Rainbow colour-coded bookshelves, special edition hardbacks surrounded by fairy lights, atmospheric coffee shop scenes with a splayed open paperback on the table – this is what you can expect to see when scrolling through the 39 million posts under the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram. But the bookstagram community is more than just a shrine to the cosy reading aesthetic. So-called ‘bookstagrammers’ can amass huge followings, and with some accounts boasting audiences of over 100,000, it’s no surprise that publishers and writers are tapping into the power of #bookstagram.
One way in which bookstagram accounts differ from typical Instagram influencers is that they do not (overtly, at least) try to sell you anything. There is little money or fame in this corner of Instagram. The main perk of bookstagram success is being a recipient of free copies of new books sent by publishers, in exchange for a review or feature. In a breath of fresh air from countless ‘#spon’ ‘#ad’ posts, bookstagram is built upon simply a love of books and a wish to share that with the others. In many ways, it functions like a modern, worldwide book club, with users sharing recommendations and igniting discussions.
Central to this community are young women and teenage girls, who make up a significant number of its users. This can contribute to a perception of bookstagram as frivolous – more concerned with a book’s cover than its contents. But it can also signify young women empowering their own opinions and, in turn, potentially seeing that reflected in the publishing industry.
Bookstagram’s significance in diversifying literature and readership go beyond age or gender. Jasmine (@whatjasread) advocates for the power of bookstagram: “For me, bookstagram is important as a tool to diversify reading standards across the country. It allows readers in all employment sectors – of particular importance here, teaching – to find books by BIPOC [Black/Indigenous/People of Colour] authors that are marketed to a lesser extent by a largely white publishing industry.” Many users, like Jasmine, aim to promote diverse literature, with dedicated subsections of the community, such as the #ownvoices movement celebrating works written by diverse writers.
In a world where social media dominates our lives more than ever, online influencers are powerful marketing tools, and the same goes for the literary world. Bookstagram publicity was a significant contributor to the success of Helen Hoang’s 2018 romance hit The Kiss Quotient, which has been posted with the hashtag #thekissquotient almost 7,000 times. It is also an example of Own Voices literature, as it is inspired by Hoang’s experience of Autism Spectrum Disorder. A feature or positive review from a popular bookstagrammer is a crucial part of many new books’ promotional campaigns. Publishers’ desire to appeal to these influencers must therefore take into account their emphasis on diversity in storytelling and readership.
Through what might appear to be shallow photographs of pretty books, readers are starting conversations and influencing both other bibliophiles and, on a larger scale, the publishing industry itself.
Photo by @munchdotreviews.