Digital Culture

What even is the point of books anymore?

Joe Plant

I don’t care about what a book looks like on a shelf. I have never cared about the aesthetics of being a reader – the little indie bookshops that are popping up everywhere, where the owner knows you by sight and is ready to serenade you with their newest acquisitions list, where the shelves already look like a real-life rendition of your bookstagram page, the books simpering on their pedestals waiting to pose against a gravel backdrop and gain a million likes.

I have never cared for or even given a single thought to this world. I knew it existed, knew about Rupi Kaur and her three-line poems seemingly composed in under a minute, accompanying 4.1 million followers and three published collections. I knew it was successful, but it felt separate, estranged from my life as a reader where every literary choice I made was at the behest of the Amazon algorithm. 

For me, the Kindle is the perfect and complete replacement for the printed book. The book is unnecessary, particularly when it’s far easier and cheaper to read through the internet. I know, of course, that is not the case for every culture. I am speaking entirely of my own. Sod the books and keep whacking out the .mobi files!


I do realise that I appear to be on my own in this mode of thought. I am happy and eager to acknowledge that this doesn’t reflect current thinking, not when indie bookshop sales seem to be up, and Amazon, while still the biggest seller, is thought of so badly. Then there’s the Gram, of course. People care about the Gram, and as someone who has been evidenced in throwing their support behind the new technology, this is a problem I cannot ignore.

Influencer marketing is undeniably the way forward for many products, and it would seem books (I am still talking about those glued bundles of massacred tree limbs) are no different. Bookstagram is big business for publishers – Penguin has multiple accounts, @penguinbooks, @penguinrandomhouse, @penguinukbooks to name but a few, boasting as many as 589k followers – to say nothing of the smaller independent influencer accounts that continue to taint their committed followers’ tastes and next literary acquisitions. 

I have at no point in my derision of those pointless tied up bits of paper dismissed the role of Instagram in their sale – physical or otherwise. Is the only reason they continue to take up such a large amount of space on shelves and in houses that they look better – both to the buyer personally and on their social media? Is that why we haven’t thrown them, alongside portable DVD players and the horse-drawn seed drill, into the skip of time?