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The World's Largest Book Club - How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Read


Instagram has nearly one billion monthly users, 170 million of those being in the United States, making it one of the most popular online social networks. Over two-thirds of its users are under 34, making it particularly appealing to younger audiences. 

As a highly visual social media platform, Instagram excels as a platform for book promotion, as it can allow for instantaneous and genuine human emotion to be expressed in an immediate way. The emotional effect of books cannot necessarily be conveyed through the written word, but can be through video clips or images of the Bookstagrammer themselves; Instagram reels and TikToks, capturing immediate reactions, facial expressions, offer genuine human connection, in a way which ordinary written marketing does not. Perhaps most importantly, the community allows for genuine discussion of plots, characters, and themes, allowing readers from all over the world to contribute to an ongoing conversation. 

People can get involved in discussions about issues in the publishing world which they feel passionate about, allowing them to get their opinions heard and to spread positive messages and action through the community. Though websites and online communities such as Goodreads have offered similar services before, using popular social media allows for greater immediacy and interaction between readers on a platform that is accessed by huge quantities of active users, many of whom are teenagers and young adults. Bookstagram gives the young reader a chance to publicise and praise the work which matters the most to them, so perhaps most importantly, Bookstagrammers are able to encourage a love of reading and experience of fiction in young people, giving a wide variety of books to choose from which may not ordinarily be offered to them by parents or teachers.

The publishing house Penguin Random House recently revealed figures stating that just 1% of GCSE English literature students study a book by a writer of colour, and no more than 7% study a book by a woman. While Reni Eddo-Lodge and Bernadine Evaristo have topped UK bestseller charts in the past few years, black and Asian writers are still hugely underrepresented in the industry. In 2017, only 6% of children’s authors were from ethnic minority backgrounds. This is a shocking statistic, particularly considering that a third of primary school children are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and so have very little representation of themselves in literature. Data from the United States Census Bureau for 2019 revealed that 80% of writers and authors are white, while black authors make up only 6% of the profession.

In the last year, however, young adult literature has seen a rise in authors in colour; The Bookseller revealed that in 2019, authors of colour made up 19.6% of books aimed in the young adult genre. While not a huge number, this is still a vast improvement from 2017, where only 7.1% of authors were writers of colour. Influencers on Instagram and TikTok are urging more awareness when buying, and promoting more conscientious reading, which takes into account the vast underrepresentation of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) authors and characters, especially in young adult fiction. The book community is not only calling for better racial representation, but also a greater variety of body types, neurotypes, and relationships are those LGBTQ+ or just realistic and healthy representations of romance.


Maya Topiwala, who runs the Instagram account @mnmbooks along with a friend, first got into Instagramming about books around a year ago as a response to content that she had seen on TikTok, particularly with regards to the way that certain novels were pitching unhealthy romances to young girls. She aims to promote books by South-Asian authors with diverse representation. Her account now sports over 10K followers, and reaches hundreds of thousands of other people per week, with her main engagement being with her Instagram stories, and commentaries on ongoing issues in the book community. At first, Maya was unsure about using Instagram, mainly using it to share short book reviews. ‘It was only when Alejandro (@alejandro.reads) started Decolonize December that I think I really understood how Bookstagram is spurring positive change within the book community.’ Maya notes that many people’s experiences with books are those which they had at school, which are often academic and not representative of minoritized students. She argues that contemporary fiction has just as much to offer as well-established classics. Bookstagram helps to instil enjoyment back into reading by giving them the opportunity to discover books that represent them.


‘I like hearing different people’s opinions on books I recommend and I also like when people read books I recommend,’ Maya says. ‘My favourite is when someone South Asian checks out my list of South Asian book recommendations and then DMs me like “I just saw myself represented in a book for the first time ever - that was so cool!” She goes on to state the importance of such representation in the community, and how much it means to people to see themselves represented in literature. ‘I really love getting DMs from other teens who are excited that a brown girl like me is able to thrive in such an overwhelmingly white space like Bookstagram. I actually have a folder on my phone where I save all the kinds of messages I get. Whenever I’m feeling down, I like reading them and seeing the sheer amount of support I’ve received.’


Instagram and TikTok user @tattooedbibliophile has been part of the community for nearly three years, as a way to be a part of a reading community. She says, ‘Once I found that there was an entire community of people talking about books, I immediately created a book page. I don't have any friends who love reading so it was so nice to meet people online who were also obsessed with books!’ At the time she joined, Instagram was one of the only places with a book community other than Tumblr, but now, TikTok is also allowing influencers to produce content much faster, with greater reach. The content which she produces are book reviews, and information about book collections, helping collectors to find certain obscure sets, which makes up her most popular content.


She believes that the reason Instagram has become such a popular platform for people to share books is because of its visual nature, focussing on what makes books themselves visually stimulating. As with any influencer, there are a huge number of ways that Bookstagrammers create visual appeal that makes it easy to consume a great deal of information in a short period of time. While they may not be able to publish full-length book reviews, they have other visual means to highlight the mood of writing and content in a way that ordinary marketing cannot. Content which describes particular sets of tropes in books are popular, as they pick out subjects a reader might be looking for or enjoy - the inclusion, or lack thereof, of romance; the main themes and conflicts; or the types of characters it features. Like any other social media platform, the community also goes through trends that spread rapidly. ‘It’s pretty neat that a bunch of young adults on the internet control who’s reading what,’ Maya says. She cites Adam Silvera’s 2017 novel They Both Die At The Endwhich recently topped bestseller charts despite being a few years old, something which is nearly unheard of as books tend to be most popular just after their release.

Bookstagrammers are aware of the effect which their content can have, and many of them use these trends to boost exposure for obscure authors. @tattooedbibliophile is particularly focused on supporting as many indie and minority authors as possible, and she notes that for her, the platforms have a huge impact. ‘I, as well as others, get most of my book recs through the platform. It's definitely influencing my book choices. And I've seen many people who used to love reading get back into it through Bookstagram. It has also made things less taboo. Women reading sci-fi, men reading romance, the community seems to, in general, be much more open and supportive to each other than offline readers.’

Though social media has always been crucial for authors in terms of publicity, having a Bookstagrammer with thousands of followers promoting your novel is a way for Bookstagrammers to generate income, and for publishers and authors to gain popularity and recognition.

While @tattooedbibliophile has never been sponsored by a publisher, she says she has been asked to represent a merchandise company for a few months, asked by publishers to review a book, particularly since she has reached 10K followers.

Particularly over the pandemic, reading played a huge part in relieving boredom in various lockdowns, with sales in books increasing; some publishers cited consumers rising 7% in spite of book shop closures. As well as this, new figures from the Publishers Association show that in particular, fiction sales for UK publishers rose by 16% from £571m to £688m in 2020. Though print sales fell as bookshops were forced to close for months on end, total digital sales soared, up 12%, as people sought easily accessible consumable entertainment for comfort and escapism during the pandemic. Perhaps the most important part of Bookstagram and Booktok, though, is the sense of a close community, all with a common interest. For many people, having the chance to share something they love with a wide range of people gives a sense of connection, allowing them to cultivate bonds and start conversations that would not have been possible before.

Mary-Beth Prindezis

The World's Largest Book Club - How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Read Reviewed by Mary-Beth Prindezis on Thursday, August 05, 2021 Rating: 5
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