Say Instagram, and the first things that come to mind are influencers, advertisements and ‘perfect’ body aspirations. Yet, there is a new emerging corner that combines our aesthetically obsessed culture with the art of reading: bookstagram. Bookstagram is a relatively recent phenomenon which refers to accounts creating weird and wonderful displays of books they are reading and enjoying surrounded by an assortment of objects such as candles, feathers and the odd cup of artisan coffee. However, is this new facet of Instagram really worth your time?
There are many different styles adopted by bookstagram accounts. Here, in an example from @sweetbookobssession, is a shelfie – a neologism that has emerged due to bookstagram to simply mean a photo of your shelves – in this instance, with a seasonal pumpkin display in front, a very visually pleasing photo. Or similarly, there is picture of the novel Twilight posted by @mirkosmithbooks which features the book surrounded by pine-cones, pumpkins and other autumnal items. There seems to be a clear use of themes by these accounts, focussing their photos on the time of year, rather than the content of the novels. An aim of capturing a particular aesthetic rather than the novel itself, perhaps? Alternatively, there are photographs that express the novels themselves – such as this one by @booksterjess – an account which offers reviews of the books they have read, and here is where we see bookstagram really having a purpose and place: to recommend and advise you on what books to read or not to read.
The platform as a medium for reviewing is now being used to the advantage of many major publishing houses. Social media is used as part of marketing campaigns for all kinds of products and this applies to books just the same. Bookstagrammers often receive ARC’s (advanced reader copies) of novels before their official release date, these are free as long as they publish a photo of the novel in return. Whether it’s just a photo through which users of Instagram can be compelled to read a book simply by its cover, or through an honest review that highlights the successes of the novel, the bookstagram platform can help promote new (and old) books to wider audiences. It is hard to even comprehend – given the predominance of Instagram in our current culture – the sheer number of people who truly use Instagram, especially young people, and therefore books are being promoted to the masses. Bookstagram is encouraging people to read, and even shaping reading patterns.
All you have to do is take a look in the comments section of the posts to see the community bookstagram is fostering. You see a photo, decide to read the book and suddenly have a place to return to discuss the book, debate ideas and talk to others who have enjoyed it, just like you. This increases the engagement people are having with the books they read and enables readers to find like-minded people through the internet. Even in posts which do not feature a review, the photo caption often includes a question to spark a conversation. Whether it simply be a discussion of what they have done in their day or asking viewers their favourite colour or season – it does not always have to be directly about books – it just creates a place for people with similar interests to discuss whatever they please.
Bookstagram may seem a place for people to simply take aesthetically pleasing photographs but in reality, it is much more than that: a promotional platform for publishers and a place of community and conversations. In a world where Instagram is famed for diet advertisements and idealistic views of life, a casual chat about books can’t be a bad thing.
– Amie Greenhalgh