Instagram has quickly become a crucial advertising platform for many industries, from beauty to lifestyle to films. While sponsored advertisements are common, what is particularly unique about advertising on Instagram is the use of ‘influencers’ who have a high level of trust and influence (hence the name) amongst their audience. When one thinks of an Instagram influencer, people like Kylie Jenner and Jeffree Star likely come to mind. Indeed, the beauty community is one of the biggest on Instagram, with over 1 million posts under #beautyinfluencer.
While large communities can be a goldmine for advertisers, with influencers in these spheres garnering millions of views on sponsored posts, niche communities should not be ignored.
Book publishers have realised this.
It is a truth universally known that for any hobby or interest, there is an online community formed around that interest no matter how niche. Book-lovers and readers from around the world, introverts that we are, have swarmed to find their own community on a range of platforms from YouTube to Reddit to Tumblr and, of course, to Instagram.
Bookstagram (a portmanteau of book + Instagram) is a community and indeed a genre of Instagram that focuses heavily on books and the act of reading. Typical Bookstagram posts include hauls, unboxings, discussions about the latest hot new novel and of course the books are always featured front and center.
Book publishers have latched onto this Instagram community and influencer marketing has suddenly become just as important in the seemingly stodgy world of publishing as anywhere. Bookstagram influencers feature latest releases in exchange for ARCs (advanced reading copy) or finalised copies of books, similar to many a beauty influencer. What sets Bookstagram influencers apart, however, is that many members of the community simply share whatever book they are most excited about, sponsored or not. A love of books is what is front and centre in any Bookstagram account. Nevertheless, while Bookstagrammers – perhaps more than any other community – are truly living the life that they share on the ‘gram, reading as often and as much as they can, aesthetics are important.
Book covers, like anything, are subject to the changing trends of what is current. Certain colours, fonts, photos and illustrations appeal to certain demographics, markets and even genres. On Instagram, aesthetically pleasing covers get pride of place, while ‘uglier’ covers are shoved into the background or featured in other ways (for example: a page of the book, showing a favourite quote). Of course, the best way to sell a book is to keep the cover in customers’ minds – a bright blue cover with gold gilt text is going to be more memorable than a cream-coloured page with diminutive black font.
Publishers acknowledge that a prettier cover is more likely to be photographed and shared on Instagram, and thus, have started paying attention to trends taking flight on Bookstagram with designers now trying to predict trends – despite the fast-paced nature of Instagram and the fact that trends can be over and passé in 24 hours. The formula is simple: pretty cover = a pretty Instagram post = a pretty number of new sales.
But before accusations of 21st century vanity can be levelled, it is pertinent to point out that book covers have always been advertisements in and of themselves. Despite the old maxim “don’t judge a book by its cover”, that is precisely what you’re supposed to do. A (good) book cover is supposed to communicate a range of things about the book it envelopes. Genre and age are among the most important; there is a big difference between how literary and commercial book covers are designed. Not to mention how different a book for a 10-year old and a book for a 50-year old will look.
With that in mind, it is easy to see how the traditional and the contemporary overlaps in how books are marketed through Instagram. A Bookstagrammer who posts about romance novels will never feature a mystery-thriller, no matter how pretty the cover is. And, ultimately, most Bookstagrammers won’t feature a book they despise.
The most effective method of selling books has always been word-of-mouth; if your friends love this book, chances are you will too. And that, at its core, is what Instagram is: a community of like-minded people who all love books and love talking about them. Ultimately, the more people talking about books and sharing books, the better for the publishing industry.