If you peruse the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram, you’ll be treated to over 3 million recent posts – pictures of books open on tables next to cute little lattes, drop dead gorgeous covers on display, creased spines, monthly book hauls delicately arranged alongside themed props. Books are a new class of model, constantly being photographed and posted and shared and liked.
It’s a marketing dream, of course, for people to pose your product beautifully and take pictures of it to share, especially if the sharer has a large following, as many Bookstagrammers do. They are constantly doing these photoshoots – some of them probably better than what a pro photographer could dream up for promo – and with a huge and engaged audience. In addition to #bookstagram there is Booktube, a community of book lovers and vloggers on Youtube who, well, talk about books and show them off. Many of the most beloved, like Sanne Vliegenthart of Books and Quills, Ariel Bissett, Jen Campbell or Jean Menzies are also on Instagram, #bookstagram-ing away. Thousands and I get a solid chunk of their book recommendations from #bookstagram, BookTube, and other social media platforms, where books are put on display.
Now, these folks usually have very smart and insightful things to say about what’s inside these books, and that is of course the main reason I follow them. They like reading and talking about it, and so do I. But, they also all noticeably have a thing for a well designed book. Like it or not (and I do like it, very much), social media has us judging books by their covers more frequently these days. I will be the first to admit (and proudly so) that I judge a book by its design. An unappealing cover may not make me turn away, but it definitely might prevent me from taking a second look. But I find far fewer unappealing covers around these days.
Before the Internet age, a book cover design would be seen in store, hopefully catching an eye from the shelf. That’s not to say that there weren’t beautifully designed books before iPhones, because of course there were. But now, the pressure to have a book be beautifully designed is greater than ever before. We know the book will be seen in store – but also online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on Instagram and Twitter. Cover reveals are major social media events. Booktubers make videos about their favorite covers and design features, even as detailed as endpapers and spines. If you want your book featured, and photographed and talked about, it has to look good. Publishers know this, of course – are even taking a stab at the whole #bookstagram thing themselves in addition to traditional marketing. And this is a good thing, because it’s making book design amazing.
I would say we’re in something of a golden age of book cover design, and things like Instagram and the “online” book experience are to thank. Reading is perhaps a more social experience now than it has ever been, with the internet to to link book lovers all around the world. And while I can talk about the book and still be happy, there’s nothing like seeing that cover. Even for an ebook, we like to see the cover when we click to the first “page.” But it’s the hard copy where the design comes alive, and the raised bar for book design in the past several years has been a key factor as to why print readers just won’t let go.
The Instagram effect – a desire for your objects to be ‘gram worthy – has spilled into other areas as well. Many of us now like to surround ourselves with cute, well-designed things. Paper, cookware, homegoods. Food presentation is all of a sudden a priority, even just for a homemade smoothie. Maybe you intend to photograph and share, maybe you don’t. But Instagram and other social media has certainly upped our attention to design detail, and amplified the power of a beautiful share-able design, in the book world and beyond.
It’s hard for those of us who love them to think of books as “products,” even though that’s what they are. But that fact – and the demand for these products to be extremely well designed these days – is what is giving us a reading experience that I don’t think has been so visually appealing for a long time. You of course don’t need a pretty cover to enjoy a book. A good story could be written on a napkin. But if you can choose, wouldn’t you rather have something striking to hold? You of course don’t need to post your recent bookstore purchase on instagram. But they’re so pretty, don’t you want to celebrate?
Sure, the point of a good design is to make a book sell. But more than that, it reflects the love and creativity we all want to see in stories brought to life, and that we are as reading culture demand from those who sell them to us. Not only does this get us prettier books, but it shows everyone watching our videos and liking that Instagram post that stories to us – these published works – are enough a priority to us that we care about their presentation. That we will celebrate a good presentation by buying them to experience it in person and then share it for others to see. This is a good thing, with both a beautiful and important yield. Bookstagram away, folks.