How has 'Bookstagram' contributed to the publishing industry?
This is a far from perfect piece but my interest in 'Bookstagram' and its influence on the publishing industry is intriguing to me. So, as a part of a uni assignment for my MA in publishing, I decided to analyse how 'Bookstagram' can contribute to the publishing industry.
Introduction: What is Bookstagram?
Over recent years, avid readers have become a part of the influencer community, discovering a fresh niche that targets book lovers, ultimately known as ‘Bookstagram’. Bookstagrammers use their platform to share their most loved books with short reviews in their captions, generating conversations about their favourite and current reads. Through appealing photography and aesthetics, Bookstagrammers that are successful “are now able to sell copies with their Instagram posts, which are more colloquial than formal reviews” (Rahim, 2019).
Due to Bookstagram’s increasing popularity, it can enable readers to reignite their passion for books, as this platform has been described as “giving new life to an ancient art form” (Hilary, 2018). Arguably, Bookstagram has positively influenced the publishing industry as books are gaining more exposure from this new form of digital marketing, which is what will be analysed further throughout this report. Appealing visuals on Bookstagram accounts will undoubtedly influence consumers as “Bookstagram pages have a carefully cultivated aesthetic. They are filled with photographs of novels lying open on white sheets or glimpsed in a cafe” (Rahim, 2019). It goes without saying that if something looks visually pleasing, it is instantly going to attract attention from consumers, which will have a great benefit on authors and publishing houses. Bookstagram is encouraging more people to read and to also help readers diversify their book choices as a range of old and new books are promoted across Bookstagram accounts.
However, there will also be discussions on how Bookstagram has been criticised for being superficial, where Bookstagrammers are more attentive to visual aids rather than the actual books themselves. Bookstagrammers have been accused of judging books by their covers and being more concerned about the aesthetics than the actual book itself. Although, Bookstagram posts that may not contain a review are still sparking conversations between the community, creating more engagement and acknowledgement for the books they have photographed and shared. As Instagram is dominated and “famed for diet advertisements and idealistic views of life, a casual chat about books can’t be a bad thing” (Greenhalg, 2019). Arguably, Bookstagram is a more authentic way of influencing as there is no competitive nature that is evident in other forms of influencing on Instagram; Bookstagram can therefore be identified as a community that provides readers with a safe space to share their passions for reading with other book lovers.
How are Publishers utilising Bookstagram?
Publishers have taken great advantage of Bookstagram accounts and have in fact, been a powerful marketing tool for them. Penguin Random House, one of the UK’s leading publishing houses in the UK, have utilised this form of marketing as a way of gaining more exposure on their upcoming book releases. The successful publishing house has even set up an influencer programme, where they are ‘gifting’ copies to Bookstagram users in return for exposure to their audience, whether that be a review or photographic feature of the book: “We primarily work with bookstagrammers throughout monthly mailings, in which you receive free copies in exchange for potential posts” (The Random House Influencer Programme, 2020). This form of marketing is much more cost-effective for publishers:
“Unlike other influencers who can make thousands of dollars for sponsored posts, Bookstagrammers usually aren’t paid for their content - instead publishers simply send the books to them in exchange for coverage” (Pope, 2019).
Therefore, this can suggest that Bookstagram is a more genuine form of influencer marketing on Instagram. Bookstagrammers are seemingly more genuine as their love for books takes priority, rather than using their platforms for financial gain and commercial purposes.
This way of collaborating is greatly beneficial for publishers as Bookstagrammers that have established a presence and are able to share both creative and aesthetically pleasing photographs of their books can instantly grasp attention from consumers, a reason as to why publishers are using this form of digital marketing as one of their main marketing tools. Not only this but publishers such as Penguin Random House, are trying to drive their authors to use Bookstagram themselves and have even put together an article on their website with tips on how to be reactive on social media. As social media somewhat dominates this generation and is a main form of how we promote our works, Penguin Random House are cleverly advising authors to “post that beautiful picture of your book next to a few succulents one day and that designed blurb asset the next, then sprinkle in some personal posts throughout, and you might also want to make time to help promote author friends and interact with readers” (Stamper-Halpin, 2019). Not only will the use of Bookstagram benefit authors receiving extra exposure for their books, but it will also help publishers have a direct link with readers so they are able to gain a better understanding of what authors are interested in, providing readers with books they will be most interested in; publishers are then able to divert their focus on content that will match their target audiences needs.
Penguin Random House has gone above and beyond as they utilise Bookstagram for mass engagement from their readers. Throughout the summer when Covid-19 had forced us to stay indoors and communicate virtually, Penguin Random House launched an initiative called ‘Meet the Bookstagrammer’. Through Penguin’s Instagram, they had a number of Bookstagrammers take over and create video content of themselves discussing books: “To navigate this unprecedented time, we need all the help we can get. That means sharing knowledge, staying connected and keeping each other’s spirits up” (Meet the Bookstagrammer, 2020). Due to a high percentage of the population having time to spare during the pandemic, this initiative utilising Bookstagram is a clever marketing strategy, targeting individuals that may want to get back into reading. Penguin Random House are directly targeting these readers by introducing Bookstagrammers who are providing book recommendations and engaging those with an interest in reading, directing these consumers straight to their business.
As the use of social media has increased over this generation and has somewhat dominated the internet, Bookstagram has helped readers in choosing what books to read. Being an active user of Bookstagram myself, I decided to approach my followers with the question ‘How do you believe Bookstagram has influenced the publishing industry? Do you think it has saved it somehow?’ From most users, there was a positive response that Bookstagram has provided an element of enthusiasm for book lovers, whilst building a community. A Bookstagrammer, says that Bookstagram “has injected excitement back into the way people read and share books (Amy and the Bookcase, 2020). Another user states: “definitely! I barely look at book charts anymore, I take all of my book recommendations from Bookstagram” (What Jess Writes, 2020). A wide range of readers are massively appreciative of this modern form of discovering new books and how it is also enabling readers to diversify their reading, pushing themselves out of comfort zones and immersing themselves in books they may not necessarily go for. It is easy for specific books to become popular on Bookstagram, especially if a book has a selective amount of good reviews, it isn’t long until they go viral and are posted all over Bookstagram. If this comes into effect, it can greatly benefit publishers as these books will evidently boost their sales.
However, this side of Bookstagram can have negative influences on the publishing industry. If Bookstagram users are focusing on the same set of books, then some publishers may experience difficulty in promoting other books. A Bookstagram user states: “I’ve been kind of disappointed with how Bookstagram feels like an echo chamber. People recommend the same set of popular books” (Dara the Book Explorer, 2020). Agreeably, there may be a selective amount of books that deserve the same recognition as the ones that are receiving a high amount of exposure, but Bookstagram users can be heavily influenced by others opinions and what is on-trend. Also, if a popular account with a large following provides a bad review for a certain book, this may put off other consumers from purchasing that book, as they don’t want to risk investing in a book that has received a bad review, which is where Bookstagram has also been criticised.
How Bookstagram has been criticised.
Although there are many positive factors that Bookstagram has contributed to the publishing industry, there have also been some elements of criticism surrounding this book community. As Instagram is acknowledged as more of a visual platform, there have been concerns that Bookstagrammers are doing it for commercial purposes, rather than through their love of books.
It has been argued by many critics that books are simply used as props: ‘Last fall, a Vulture writer denounced bookstagrammers using books as props, targeting those who pose atop books for using books as, “just another object, shorn of meaning and sometimes of binding, rearranged to show that their possessors’ lives are prettier, more whimsical, more creative than yours.”’. (Pope, 2019). On some level, this statement has a level of relevance due to Instagram’s main focus being on visual aids, which is what a high percentage of content creators focus on. However, this form of influencing leaves room for generating conversation around different authors and books, meaning this isn’t your stereotypical social media platform: “Though 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” (Scharaschkin, 2020). Bookstagram has an element of commercialisation to it, but can be argued as a more genuine way of influencing.
Managing a Bookstagram account myself, I decided to ask my followers their thoughts of Bookstagram and how they believe it has impacted the publishing industry. On a poll, the question I posed was: ‘Do you believe the Bookstagram community positively impacts publishers and the exposure of their books? Or do you believe that Bookstagram is superficial as it is more about visuals than the actual content itself?’. Out of 82 Bookstagram users, 72% believed that it positively impacted the publishing industry, and 28% felt it was more superficial. (The B Word, 2020).
Interestingly, many Bookstagrammers that voted it was superficial, responded in my private messages stating that Bookstagram was becoming one-dimensional and that users are forgetting the main reasons why they are using this platform, which is to express and share their love for books. One Bookstagrammer believes:
“It’s all about the photo that will get you the most likes and engagement. I always find that my book reviews hardly get any engagement but when I post a more aesthetic stack, I get a lot of likes and comments. Also, if I post about a popular or current book, I get much more engagement, so it makes you want to read only the latest books rather than those which are less known”. (Scarlett Reads Books, 2020)
This is where the concern of judging books by their covers becomes apparent; Bookstagrammers can become distracted by the appearance of the book, rather than the content itself. Therefore, this can pressure publishers into creating more aesthetically pleasing book covers and are diverting their focus more on this aspect of publishing. As visually pleasing book covers are becoming more prominent, this can be a reason as to why publishing houses are investing a lot of time into Bookstagram, so they are still able to increase sales of physical copies of books, especially now that eBooks are on the rise due to them being the cheaper option for consumers. Therefore, “this is why Bookstagram is so culturally significant: it uses the digital medium to celebrate the very material substance of the book itself” (Goodman, 2016). Publishers are utilising Bookstagram as the online presence of their physical books will help increase sales and generate conversation around these releases.
However, if book publishers are not knowledgeable of how successfully digital platforms can generate conversations between users, then this can prevent authors from approaching these publishing houses if they are not focusing on pushing their works to a digital audience as well, which can have negative effects on publishing houses and building clientele. Publishers are now having to adapt their strategies and market books to a wider audience, shifting their initiatives to the digital space in order to reach more consumers for the success of publications. Especially considering that most books are now purchased online rather than in bookstores, publishers are now having to take different routes to keep up their recognition and success.
“The overwhelming problem for publishers, and ultimately for editors, is how to gain attention for their works in a world of dwindling bookstore retail space and how to create sustained and meaningful word of mouth - all while keep current with the technological advance and the shifting landscape of social media” (Friedman, 2017).
Social media, specifically Bookstagram, has contributed to the ways publishers work and promote. If publishers are following traditional forms of marketing, then authors will inevitably choose publishers that have a wider knowledge of how this system operates and the opportunities that come with social media exposure. Therefore, this can pressure publishing houses to adapt themselves to the digital space.
The research I have conducted of Bookstagram and my own personal use of this platform has helped me recognise how digital marketing has been massively beneficial for publishers and the exposure of their books. Bookstagram enables genuine conversations to be generated between book lovers and can also encourage other social media users to read, where publishers will see a rise in consumers. The claims of Bookstagram feeling superficial rather than it being a genuine community of book lovers can be understandable. However, as the current generation's use of social media increases, this is enabling publishers to target audiences that may not be avid readers, helping these social media users discover a love for reading with the help from Bookstagrammers.
Amy and the Bookcase. 2020. Amy and the Bookcase. [Instagram]. [Accessed 1st November 2020]. Available from: www.instagram.com/amyandthebookcase
Dara. 2020. Dara the Book Explorer. [Instagram]. [Accessed 23rd October 2020]. Available from: www.instagram.com/darathebookexplorer
Friedman, J. (2017). The Editor’s Role in a Changing Publishing Industry. In: P. Ginna, ed., What Editor’s Do, 1st ed. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, p256-268.
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