Did the Instagram Algorithm Kill Bookstagram?

New Years’ Resolutions are an interesting thing. Come January, I find myself resolving to do the same things every year: eat healthy, stop procrastinating, spend less time on my phone. And post more on Bookstagram.

*Please note: This blog post was written a while ago. My thoughts, opinions, and writing skills have changed since then. Any posts written before 2020 should be assumed to not fully reflect my current thoughts, opinions, and writing capabilities unless otherwise stated. If you would like clarification on my thoughts/opinions about any specific points mentioned in this post, feel free to reach out to me.*

New Years’ Resolutions are an interesting thing. Come January, I find myself resolving to do the same things every year: eat healthy, stop procrastinating, spend less time on my phone. And post more on Bookstagram.

I started my account in November of 2015, when I was in eighth grade. I clearly remember lying in bed the night before Thanksgiving and having the idea to create an Instagram account to share my love for books. At that point, I didn’t know the Bookstagram community was a thing. I didn’t follow any accounts, or see people post bookish photos on Instagram. But I jumped up the next morning, and, inspired, I created my account right away. I searched up book accounts and to my amazement, found an entire community of Instagrammers who posted solely about books. That day, I learned the term “Bookstagram.”

I was so inspired seeing all the pretty photos devoted to books. In middle school, finding people who actually enjoyed reading was rare. People who liked books were the studious, introverted type. While my “fun fact about me” during icebreakers was always “I like to read,” other people boasted about the fact that they hadn’t read a book since 6th grade. To find an entire community full of other book-lovers, it felt like coming home. It’s a cozy, supporting group of people from all around the world. 2015 was before the book-burning controversy, and things in this corner of Instagram were all good. I was so excited that I made five posts that morning, my mind filled with ideas.

When, then, did Bookstagram become a chore?

Starting a Bookstagram definitely changed my relationship with books. The start of my account coincided with Thanksgiving weekend, and that Black Friday was the first time I actually purchased a “book haul.” I was excited by the prospect of growing my book collection, but since then I’ve found myself buying books so much more often than I go to the library. I’ve felt a pressure to own a lot more books in order to be more successful on Bookstagram and have pictures that look more aesthetically pleasing. Bookstagram has also had a big influence on which books I read. A lot of the reading choices I make are based on what’s popular in the community. However, Bookstagram has also pressured me to continue reading. Even though I read so much less now compared to middle school, I know for sure that without the nagging thought of needing content for Bookstagram and this blog, I would probably read even less than I already do.

I really started posting consistently around May of 2016, and grew my account all that year. Even though I was still only getting at most 30 likes on all my posts, I was proud of myself for increasing from 10. Mostly, I just didn’t even care. I felt inspired, and coming up with flatlays for every picture was so fun for me.

May of 2017 was when I dropped off. I didn’t post that whole month until I found out I’d won a giveaway for tickets to BookCon. That rejuvenated me, and I started posting again for a few more months, until September.

My grandfather passed away that month, and I was starting my sophomore year of high school, taking AP classes for the first time. In the face of a heavy workload, dealing with my mental health, and the general hardships that come with getting older, maintaining my Bookstagram was less of a priority. I put it on the backburner for a while, then decided to try and get back into it. If you scroll back, you’ll find a few sporadic posts for the remainder of 2017, but at that point, it was a conscious effort for me. Bookstagram had become a chore.

I couldn’t understand this mindset I had towards it. I felt that I had betrayed myself. I loved reading so much–why was I uninspired, why did I not want to post, and why was I losing a desire to read? Having required reading on top of all the work I was already doing meant I had next to no time for pleasure reading. I found that I could no longer engross myself in books, and my reading stamina had dropped drastically. I was disappointed in myself, because I thought, of all people, I should be the one able to maintain a relationship with books.

I wondered what I could do to get my love for reading back. I made a resolution to post weekly, both on my Instagram and my blog. That way, I could force myself to read more and interact more with books to get content. I did pretty okay until May 2018, but stopped again. My return post was in July 2018. “The reason for why I haven’t posted in, like, 3 months is because back in May I got to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway,” I wrote. “I wanted to make a blog post about it when I bookstagrammed it but then I just never wrote the post and I dragged it on and on for two months until now.”

You see, when I made my resolution, I didn’t notice the fatal flaw: what if I didn’t? What if I didn’t post weekly on my Instagram? What if I didn’t write every Saturday for my blog? My resolution had actually destroyed my motivation, because in an effort to force myself to blog more, I didn’t post. In not posting, I didn’t do either. I posted 22 times in 2018, compared to 44 times the previous year, and 75 times in 2016.

My resolution this year was again to actually post (four weeks strong!). I also made a sub-goal underneath that: “Like 50 posts every day.” (It’s ended up being every week, but that’s okay). I wanted to make an effort to interact more with the community, because I reasoned maybe that was part of the reason I had stopped posting so much: I wasn’t getting inspired. I’d stopped scrolling through my timeline a long while ago. There was just such a heavy influx of posts, because most accounts post very consistently, whether weekly, bi-weekly, or daily. It was just too much media to go through. But without consuming those pictures, I had a lack of ideas and motivation to contribute to the community.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to unclog my timeline a bit, and go through the list of people I was following. I wanted to unfollow anyone whose content wasn’t something I really enjoyed, or who’d switched their account to something unrelated to books, which has been a growing trend I’ve noticed in the past year or so. Before I could even inspect people’s posts, I noticed Instagram had grouped at the bottom of my following list all the people who had been inactive.

As I scrolled through these people, many of whom had been my favorite Bookstagrams when I started, hadn’t posted since 2016. I decided to unfollow anyone who hadn’t posted since November 2018. The list of people I was following dropped from over 500 to 278.

What caused so many people to go inactive? To stop posting? It was clear I wasn’t the only one who had suffered from lack of inspiration. Many people posted that they were going on hiatus because they were too busy with work, college, or high school. Others said they no longer felt a desire to be a Bookstagrammer and were changing to personal blogs or photography accounts. Others simply wrote “hiatus.” Some had just disappeared off the face off the earth, their last post being an unassuming book photo.

The first reason that came to my mind was the Instagram algorithm. The main reason I’d stopped going through my timeline was because it became non-chronological. On my personal account, I can scroll through every day because the trend for today’s teens is to only post once a month. It’s much more manageable to get to the bottom of my timeline every day. Bookstagram, though, is a different story. As I mentioned before, a heavy amount of photos gets churned out daily, many of which come from accounts with tens of thousands of followers. Booktuber Sasha Alsberg has 209K followers. The account @bookbaristas has 132K followers. Then there’s bookish shops, like My Bookmark, which has 59.6K followers. Not to mention all the authors and publishing companies.

Not that I don’t enjoy seeing all of these people’s beautiful posts–I mean, they have lots of followers for a reason–but ever since Instagram rolled out the new timeline around March 2016, the top of my feed gets populated with pictures from all of these same people, many of which were posted a week ago. Meanwhile, I never see posts from the accounts like mine with followers only in the hundreds–and I do follow them. It takes forever to scroll down my entire timeline, so I never do it. I only go through the top, so I only see the posts from accounts at the top. And it’s not a problem of inactivity, because I already got rid of those people. 

So I thought maybe the algorithm was a problem. It was discouraging smaller Bookstagrams like mine, because no one would engage with our posts. However, I don’t think that’s the sole source of the problem. It definitely has a big effect, as even the hugely successful Bookstagrams have had to learn how to play the game and move around the algorithm to get their content out there. Even so, many of the people I’d unfollowed had been big Bookstagrams. @myriadinklings had been one of my favorite Bookstagrammers, and she has 69.9K. But she stopped posting.

In the past few weeks, I’ve done a bit of thinking as to what the cause could be then, of people quitting the community. Maybe it’s the decline of blogging in this new age. Many Bookstagrammers originally used Instagram as a platform to promote their Bookblogs, but I hardly hear of anyone keeping up with blogs these days. Blogging used to be trendy, but now “blogger” feels like an outdated term from the early 2010s. Having to read blogs on websites feels too slow compared to the instantaneity of reading an Instagram caption. I’m not sure that’s it, though. Many Bookstagrammers don’t have blogs, and even when they do, their Instagrams far surpass the level of engagement they get on their blogs, so I’d assume they could still easily maintain those accounts even if they wanted to stop writing blog posts. 

I honestly can’t think of what the actual reason could be. Books are a timeless thing, so I never really imagined that there would be a big loss of people all leaving the bookish community at once. Maybe it’s an ongoing trend that I never noticed, and new Bookstagrams are being created as fast as old ones are leaving. Maybe it’s because of the digital, fast-paced age, and less and less people are engaging with books. Any of these reasons are possibilities, or the reason could be something completely different. Maybe there isn’t even a real problem.

This whole blog post has ended up being an inconclusive speculation. If anyone read this looking for answers, I’m sorry if I mislead you. The question of why the community has been shrinking, though, has been nagging me recently. So let’s start a discussion. Do you feel like the Bookstagram community is dwindling, or do you think it’s thriving? What do you think are the reasons behind it?

Merry Readings,

April

Author: april | lostinthebookstacks

hello! i'm april (she/her), an asian american reader who’s passionate about words and scallion pancakes.

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