To readers, this shouldn’t be a surprise. A world where we rank people on their popularity based on what they have and how good it looks. Sounds more like the plot of the next big YA dystopian trilogy than an online community, but I’m barely exaggerating.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Bookstagram and all the fantastic people I’ve met, but just because you love something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t critique it. Sometimes it’s the things we love the most that we most need to break down.
I’ve been on Instagram perhaps seven months now and my style has certainly changed. I stage photos, I mess around with editing, I try to be more like my favourite bookstagrammers with their gorgeous photos and perfect feeds. We’ve all heard about how Instagram is terrible for your self-esteem but I always brushed that aside. They’re talking about the beauty side, I thought. I don’t spend all day looking at selfies, it doesn’t affect me.
And to an extent, I was right. I don’t think Instagram has done me any great harm. It’s made reading a bigger part of my life, it’s let me make friends, it’s let me share my book with the world. I’ve done just fine, but I know others who found it just put more pressure on. Reading wasn’t as fun, writing wasn’t as fun, not when it had to look perfect.
I’m not saying stop taking pretty photos. Please continue, I enjoy looking at them. What I’m saying is look beyond the prettiness and think the community dynamics at large. Be aware of what you’re participating in as you enjoy it.
People enjoying sharing pictures of new releases they’ve bought. That’s fair enough, new books are exciting. My problem is what I’ve seen several people bemoaning – pictures of new releases get much more engagement than older ones nobody’s heard of. It’s understandable, but not everyone can afford new releases all the time. I remember being really disappointed the hardback of Raising Steam cost something like £21 when it came out because I’d have to wait a few months for the paperback. Yes, sometimes you can get amazing deals on books but make no mistake, books can be an expensive hobby, at least if you’re buying.
This brings me to my next point – when did we start glorifying borderline hoarding behaviour? I say borderline because real hoarding is a serious problem some people struggle with and shouldn’t be confused with what I’m really talking about here, which, as you may have guessed, are the legendary TBR piles some people amass.
I’m lucky enough to have what I consider quite a lot of books. I’ve never counted by I estimate if you put them all on a shelf it would have to be about five metres long. That’s not including ones I’ve given away or stored for my future children, but it’s pretty much the sum total of say, seven years. Of that, there are about five that make up my TBR.
I’ve seen people proudly show off TBR shelves easily three times the size of my entire collection. People are proud to buy much more than they need, more than they can ever conceivably read. I don’t mean to judge – people work hard to earn their money and they will spend it how they will – but I don’t think it’s right that this excess is glorified. Honestly, I find it hard to understand. I like owning physical books much more than ebooks, but not everyone can afford that and it’s hardly practical for anyone to amass that many books.
I feel similarly about props to some extent. You can get by cheaply with whatever you find lying around and some people take striking photos with none. People like to see intricate feeds and bookish merch in photos though and that stuff is expensive. Like, really expensive in most cases. I love looking at book crate unboxings and drooling over the goodies, but the thirty odd quid they cost per month is too much for a lot of people, myself included.
To summarise so far, in my experience what people like to see on bookstagram are new books, lots of books and pretty bookish stuff – all of which is expensive. So it’s harder for people with less disposable income to create the content people are looking for as they’re overshadowed by accounts with all the right stuff. There’s more to a successful account than money of course, but, like with most things, it probably doesn’t hurt.
Now, some of you may be thinking of what I’m missing from this post. There is a way to get new releases, to get lots of books and bookish merch without having to spend anything. I think most of us on bookstagram have dreamt of doing it someday. I’m talking about being reps for bookish businesses and I think what I have to say echoes what I’ve heard a lot of people are feeling.
Rep searches are great. You get to show off your talent for photography, a bit of your personality and it’s an even playing field because, as they said in the instructions, follower number doesn’t matter. You know 300 isn’t a whole lot compared to some people out there, but you feel emboldened by their promise it doesn’t matter. Yet somehow you don’t get it, and when you (somewhat jealously) check out the new reps, you can’t help but notice a common thread. It’s not their themes or names or countries – it’s that nobody has a follower count under 3k.
Do you see what I’m getting at? It feels like you need bookish merch and new books, a lot of them, to get more followers and feel a ‘success’ but if you can’t buy it yourself you need to become a rep and to become a rep, you need a lot of followers. It’s a cycle. An understandable one, and definitely not a hard and fast rule, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. That’s all this post is, something I wanted to discuss with you all and myself. I’m not sure if this is something that’s entirely true, I don’t know if it’s something we need to change and if it is, I don’t know how we would. I just know that you’ve got to always be exploring things, thinking about them, deconstructing them, because that’s how we understand what we’re doing and if we understand what we’re doing, we can change if needs be.