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Literature fans take over Instagram

Visitor at the International Book Fair of Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2019.
Visitor at the International Book Fair of Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2019. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/Claudio Santisteban

Instagram is the social network of the hour, and now book bloggers have also discovered the platform for themselves. Check out this new form of literary criticism in no more than 2,200 letters plus an image.

By Fabian Thomas

The number of people using Instagram is at an all-time high – around one billion people use the app every month, 500 million on a daily basis. While the app has the most users in the USA, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, in Germany, according to the last official information from August 2017, it was nevertheless around 15 million.

The platform represents both a promise and a sales machine. With the right amount of zeal and the right touch, anyone can become an influencer themselves. In fact, it has never been so easy to produce appealing content by relatively simple means – a smartphone with a decent camera is enough, the appropriate filters are quickly set, and off you go.

The focus is on the image

This idea has gradually found its way into the world of book bloggers. Those who are interested in new publications, genre titles or young adult book recommendations are finding more and more information on Instagram. Here, too, the low threshold is the big attraction. If you don’t want to have to deal with the elaborate design of a WordPress blog or don’t want to programme a website yourself, you can simply set up an Instagram account and start using the “bookstagrams”.

One thing, however, also has to be said – the review, which book bloggers are really interested in, is being more or less sidelined because Instagram is a platform that is focused on images. The preview of the image description in the viewer feed is limited to just under three lines and even after clicking on “more”, the text has to be written within a maximum of 2,200 letters and kept short and snappy.

So the overriding emphasis is on the image. And when it comes to creativity the sky is the limit: books are draped on coffee tables, shown in an outdoor setting, held up to the camera for a selfie, are vividly coloured, in razor-sharp focus, sometimes the image is related to the content, sometimes freely associated. If this approach is seriously pursued it creates a portfolio that represents one’s own work and can also be used for self-marketing. 

The long read takes place elsewhere

As large as the number of “bookstagrammers” is, the bulk of the titles discussed is often homogeneous. There are plenty of bestsellers such as Juli Zeh or Sebastian Fitzek, but also books that have been carefully considered by the publishing house’s blogger relations departments are scattered among the interested parties. The reason for this is the fact that here, too, people have realised that advertising can be done particularly authentically on social networks. These days the publishing houses have whole departments that are solely responsible for this. Above all, they hope that the platform will also reach other target groups.

Studies estimate the majority of Instagram users to be in their mid-twenties and thus significantly younger than the average age of newspaper readers. The interest in genre themes and young adult books is correspondingly high. It is precisely these that are not discussed on the arts pages of the newspapers, but on the platform they “work really well,” confirms Miriam Zeh, who moves in both worlds. Zeh writes book reviews for Deutschlandfunk, but is also active in the “Books Up” project, which the Literaturhaus Bonn, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia, focuses on literature in the social media and wants to make it relevant for a young target group. “Instagram is a feel-good world, but sometimes it is a little too affirmative,” she explains. “Of course, the dimensions cannot be compared with the world of fashion influencers, who can even make a living from their collaborations. There is nothing comparable in the book sector. Nevertheless, the way things are talked about also has an impact on the literary bubble of the book world.”

Nowhere else is it so easy to collect likes for the perfectly staged image. For real literary criticism, however, it is more difficult. Due to the focus on the visual, the use of a narcissistic fervour and a high degree of identification content, through which users present themselves and enjoy “instant gratification” – any interest in more complex content is simply not there. The “long read” – detailed, profound literary appreciation – that takes place elsewhere.

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