Consumerism in the Book Community

By Hanna Pluck

As life gets more and more online, book lovers are getting creative to show their appreciation and build a community around their hobby. While plenty of book-specific fandoms have popped up, for those wishing to engage with book lovers as a whole there presents a pretty unusual challenge – how do you connect with people who love books when there’s such a huge range of interests and personalities? How do you talk about the books you love to a community who hasn’t read them yet?

The most efficient and most popular way to confront this problem is through summaries and recommendations. And as our favourite bookstagrammers recommend novel after novel, our reading lists grow longer and longer, and the total bill at our bookstore of choice goes up and up. This isn’t entirely the fault of the aficionados themselves – social media is increasingly designed to be more efficient at selling than it is sharing and connecting, and many functions such as hefty, easily accessible comment sections that more easily allow for discussion about the books we love just aren’t a feature of popular apps like TikTok or Instagram like they once were on websites like MySpace or Tumblr.

Most modern apps are designed to only really be capable of promoting the mass consumption of books when their users are attempting to appreciate them and share their passion for reading – as these apps are often entirely in the visual format and don’t leave much room for conversation, all book-lovers can really do to consistently share their passions is create lists of book recommendations, or else blend their excitement for books with another medium, such as crafting or fashion – outfits inspired by every Harry Potter character, anyone?

While it can be invigorating and exciting for book fans to come together on these new platforms, we’re often left with an incomplete and one-sided conversation, in which our contribution as viewers is all too common – to just buy the book. As this consumerist mindset becomes more prevalent, the emphasis in the community shifts from appreciating books individually to valuing them as part of a collective. Sometimes even using the sheer number of books consumed in a month or year as a specific badge of honour, instead of appreciating the content of each novel.

Publishers, of course, have no complaints about this shift in mindset. Even outside of merchandising beyond the novel itself – often spawned from spin-off media like movies or video games – publishers are taking advantage of the new visual priorities of books lovers. Harry Potter alone has released collectable cover editions at least five times – including anniversary editions, Hogwarts house editions, movie editions, gift editions and mature editions, entirely beside the updated cover art that takes replaces the previous one every other year or so as the series strives to entice new generations of readers.

This trend can also be seen in the rise of subscription boxes. Ranging from £10 to £35 a month, subscription boxes are services where customers can receive a blind package of books and book-related paraphernalia. Even within this bubble, there is a huge range available to book fans – from fandom specific boxes such as ‘GeekGear Wizardry Box’, to genre-oriented packages such as ‘The Bookishly Classic Book Crate’, to subscriptions that prioritise minority voices such as women’s fiction and authors of other minority groups such as ‘Rare Birds Book Club’ and ‘Heady Mix’. And while it is undoubtedly an enjoyable experience as a consumer to receive a surprise package of novels that were sometimes chosen specifically for you based on your responses to a quiz, these services present even more of an advantage to those offering them. Through the very function of a “blind box”, these businesses never have to worry about typical concerns such as excess stock, the exact opposite is true for the consumer – as our bookshelves grow heavier and heavier with books we only have half an inclination to read, choice paralysis sets in and we can often end up reading nothing at all.

Ultimately, the shifting culture of the book community into increasingly consumerist habits is more a product of the world we live in, and the platforms on which we attempt to share out love of books with the wider than any real change in how we enjoy books.