I don’t know if there really is a big debate about Bookstagram and BookTok. I’m an elder millennial, which means I am no longer on the cusp of the latest and greatest when it comes to social media. It also means that I’ve been on these internets a good long while, and I’ve seen a lot of self-expression come and go. Livejournal was the original place I went to post long surveys that shared everything from the last thing I ate to the title of the book nearest to me. In the 2000s, my Google Reader was chock full of blogs that covered everything from home decor to book reviews. YouTube channels about reading have always been around, although my favorites didn’t usually include ASMR-style recaps until recently. RIP Vine. This brings us to Instagram and TikTok, two huge companies that, depending on who you ask, go about connecting people in different ways.
Bookstagram and BookTok are both communities where authors and book influencers can share giveaways, bookish memes, book reviews, challenges, and general love for the hobby of reading. Some people use the space to promote their work, others to get recommendations, and still others to connect with a community of readers from near and far. You’ll find creators that stick with one platform over the other, but many users have accounts in both spaces. Some readers share widely across genres, and some stay very comfortably in a narrow niche. Overall, being bookish online is something that continues to be both community-building and profitable, depending on where you go.
As the name states, Bookstagram lives on the Instagram platform. Popular hashtags include #Bookstagram, #ReelsOfBookstagram, #[insert genre here]Reader, and more. While you can find plenty of playfulness on Bookstagram, people have typically found the community here to be more aesthetic and slightly more reserved than what you might find on TikTok. The ability to post still images and leave longer captions sets Bookstagram apart. Stories are also used more frequently with Instagram accounts, which allows for a deeper engagement with people you follow, meaning once you start to build your bookish community on Instagram, it continues to reinforce itself. I find myself drawn to Bookstagram because I have been using Instagram longer than TikTok, and it’s where I do my disassociated scrolling, but both offer similar user experiences.
BookTok is newer than Bookstagram and is known for its ability to affect book sales. Barnes and Noble and other bookstores feature displays with signs like “As Seen on BookTok,” and news outlets have covered the direct connection between BookTok activity and increased sales for different titles. In 2023, I found that a lot of content is recycled between BookTok and Bookstagram, but the platforms served me in very different ways. For finding like-minded readers and book recommendations, the algorithm works better for me over on Instagram. However, when I am on the hunt for something specific, the searching ability on TikTok has served me much better. Whether I’m looking for content about a specific book title or a minuscule trope, I find more when I’m on TikTok.
I’ve given my opinions on how these two platforms work for me, but I was curious to know what different creators thought about Bookstagram vs BookTok as bookish influencers. My original hunch that Bookstagram attracted connection was reinforced by most people I spoke with. Leah Mayfield of @the_bookish_babee said, “I think that people on Bookstagram are more genuine and interactive.” Stacey Baker (@stacey_is_booked) avoids TikTok in general to avoid hours of lost time but expressed gratitude for the community she has found on Bookstagram: “I have found many bookstagrammers turned friends who read similarly to me. These are people across the country and world that I would never have met without this app. The most special being a group of individuals in my region who interact online as well as meet up regularly in real life.”
Other creatives feel a general pull away from what they feel was a more genuine time in bookish social media. Rachel Soo Thow’s recent essay (posted on Instagram at @thelitlist_) speaks to the judgment that creators open themselves to when sharing bookish thoughts in an aesthetic-obsessed world. Her take is that Bookstagram allows for more depth. “I think that’s why I prefer Bookstagram- there’s room to play within the tangibility of literature/ having the ability to speak to the depth of each novel in more detail and creating posts that reflect a piece of literature that’s almost like carving it’s meaning into stone. Concise and challenging. Raw prose and sometimes unfiltered opinions encapsulated in its original form.”
Everyone is going to pick their own favorite bookish social media, and another huge chunk of the reading population will prefer to never post a single thing about the pages they consume. I’ve come to the conclusion that BookTok is a place for book recommendations and Bookstagram is a place for a bookish community, but of course, that is run through my slew of personal opinions, comforts, and uses. If you use any social media site enough, the algorithm will adjust itself to what it thinks you’re asking for, and you’ll get more and more of whatever is giving you the biggest dopamine hit at the time. If you’re looking to break into something brand new, you’re better off heading into the world to speak with a librarian or a bookseller.
Looking for more about the rise of BookTok? Check out this article about how BookTok changes how we talk about books or this one that asks how different BookTok and Bookstagram really are. Until the next social media app is released, happy scrolling!
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