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3rd February 2020

How Instagram made books cool again

Are influencers genuinely interested in books or is it all just for the ‘aesthetic’?
How Instagram made books cool again
Photo: @bazfiction on Instagram (used with their permission)

In light of the rise of technology throughout the last 20 years, many publications, book-shop owners and researchers have fearfully predicted the demise of reading as a hobby. But research suggests that this has not been the case.

An article for The Guardian explains that whilst books sales fell by 5.4% in 2018, the digital book market rose by 4.6%. Although this means books sales did fall by 0.8%, this drop hardly signifies the death of reading that many have feared. Considering this, it should also be noted that this drop was the first time book sales had fallen in five years and that part of the reason the book market is surviving is because of technology, rather than in spite of it.

What’s more, research undertaken by Statista about American adults’ reading habits shows that in 2019, 18-29 year olds were the age group who read the most. The research found that 81% of the 18-29 years olds they studied had read a book in any format in the previous year. Fears surrounding the omnipresence of technology are particularly projected on to people from this age group, but this data suggests that young people are still enjoying reading alongside technology, perhaps even as an antidote to it.

For many people though, books and technology are inextricably linked as a result of a new type of influencer: ‘Bookstagrammers’ and ‘BookTubers’. They use their platforms to discuss what they are reading and what they are going to read, often amassing hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of views and followers, and, in turn, encouraging more people to read.

On top of this, influencers who have found fame for things other than reading, such as fashion and lifestyle, have started to incorporate books into their content, often taking arty photos of and with novels. Sally Rooney has often been dubbed an ‘Instagram author’ and her pleasingly simple covers are the subject of many a social media photo. The hashtag #NormalPeople, the name of her second novel that was released in 2018, has over 48,000 posts attached to it on Instagram, and the BBC are adapting it into a TV series that looks very millennial-friendly.

The books that fashion and lifestyle influencers are reading generally fall into the category of literary fiction and non-fiction, with David Sedaris’ collections of essays gaining popularity amongst fashion bloggers like Lizzy Hadfield and Anna Newton, as well as the novel My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which was featured as part of Zoella’s book club. Reese Witherspoon also runs an Instagram book club over at @reesesbookclub – an account that has 1.4 million followers. Reese’s book club focusses on novels with ‘women at the centre of the story’.

One positive of the new influencer obsession with books is that they are often reading texts written by and about women. Seemingly this is because everyone else is reading books by women, which has a knock-on effect. Many of the most popular online book clubs specifically focus on texts by female authors, such as Reese’s, Zoella’s and Emma Watson’s (@oursharedshelf).

Not only this, but contemporary fiction being published by women often adopts covers that are, to use Instagram’s favourite adjectives, aesthetically pleasing. Either because, like Rooney’s, they’re simple and minimalistic or, like Lisa Taddeo’s hugely successful non-fiction book Three Women, for example, they have covers that feature arty designs. Both styles photograph well and appeal to these female influencers trying to create a certain ‘aesthetic’. Publishers know that people are inclined to judge a book by its cover, as users scroll through 100s of photos a day and will only stop to read the caption for images that grab their attention. This is especially the case when it comes to Instagram, a purely photo-based platform. As such, publishers seem to be catering to Millennial and Gen-Z social media users in their design.

Influencers taking up reading and making it a part of their content begs the question: is this romanticisation of books and the act of reading just a fleeting trend? Or is it a cultural shift, in that people are bored by 140 (or 280) characters and, after years of consuming this as their predominant form of information and entertainment, are craving something more?

Either way, it has certainly been a positive thing for authors, publishers and the book industry in general. With any hope, the romanticisation of books will extend to book shops and encourage people to pay a little bit more for their books in order to support their local book shops, instead of relying on Amazon.

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