. This permission grant is to best serve the community of readers out there who need us right now.


Harper Collins also has language for booksellers, and other publishing companies have similar requirements before granting permission for online readings.


Notable, are the requirements that the recorded read aloud be "unlisted," which prevents your book from being searchable, and the requirement that the read aloud be deleted or archived after a certain time period. This requirement prevents your work from living on the internet for free forever.


Now, if the large publishing companies know not to allow their books to live forever in full on a recorded platform or have certain requirements before allowing recorded read alouds, then why are we so quick to allow it?


But, hey, what do I know? I am particular about Amazon "Look Insides." 😂


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