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Sharing Books Online: An Evolution Over the Last Decade

Imagine for a moment that it’s 2010 and sharing books online is beginning to explode. I remember following a couple book blogs and newsletters back in 2010, but I wasn’t watching any bookish content on YouTube yet, and I definitely wasn’t following bookish content on Instagram, which didn’t launch until fall of that year.  Now jump forward a decade into 2020, and people are beginning to ask the question, “Is book blogging dead?”  So what happened? How has book blogging changed in the last decade, and what does the future hold?

Danika Ellis, a contributing editor at Book Riot, spoke about this on the Book Riot YouTube channel. In short, she believes book blogging isn’t dead, it’s just different. I have to agree with her.

I believe when we talk about “book blogging,” what we’re really talking about is sharing about books and reading online. The platforms we choose to share that bookish content may change and evolve—from Tumblr to podcasts, from blogs to YouTube, from Goodreads to Instagram posts, and countless more varieties and combinations—but I don’t think the concept of sharing books online is dead. If anything, I think it is on a trajectory to continuously grow and evolve.

I think part of the reason the book industry declares book blogging “dead” is the decline, evolution, or whatever you would prefer to call it, of some of the major book websites that were the indie pioneers in sharing about books online in the early days. Here I’m thinking of The Millions, which launched in 2003 with blogspot.com URL, and was acquired by Publishers Weekly in early 2019. Or Bookslut, which launched in 2002 and closed in 2016, when the founder and editor-in-chief decided to close the site and instead pursue a career as a traditional book critic.

But are these types of sites even what we consider today’s “blogs”? Take our own site: Book Riot describes our itself as the “largest independent editorial book site in North America.” And The Millions refers to themselves as an “online literary magazine.” These platforms are more editorial, more like online magazines with multiple contributors than our concept of “blogs” in 2020.

When I think of today’s “book blogger,” I picture an individual content creator talking about books online with a community of other readers. “Bloggers” differentiate themselves by bringing an element of the personal into their content and recommendations. And that activity of sharing or blogging could happen on a website, YouTube, a podcast, or Instagram—and sure, that part has changed—but the act of sharing and discussing books online actually seems to be thriving.

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I spoke with a handful of content creators who have been sharing about books online for the last decade to get their thoughts on the matter.

Sanne Vliegenthart of Bookandquills started sharing about books online back in 2008 because, according to her, she couldn’t find anyone in the Netherlands to share her new-found love of Twilight (since it hadn’t been translated into Dutch yet). Since then, Sanne has made a YouTube video just about weekly, and ended up moving to London to work in the publishing industry herself. She spoke fondly about the early days of book “tag videos” (where a creator answers a set of questions and tags other creators to do the same) and meet-ups, and the great community that has come out of more and more people sharing their love of books online. And while the content she’s sharing has evolved from 2008 to 2020, Sanne is still very much talking about books online every week.

Another creator who got her start at the beginning of the last decade was Christine Riccio. Christine started sharing her reads online in 2011 when she was 19, and today she has over 408k YouTube subscribers, 154k Instagram followers, and has written her own book, Again, But Better. It would definitely seem there are lots of other readers out there who are interested in what she’s creating and sharing!

But back in 2011 she felt “making videos about books was such a weird thing that I was super insecure about doing at the time. I didn’t think it would gain any traction when I started, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just a super lonely girl looking for bookish friends to discuss my favorite reads with.” And just like Sanne, Christine began to see reading and book recommendations—once solitary activities—becoming a community activity.

Another thing in common among these creators is that they started sharing about books online at a pretty young age, as a way to meet other readers. Ariel Bisset was the same way—she started sharing her reading online when she was just 16 years old! Nine years later and she’s still at it. Today, Ariel views YouTube as her preferred platform for more “ambitious bookish projects” and Instagram—and to get even more granular, Instagram Stories—as the place where she does regular reading and life updates.

Hearing that made me realize how much the world of book blogging, or our perception of book blogging is, has really changed in this most recent decade. Maybe back in 2003 it meant you had a blog if you had a Blogspot, but in 2020, “book blogging” can be a 15-second update about what you’re reading on Instagram stories.

Or, of course, your book blog could still be a website. Like Danika’s blog, The Lesbrary, which has covered bi and lesbian books for the last ten years, and today has around a dozen contributors—right on, Danika and team! Or even a site like Boot Riot where readers gather around a website, podcast, YouTube, and social media. You name the platform, all that matters is we’re sharing about books online, right?

I will say, that unlike some of the first or largest book blogs, which have that more editorial approach, the bookish content creators I interviewed for this piece all bring an element of the personal into their discussion of books online. The Wikipedia entry for “blog,” does describe the form as being “diary-like,” after all. For example, Sanne has shared  at length about her experience applying for jobs in the publishing industry, working for Hot Key Books and later Penguin Random House UK, and then even freelancing in the book world. She has also made videos about books in translation, and full videos in Dutch about living in the UK and the Netherlands.

And Ariel has shared frankly and honestly about her mental health struggle during her English literature masters degree program, and the way she feels about the traditional structure of “the academy.” She has also spoken about being mixed race (Ariel is half Honduran and half Caucasian) and seeing her identity represented (or rather, not represented often) in literature. For them, sharing about books online is about more than just reviewing books, it’s about their personal relationship to books and reading, and about conversations they have with other readers.

Is that so different than what these creators were doing in 2010, though? Creator, Jesse George, who has been sharing his reading online since 2012, commented that back in the early days the type of content that was shared tended to be a bit more traditional and editorial. And while he doesn’t think book “blogging” is dead, he does wonder if the standard book review is dead. The types of content that were popular when he first started sharing his reading eight years ago—things like TBRs (“to be read” lists), book hauls, reading wrap-ups, and tag videos—are no longer king of bookish content. Now, he believes, the online community is more interested in the creative, and even unfiltered, ways you can share about the books that you’ve read. Jesse says, “I’m just really excited to see creators in our community taking risks with their content and pouring their souls into what they do.”

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Working With the Publishing Industry

But one thing that has really changed for these creators is the role they play in the publishing industry today. Christine said that in back in 2012 she didn’t even know what an ARC (an “advanced reader’s copy”) was, but by 2013 she was attending her first Book Expo America where she was asked to do her first author interview. It is now quite common for creators to attend conferences and speak on panels, alongside members of the traditional book media. Ariel agreed, saying, “When I started being a book creator I really felt like I was on the outside of publishing looking into the world I was so devoted to, but now I feel like a part of it!”

And this integration of bloggers into the publishing industry may continue to grow as the generation that grew up online works their way into more leadership roles within the industry. Sanne has the perspective of both working inside the traditional publishing industry, and as a freelancer in the book community. Interestingly, she shared that “it’s people in publishing who are similar to my age (in their early 30s) or younger, who’ve grown up with social media themselves and have experienced what it’s like to get all your reading recommendations from the internet, that really get how to organize a great Instagram or YouTube campaign together.”

The platforms or technology we use to share may well change, but all signs point to the fact that in this next decade we will all continue to share our love of reading online.

Future of the Industry

I asked all of these creators for their predictions on where the future of “book blogging” is headed. Of course, no one has a crystal ball. They were all surprised to see where book blogging took them in the 2010s, and are optimistic and excited to see how it will evolve in the next decade.

Since it is community we all seem to seek in the blogging world, I think the best hope for the future of the industry is that more and more people see themselves represented and reflected in bookish content online. Sanne agreed: “I hope to see things get even bigger and hopefully even more inclusive. The more a community grows, the more people can see themselves in it and find a spot within a niche that they feel most at home.” I think we can agree that’s a future for book blogging we all would like to see.