Some literary purists say the trend is superficial, but book lovers on Instagram believe they are getting the conversation going and encouraging people to read. Here's how they share their passion.
Books with candles, cushions and blankets; books with a fluffy dog, flowers or pumpkins; books with a nice cup of tea or the perfect cappuccino, sorted by color on a bookshelf or held by a smiling literary lover: These are the kind of combinations you'll find on a bookstagrammer's account. Bonus points for references to Harry Potter.
The book lovers' community on Instagram is "a lot about staging the cover of a book in a cozy context," explains Berenike Woy from Carlsen Verlag, a Hamburg-based publisher specialized in youth and children's books, comics and mangas. "Most of the pictures convey this idea of a hygge lifestyle," she adds.
If you're allergic to anything remotely inspired by the cozy Scandinavian buzzword, you're definitely not made for the bookstagram community. "Don't spread negativity," recommends Jessi Sieb, known on Instagram as @witcherybooks. Her other tips to people who want to become successful bookstagrammers are to "stay true to yourself, do what you feel like doing, and keep at it."
Jessi, who has over 15,000 Instagram followers, started her account in 2016 at the age of 18. She says she tries to invest three to four hours a day on her account, which she manages to do on top of studying literature and holding a part-time job. Even though she hopes to work in the book industry one day, she wants to keep Instagram a hobby. "There would be too much pressure if it were a job," she told DW.
While Jessi has to study classic literature for her studies, fantasy and young adult fiction remain her favorite genres. With so many titles on her to-read list, isn't all the time she spends on Instagram limiting her actual reading? "That's true," she admits. But she says her bookstagramming is "an incredible motivation to read as well."
Book lovers who look to traditional reviews to find inspiration for their next read might regard stylized images of bookcovers as superficial. But it's a question of perspective, says Jessi: Compared to fashion instagrammers, for instance, who simply hope to get as many positive reactions as possible, bookstagrammers' posts are usually somewhat longer and include book discussion threads.
"Books are still culture and ideas, and everyone can develop their opinion on them. In the comments, people exchange their views on the content of the book, on the different characters, or what they didn't like about the book," explains Jessi.
Jessi was initially motivated to check out Instagram during her search for a community of book lovers: "I didn't have anyone to talk about books with because I grew up in a small village where people my age weren't interested in books at all. It came from necessity."
Liked 12,475 times: Jessi's post with Cassandra Clare's books 'The Mortal Instruments' didn't go unnoticed
That community is international: There are currently over 36 million posts with the hashtag #bookstagram. In German-speaking countries, the bookstagram scene is growing daily as well. Five years ago, there were perhaps 100-200 "book bloggers," as bookstagrammers call themselves in German; today there are between 2,000-3,000, estimates Berenike Woy from Carlsen.
A growing influence
Berenike started her own account five years ago, and was hired by the publisher last year to manage their social media. She explains that publishers now encourage Instagram influencers to regularly post about their books by inviting them to special events with their favorite authors, or sending them books to review as well as boxes with book-related goodies.
Such perks didn't inspire Nils Küchmeister, aka @bunteschwarzweisswelt, to bookstagram: "I'm not doing this to receive free books. I didn't even know that existed when I started," he explains. That was five years ago, when he was only 14. He just had fun getting creative and taking photos to post before gradually focusing on books.
Now one of the most popular bookstagrammers in Germany with over 33,000 followers, "I hate to be called an influencer," says Küchmeister.
The actual influence of bookstagrammers remains unclear as there are so many different factors affecting sales, says Berenike. But publishers are definitely following what's happening on the social media platform.
Books as props and backdrops
Among the top stars in the bookstagrammer scene is James Trevino (pictured top), who has amassed 233,000 followers by using books to create sculptures and landscapes related to famous stories. Other "book porn" trends on Instagram include laying on a backdrop of open books.
Critics may ask if the books in such Instagram posts serve more as good-looking props than something to actually be read. But for Nils, these aren't incompatible: "It's better to get into books that way than not at all... If you can combine creativity with reading books and talking about them, then why not!"
While the world has been predicting the future death of printed books for over a decade already, these digital accounts show that members of Generation Z are still eager to own actual paper books: Photos of an ebook simply aren't quite as instagrammable.
And as ever, whether the works are read to the end or not, books displayed on a shelf remain a way to express a person's identity — and that's what bookstagrammers aim to share with the entire world, or at least with their thousands of followers.