What Happened to Vlog Adaptations of Books? An Exploration

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Carolina Ciucci


Carolina Ciucci is a teacher, writer and reviewer based in the south of Argentina. She hoards books like they’re going out of style. In case of emergency, you can summon her by talking about Ireland, fictional witches, and the Brontë family. Twitter: @carolinabeci

Vlog adaptations of books were a huge phenomenon in the early-to-mid 2010s. The launch of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in 2012 kickstarted a wave of similarly formatted adaptations: Carmilla, The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, Emma Approved…The list goes on. Although none of these reached quite the same level of success that LBD did, they were still beloved and highly watched: Carmilla even got its own movie and book adaption. This trend lasted for a couple of years, until vlog adaptations of books vanished overnight. Or, at least, that was the overall impression.

What happened, then? What leads a wildly successful trend to peter out within a couple of years? I set out to find out, with the help and expertise of several people who’ve played a part in the heyday of vlogging based on books.

The Rise of Vlogging and the First Scripted Vlog

Although the term “vlog” wasn’t coined until 2000 by Adrian Miles, many consider Nelson Sullivan to be the first vlogger. Sullivan, a videographer based in New York, often recorded videos of his life and adventures both NYC and South Carolina, going all the way back to the 1980s.

The first proper vlog as we know it happened in 2000, when Adam Kontras filmed his cross-country move to Los Angeles for his family and friends. However, Kontras’ videos soon became wildly popular with strangers as well. Many jumped on the vlogging bandwagon, especially after YouTube was founded in 2005. Almost 20 years later, it remains the preferred platform by most vloggers.

It was on YouTube that a vlog by a lonely 15-year-old began to gain traction. In June 2006, a girl named Bree started filming vlogs about her lonely life as a homeschooled teenager. It wasn’t long before the channel, titled (what else?) lonelygirl15, soon began to worry viewers: Bree’s parents belonged to an unnamed religion that sounded increasingly like a cult. Eventually, Bree and her best friend/love interest Daniel find out that the religion is a blood-harvesting operation after her own blood, forcing them to go on the run.

Needless to say: this turned out to be fiction. lonelygirl15, which ran until August 2008, was the first webseries formatted as a vlog. It built up a strong fandom, including a woman who would go on to become a central part of the ultimate fictional vlog.

Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the Explosion of Vlog Adaptations of Books

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Hank Green was among the first to notice the potential for vlog adaptations of books. While chatting with his friend, producer Jenni Powell, he asked if he could pitch her a creative idea. “He said ‘Could we take a novel and adapt it to YouTube?…Like a direct adaptation but do it like in vlog style. And as soon as he types that…I was like, oh my God. I can’t believe no one’s thought of that.”

Choosing a book to adapt, however, proved more time-consuming. After some back and forth, it was Green’s wife who suggested that they do Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Jenni, who had insisted that the book in question had to be in the public domain, quickly jumped on board. From that moment, she remembers, “it was full steam ahead.” Within three months, they were shooting.

The budget was tiny, but they wanted to make it as professional as possible. This meant cutting costs where they could, which was part of Jenni’s job as the head of line producing:

“It was my job to actually book locations, hire the cast, I cooked lunch because it was cheaper than hiring a caterer. I was doing really logistical kind of work…and I was definitely like more of the nuts and bolts, like okay, this is what you want to achieve creatively, it was my job to make sure that we did that and that we stayed within budget, because our budgets were pretty tight.”

She’s not kidding: Lizzie’s bedroom and Netherfield were different parts of her own bedroom.

But the effort paid off: LBD was an almost instant success. This led to an explosion of vlog adaptations of books in subsequent years: within 2013 and 2014, web series were popping out of the woodwork, with Jane Eyre, Carmilla, and Nothing Much to Do, among the most successful ones.

The LBD Effect? The Explosion of Vlogs Based on Books

There’s a reason a lot of creators started with vlog-style web series, as Sinead Persaud, co-creator of production company Shipwrecked Comedy, points out. Sinead, along with her brother and co-creator Sean, put together a vlog called The Tell Tale Vlog:

“We assembled a team and decided that we’d film an Edgar Allan Poe vlog as well, since that was very hot right then; we were definitely capitalizing off on things like Lizzie Bennet Diaries. And it was so cheap to make because we could film it all in one take, in one room, with one piece of set dec in the back, just a wall of books thrifted from libraries where they were giving away books…And then we put it up, and it was resonating with people because the vlog style adaptations were very in at that moment.”

Both Sean and Sinead love Poe, but there was one more consideration in their choice of material. Like Jane Austen‘s, Poe’s work had the benefit of being in the public domain.

2015 and Beyond: What Happened?

Although you’d be forgiven for thinking so, vlogs based on books didn’t vanish into thin air on January 1, 2015. Carmilla continued to air until 2016, and new ones appeared until at least 2019, when Persuasion adaptation Rational Creatures first launched. But they did significantly diminish: after several Google searches with various keywords, I couldn’t find a single vlog adaptation of a book currently airing. Why is that? As it turns out, it’s due to a combination of factors.

From the Viewer’s Perspective

Jenni has a theory on why vlog book adaptations faded away:

“The shift I started to see happening is, people wanted immersion. At the end of the day, that’s what Lizzie Bennet Diaries was trying to provide: a story that you could completely immerse yourself in if you want to. That’s why the characters were very real, and you had social media accounts, and you could interact with them. After 2014, a lot of YouTube shifted to more laid-back experiences….And the participation started to move toward what I call immersive experiences in the real world. Things like Sleep No More [and] escape rooms…People wanted to immerse themselves in real life.”

Sean also suggests that, by their very premise, vlog adaptations have an expiration date:

“There’s always like a big suspension of disbelief when you’re watching something, a longform thing that’s in vlog form, and I think that’s something I really liked about the Tell Tale Vlog, that we really leaned into the absurdity of somebody vlogging about something for a long time, because why would Edgar Allan Poe ever vlog? That was part of the fun.”

He has a point. As much as I loved LBD, I had to actively suspend disbelief about the choice to post certain things – such as Lizzie’s various fights and confrontations with her sisters and friends. Who posts something like that for the world to see? Especially considering that Lizzie’s vlog was supposed to be a grad school project; you’d assume she would want to appear professional in front of her professors and advisor.

Perhaps, once the novelty of this form of storytelling wore off, its inherent contradictions were always going to take their toll.

From the Filmmaker’s Perspective

But there is more to the disappearance of vlog adaptations than the audience losing interest: Sinead considers that it’s a “convergence of not being sustainable, fatigue, and people moving on to other things.”

Sean offers another layer: “These vlog adaptations were really big in 2012, ’13, ’14, and that’s kind of when streamers started up, Netflix started doing originals…Fast-forward a couple of years and there’s so many places you can go to be entertained.” He also points out that “now the YouTube algorithm seems to be actively working against us.”

Considering that making income on YouTube largely depends on the number of views you get, and that the algorithm plays a major role in getting those views to your channel, that’s not a mere detail. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries made its money from a combination of YouTube views (through ad revenue and clicks per thousands), sponsorships, and affiliate programs. Even then, this Emmy-winning series was on a tight budget. It was only a matter of time for other creators to come to the same conclusion that Sean did: “there’s a lot of work if you’re not gonna get anything…after a certain point, you’ve got to make a return on your investment.”

Still, they persevere. Sinead adds: “We love what we do, and we are doing it twofold to get opportunities, and to write what we love and star in what we love, and two, to make it like a calling card for TV and film production companies to notice us.”

Having now watched Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party and Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story, I strongly endorse this idea. Come on, Netflix. Use some of the money you’ve saved by cancelling perfectly lovely shows to back these brilliant folks.

What’s Happening Now?

There may not be vlog adaptations of books anymore, but that doesn’t mean that online adaptations are gone. Besides the people behind Shipwrecked Comedy (on top of Sean and Sinead, the team is also comprised of Mary Kate Wiles and, until quite recently, Sarah Grace Hart), others are combining their love of literature and acting, and putting together adaptations of novels or plays.

However, as Jenni points out, when it comes down to it, “in the web series world…generally, you aren’t only working on web series, you’re usually doing them as a passion project on the side.”

Alice D. Bloomer, actress, social work student, and Bard enthusiast, agrees. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic she created Cymbeline in Quarantine, a modern YouTube adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

When I asked what led her to doing this project, she explained that it was a combination of factors: “boredom, wanted to do a project, wanted to do Shakespeare, needed to keep busy ’cause I missed UK and had just lost my dad.” She expands: “It was a passion project, and a way to get some work for friends when there wasn’t any. It was also fun, and it made me happy. Also, it looked good on my CV if I was going to do more theatre.”

Not only was making a profit not one of the motives, but Alice knew that the project would actually cost her money: “I paid for most things up front but we did have a Patreon account that people paid into to get sneak peeks and bonus things and a chat with me on Friday evenings.”


Back in 2014, it seemed that vlog adaptations of classic novels were here to stay — at least for a while. Obviously, that turned out not to be the case. But that doesn’t mean that web series as a whole are gone: it means that creators who engage in this form of medium are now fully aware of the risks and downsides, which means that most of what still exists falls under at least one of two camps: a) passion projects from artists, and/or b) “calling cards”, as Sinead put it. Often, it’s both at once.

Vlog adaptations of books were a relatively brief trend, not a new mainstay of media. But it led, as adaptations often do, to countless new readers of these books, and to untold numbers of people exploring creative outlets that they might not have otherwise. Truly, from this perspective, it did more for the good of the arts than most trends do. And there is a discussion to be had about how this should translate into increased funding opportunities for artists who embark upon alternative forms of storytelling, for they’re the ones who are often at the cutting edge of creativity and exploration.

If nothing else, I hope you take this particular question mark with you into your day.

Oh, and if you’re feeling nostalgic, check out The Look Back Diaries for a retrospective on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by the star on its 10 year anniversary.