From color-coded bookshelves and special edition paperbacks to readers matching their outfits and makeup to book covers – these are just some of the things you’ll see if you scroll through the 73 million posts under the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram. The term “bookstagram” is used to describe a niche community of book lovers on the web who share book-related content on their pages. Gaining considerable popularity during lockdown at the height of the global pandemic, the online community is quite diverse and includes authors, booksellers, bookworms, bookshop owners, librarians, and even book collectors. What started as a simple hashtag quickly became a network of stand-alone accounts solely dedicated to the love of books. Whether you are a full-blown bibliophile or just looking for recommendations to start your own reading journey, there is a bookstagram page for everyone.
But the bookstagram community is more than just a shrine for cozy reading aesthetics and interactive social media challenges, bookstagram has played a powerful role in diversifying readership and the voices we hear about and are exposed to in the literary world, which has led to an influx of individuals flocking to these accounts specifically for their reviews, recommendations, and content. In particular, the bookstagrammers in Africa have risen up to the challenge and are using their pages as a platform to speak about books, writing, and important, topical issues in Africa, while linking it all to the socio-economic themes and realities they face .
Spotlighting African Literature
One does not have to look very far to see the widespread reach and positive impact these Insta-bloggers have had when it comes to African Literature. It’s a well-known fact that many African authors do not always have access to the kind of publicity and marketing opportunities that they need for their work to be widely appreciated. When Bolu Babalola released her highly acclaimed novel, Love in Color in 2020, for instance, bookstagrammers across the continent wasted no time in showcasing the book on their pages, crafting eloquent, honest reviews and even holding live discussions about it. A feature or positive review from a popular Bookstagrammer has now become an important part of a book’s promotional campaign, as it creates a wider audience for a book’s market and a direct link with readers, giving insight into the latest genres and authors that are creating a hype within the community.
The creation of accessible, vibrant, easy-to-read, and shareable formats of content about books on Instagram has allowed more people to engage with African literature in ways they were not able to before, exposing them to the wealth of literary talent available in the continent. “It’s like a little online book club with members spread across the globe,” says Amarachi Mbah, a Nigerian poet and self-published author, who juggles her day job with blogging. “Bookstagram has opened many of us up to a wider range of genres, encouraging us to read outside of our usual preference.” These African Bookstagram communities not only provide important promotion and visibility for African books and authors (including those who are self-published), but they also provide a more thorough and holistic review of African stories outside of the Eurocentric and often biased critique African writers tend to receive. Because of their understanding of what it means to live and be an African, these new-age bookstagrammers are highly relatable and bring African Literature into sharper focus on a global scale.
Inspiring people to read
Although one should never judge a book by its cover, it is also common knowledge that humans are visual creatures; we like to see things that we find attractive or visually interesting. By creating visually appealing content and images centered around literature, African bookstagrammers are increasingly beginning to have a positive influence on people’s reading habits. “The unboxings and book haul, the increasingly creative reels and skits being made, the interactive live sessions… it’s all working to make reading fun and cool again,” quips Mbah.
Simply put, they inspire more people to read by interacting with the audience and finding books that cater to their specific needs and preferences. When readers see the same books show up in their feed over and over again, it creates a buzz, making people want to buy, read and talk about the books, which in turn piques the interest of even those who aren’t voracious readers. In the face of ever-changing social media functions and algorithms, these book-loving content creators continue to grow and adapt, nurturing a safe space for critical thought and conversations surrounding various societal conditions that affect Black African communities, both at home and within the diaspora, while simultaneously connecting readers to impactful works, ideas, and writers.
Arguably the most effective method of selling books has always been word-of-mouth; Regardless of how good a book is, people need to be reading it and talking about it in order for it to sell. And that is what Bookstagram Africa is really about: a community of young people who all love books and enjoy talking about them – which goes a long way in connecting people, encouraging a more buoyant reading culture across the continent, and spotlighting African talent which may have otherwise been overlooked. In the end, the more people talk about Africa’s local talent, the better the opportunities that are yet to come.