The rise of bookstagram, bookTube, and book clubs


Grace Vespa

Readers all over the globe are changing the way they interact with books in a digital age with #Bookstagram, a popular Instagram hashtag used to promote book-related photos. The majority of the “Bookstagram” community, as the users call themselves, take professional photos of specific books and make posts on a daily basis. They often write reviews of the books, relate it to their daily lives, and connect the novel to surrounding objects in the picture.

Contrary to high-profile social media influencers, the people that are part of the #Bookstagram don’t get paid for their photography. In fact, the majority of users post because they like being part of a community that celebrates books in a fun, wholesome manner. Bookstagram users with large follower counts may occasionally have sponsored advertised posts, but each post is marked clearly with an #ad hashtag. Typically, bookstagrammers can become representatives, or ‘Reps,’ for different literary-related companies. For example, Tiffany from @bookwarmgram has 8,102 followers on Instagram and is a Rep for two candle-making companies; Moledro Craft Co. and LemonCakes Candle Co., as well as two book subscription companies; Illumicrate and the Willoughby Book Club. Her feed combines fall tones with artistically photographed novels, and like most bookstagrammers, she formats the body of her posts in a ‘Question of the Day’ style that often correlates to the photographed book. Tiffany states that the Bookstagram community has enabled her to purchase “several books I never would have if it weren’t for seeing them on Instagram.” She also does giveaways and runs a blog called “The Bookworm Files” with co-writer bookstagrammer, Alexa.

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Although large majorities of bookstagrammers photograph Young Adult novels, there are a few that explore other genres. Chloe from @thecosyreader has 4,449 followers on Instagram, and her fall-themed feed features a mix of adult fantasy novels, YA, classics, and assorted book-related objects set against a dark wood background. Chloe states that Bookstagram has opened her up to so many literary stores and book subscription services, and the promotion of different books through other people’s posts and subscription services “broadened my scope of reading.” Furthermore, being an active part of the Bookstagram community enabled Chloe to have a common interest in reading with other Bookstagrammers, and eventually “you often find that you have a lot more in common and your conservations steer more away from books.” Bookstagram’s social media platform allows Bookstagrammers to mingle and create lasting friendships with one another across countries, cultures, and time zones.

Bookstagram is not the only book-related niche community to pop up from social media. “BookTube” is a community on YouTube that focuses heavily on books, often in conjunction with the Bookstagram community. In a New York Times article by Concepción de León titled “Meet the YouTube Stars Turning Viewers Into Readers,” de León mentions how high profile BookTubers like Christine Riccio, Ariel Bissett, Jesse George, and Kat O’Keffee are helping the publishing industry tap into a market for a social-media driven Millennial and Gen Z audience. At almost 400,000 subscribers, Christine Riccio is the most popular and most well known BookTuber on her channel PolandBananasBooks, focusing mainly on Young Adult novels. On her channel, she makes videos on book-to-movie adaptations, reactions to book-to-television series, book reviews, book hauls, and most recently, videos on her writing process. Similarly, Ariel Bissett makes insightful content about journaling, reading preferences, essay writing tips, and book documentaries. Recently, she posted a video titled “Is BookTube Educational?” which explores the influence BookTube has on education through its engaging and collaborative platform. She also runs “Reading Rush,” formerly titled “BookTubeAThon,” a week-long summer reading marathon that brings Bookstagrammers and BookTubers together with interactive video and Instagram challenges every day.

The rise of Bookstagram and BookTube stars often appear at author events and literary conferences such as BookExpo and YALLFest, book-to-movie premieres, and VidCon. Both Bookstagram and BookTube also heavily showcase literature subscription services, small literary shops on Etsy, and various other shops that pop up due to this community through “unboxing” videos on Youtube and Insta-stories. Their influence toward a younger generation enables publishers to target trends in young adult reading for an audience that looks toward social media for consumer recommendations. In “The Reality of BookTube” by Ashley Brekelmans, BookTube is a powerful marketing tool for publishers to utilize, although their videos feature books prominently from the Big Five publishing companies rather than independent publishers.

As YouTubers and social media influencers constantly change themselves to suit video trends, BookTube has relatively stayed the same since its creation in 2011. The public perception of well-known YouTube stars such as Shane Dawson or Tyler Oakley can change in an instant, but BookTubers foster a sense of community and non-toxicity that is unmatched in today’s social media climate. In the BookTube world, well-known stars such as Jesse George and Christine Riccio are social media influencers in their own way. In fact, Ariel, Christine, Jesse, and Kat O’Keffee started a monthly book club called “Booksplosion,” and at the end of every month they host a live stream discussion about the featured book along with their viewers. At VidCon or other literary events, Christine Riccio and various BookTubers organize meetups, post videos of meet-and-greets to their channels, and occasionally host panels at BookCon.

Social media has been at the forefront of change for those in the book community. We Need Diverse Books is a nonprofit organization that advocates for diversity in the publishing industry, and it has gained traction from promotion by Bookstagrammers and BookTubers. Their organization originally started on Twitter as authors and agents started protesting the lack of diversity and inclusion after an announcement of an all-white and all-male panel at BookCon in 2014. It began officially on July 29, 2014, and their aim is to recognize published novels about disabled, LGBTQ, ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. According to Lee & Low, the number of diverse books published in 2017 increased to 28 percent, and the number has been increasing substantially since 2014. The increase in diverse books highlights that a grassroots organization started on social media can conduct change through the help of the BookTube and Bookstagram communities.

Book clubs hosted by celebrities are another innovative way to target a wider audience and drive print and e-book sales for publishing industries. Oprah Winfrey, who is most notably known for her talk show, started her own celebrity book club. In February, Oprah’s club chose “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, a novel that explores the intersection of race and class in 2018 America. Similarly, Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show Summer Reads” recently promoted “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi, published by MacMillan Publishers. Additionally, Reese Witherspoon’s book club has become a household name since its launch, and right now her club is reading “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton, published by Penguin Random House. Other celebrities such as Emma Watson, Florence Welch, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Emma Roberts promote lifestyle novels, feminist reads, or adult fiction. Those celebrity book clubs promote novels from different publishing companies such as HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Random House, or Macmillan Publishers, and it has been proven that celebrity influence increases print sales. According to Chris Schluep, an editor at Amazon, once Jimmy Fallon’s book club promoted “Children of Blood and Bone,” it sold close to “three times the number of print, Kindle, and Audible books it sold in the previous week at Amazon.”

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Moreover, celebrity book clubs are not only increasing sales for publishing companies, they also showcase other charities that promote literacy around the country. For example, the Tonight Show and MacMillan Publishers donated 3,000 copies of “Children of Blood and Bone” to First Book, a charity organization that provides books to classrooms, homeless shelters, and communities across the country. Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint and book club partnered with the American Library Association to get people to read and to support their local libraries. According to PageSix, Sarah Jessica Parker states that her intention is to “introduce new authors to readers…because it’s a huge exchange of information and enthusiasm.” Celebrity book clubs are clearly on the rise, and they are boosting print sales while also promoting local literacy charities to people all over the country.