February 24, 2021

Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok: Reading Communities in the 21st Century

Jactionary Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok

Bookstagram, BookTube, and BookTok:
Reading Communities in the 21st Century

As an active reader, book reviewer, blogger, but also a literature professor, I try to make sure I'm somewhat caught up on new reading trends and communities so I can share that information with my classes. The following article is adapted from one I recently wrote for my department. I hope it is of help to many of you and readers at-large everywhere.

Please note that by no means is this a complete list. I'm only quickly referencing Goodreads and I've included just a brief footnote at the end about BookCon. My quick lists are not comprehensive, so if you're a writer, reader, publisher, business, or influencer and you'd like to share your reading community platform, please feel free to add a comment and tell us more.


Many of our students have been active on social media most of their life, but usually not on the platforms used by older generations. If you’re a reader on social media, there’s an entire world and vocabulary to catch up on. I assume you’re all familiar with Goodreads, so I’m mentioning it here but skipping it. Use it. [Follow my reviews on Goodreads here: http://www.goodreads.com/jactionary.]

I first became aware of the Bookstagram community in 2015 when I learned the most popular hashtags, influencers, and what the reading community was like on that platform. A couple of years later, I stumbled across BookTube and have been an avid fan of several book review vloggers ever since. Though I don’t anticipate falling down the BookTok rabbit hole, I’m aware that readers are uniting there as well. Some readers are actively involved in these communities; others are unaware but might benefit from learning that influencers are actively posting this type of content on social media. If you’re not already aware, I thought I’d share some basic details about these bookish communities. Let me know what I’m still missing.

Jactionary Bookstagram Definition

Bookstagram: [noun] the book community on Instagram

Instagram has been around since 2010 and focuses on photo-based posts that users can caption, edit, and tag. That, you already knew. Bookstagram is how readers, writers, and publishers connect on Instagram. There are popular influencers who make their living off of their platforms (but it takes years to achieve anything notable), others who don’t make money but thrive on gaining followers by posting heavily staged #bookstagram photos, publishers hocking their wares, writers trying to gain a following, and those who are just in it for the show.

Big-time Bookstagram influencers make their living a variety of ways, but it’s almost always first and foremost bolstered by their YouTube channel (I’ll get to that later with BookTube). Bookstagrammers create content by posting edited photos of new book releases, book-related merchandise, what they’re currently reading, mail from publishers (#bookmail), etc. They’re paid through endorsements from publishers or other businesses looking to advertise which often results in a combination of food, clothing, or similar venues as they hobble together income from multiple sources. The more followers, likes, and comments, the better. This can also, obviously, become problematic as living for “likes” can lead to serious mental health struggles. Notwithstanding the professional downsides, it’s a fun community. Following your favorite influencers, authors, and publishers keeps you in the loop for new releases, cover reveals, author interviews, book reviews, reading challenges, and more. It's a fun group of like-minded souls.

Because Instagram is focused on visual appeal, there are an endless number of users who go the route of spending hours staging a book, a cup of tea, and a candle in just the right sunlight. There are also numerous book subscription companies that advertise their wares, everything from what new releases are available for discounted delivery that month to others who’ll send you bookish merchandise, knick-knacks, and other gew-gaws if you fork over the right price. 

Jactionary Bookstagrammers

Bookstagram Quick List:

Bookstagrammers: @subwaybookreview [133k], @littlefreelibrary [106K], @wellreadblackgirl [412K], @nypl [461K], @jessethereader [156K], @bookriot [259K], and me @jactionary

Aesthetic appeal: @jamestrevino [243K], @eviebookish [70.9K], @hayaisreading [116K], @newleafwriter [46K], @foldedpagesdistillery [119K]

Book subscription companies: @owlcrate [227K], @thebookishbox [124K], @bookofthemonth [1M], @illumicrate [90.1K]

Notable authors: @authorkierstinwhite [20.2K], @neilhimself [678K], @lbardugo [242K], @veschwab [177K], @krakauernotwriting [102K], @elizabeth_gilbert_writer [1M]

Publishers: @randomhouse [517K], @scholasticinc [211K], @penguinteen [294K], @barnesandnoble [636K], @harpercollins [428K]

Popular hashtags: #bookstagram, #amreading, #currentlyreading, #booklover, #booknerdigans, #shelfie, #bookshelfie, #bookworm, #reader, #tbrpile

Jactionary BookTube Definition

BookTube: [noun] the book community on YouTube

Users have been uploading video content on YouTube since its creation in 2005. Over time, the platform’s relationship to subscribers has changed, with many younger viewers spending as much time streaming YouTube as Netflix, Hulu, or Prime, and definitely much more than standard cable. BookTubers are users whose content is (mostly) dedicated to reading vlogs, book reviews, book recommendations, book clubs and livestreams, monthly TBR’s (to-be-read lists), reading goals, reading recaps, book hauls (monthly book acquisitions), opening monthly book box subscription deliveries, etc. Some BookTubers exist and upload content independently, while others will reference each other’s videos and collaborate.

Either way, like Bookstagram, the end goal is usually the same: talk about books and make money. BookTubers make an income off of ad revenue (only attainable after reaching YouTube milestones for hours streamed by viewers), paid sponsorships, affiliate links, or connecting to other social media platforms. Many are young enough they’re still living at home or going to college, while others are out on their own and use it as a side income. Occasionally, some BookTubers solely depend on the income from their platform, but I’ve found that my favorite creators are those who are slightly older and still work full-time jobs in the “real world” (whatever that even means any more). That being said, even they admit their part-time BookTube income requires full-time hours. Websites like socialblade.com provide ballpark estimates for how much YouTubers make from views but some question its reliability. Once again, it’s not a get-rich-quick-scheme.

There are many YouTube channels in this category, so really it’s about knowing what kind of books you like, matching that with a creator’s content, and deciding whose reviews you can really trust. In my experience, the younger the creator, the more likely they are to go easy on reviews (5-stars to everything followed by ten exclamation points) because they’re more focused on gaining followers and not upsetting authors and publishers. Even if I don’t always read the same genres as a BookTuber, I’m more apt to be curious about their reviews when it’s clear they give a wide range of scores and are willing to be open and honest about their opinions.

Much of the current conversation with BookTube aligns with concerns with other social media platforms: diversifying content, both from the creators and what they’re reading. 2020’s focus on social justice has encouraged many channels to include non-fiction titles or do some self-reflection on who they are (or are not) reading. I openly admit that I need to work on expanding the diversity of those I subscribe to and I've been really grateful for Kayla from BooksandLala for how many new BookTubers she supports and references. She is a valuable resource for finding more influencers in the community.

The look and feel of videos will greatly vary. While standing in front of white, Ikea bookshelves displaying many hardbacks (sometimes color-coded) is standard, some channels edit their videos to include quick cuts, special effects, or artistic shots, while others keep it simple or focus on the standard hand-held camera vlog format. Since format and content greatly vary, I’ll just feature a few of my current favorites. It’s easy to find more by searching, checking which channels BookTubers subscribe to, mention, or noting who they credit and link in the description box when they participate in a challenge or trend.

Jactionary Popular BookTubers
BookTube Quick List:

@BooksandLala [112K subscribers, 13M views]: Kayla (aka Lala) is a married mom who works full time, lives in Canada, and loves to read thrillers and horror. She’s in her early 30’s, reads a couple hundred books a year, and seems like someone I’d want to hang out with in real life. One of the “older” BookTubers, she also reads a fair amount of nonfiction, middle grade, YA, and is a fan of anthologies. She also does many book challenges.

@PeruseProject [314K subscribers, 41M views]: Regan is in her mid-20’s and lives in downtown NYC while working full-time in program analytics. She lives with her boyfriend, her pug, and does weekend reading vlogs from her apartment. Her edits are simple and she mostly reads YA fantasy, YA sci fi, middle grade, contemporary fiction, and the occasional non-fiction title. I respect that she’s a full-time working woman who fits in her reading on the nights and weekends like a more semi-normal grown-up. She’s a good example of a BookTuber who’s very successful with sponsorships.

@HaileyinBookland [294K subscribers, 32M views]: Hailey mostly reads YA and writes YA romance (she’s currently on submission with her first manuscript). She’s an example of a full-time BookTuber depending on it as her sole income.

@JessetheReader [403K subscribers, 49M views]: Jesse is one of the few male BookTubers I’ve encountered. He does fast edits, humorous cuts, and he’s a mindful reader who enjoys Manga, YA fiction, contemporary fiction, and is looking to read more works in translation.

@PolandBananasBooks [411K subscribers, 74M views]: Christine Riccio posted videos for years, gained a strong following, and is now an author (Again, but Better came out in 2019 and Better Together comes out this spring). She’s very quirky, frequently profane, and obsessed with Taylor Swift, The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and romance.

Jactionary BookTok Definition

BookTok: [noun] the book community on TikTok

TikTok is the 2016 trending video blackhole that will try to entice you to watch hour after hour of short clips for as long as you’ll let it. You become TikTok famous when your short video goes viral. Once again, the more subscribers and the more views, the more money users stand to make from influencer marketing (working with brands for sponsored posts), creating merchandise, or even selling your now-famous account to another user. Like Instagram, you can search videos and creators with hashtags. Like Instagram’s infinite scroll, TikTok will keep playing videos as its algorithm learns to continuously stream content it thinks you’ll want to see. You can “heart” videos, swipe, tap, comment, etc. BookTok is then—you guessed it—how readers share their videos and bookish tags. I’ve only spent limited time watching TikTok videos, but as with Instagram and YouTube it can be helpful to know that there are specialty creators who feature reading content on this platform. Use the hashtag #booktok and fall down the rabbit hole from there.

Jactionary BookTokkers

BookTok Quick List:

Popular booktoks: @sashaalsbergg [36.7K], @abbysbooks [208K], @bookedj [36.7K], @lovebookstoo [31.9K], @moongirlreads_ [107.6K], @gvhslibrary [36.4K], @kellyygillann [65K], @the.ones.about.books [81.2K], @penguin_teen [225.1K], @ezeekat [169.5K]

Jactionary BookCon Definition

BookCon: [noun] the annual fan convention for readers, a spin-off of other conventions like Comic-Con

BookCon began in NYC in 2014 as an annual fan convention for readers. Publishers, authors, BookTubers, book bloggers, and readers could all attend panels, talk books, and spend all their pocket money at this popular trade show.

The convention’s status, however, is currently not looking good. The 2020 and 2021 conventions were canceled due to COVID-19—no surprise—but the company that coordinates the event is going under. It’s possible another business might take over, but for now, stay tuned for more updates.

Share your favorite Bookstagram, BookTube, or BookCon influencers below!


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