Is the Book Community an Echo Chamber?

by Catarina Vicente

In online book communities, it is usual for creators, in their quest to reach wider audiences and become more popular, to replicate certain ideas or trends that more famous creators have done previously. This is fine and well – unless it’s done on a major scale. Suddenly, the community is consumed by the same few creators, who promote the same few books, authors, genres…

You might think I’m exaggerating, but for the most part, it’s true. Book communities can often feel like echo chambers. Through my own trips down the BookTok rabbit-hole, this has meant constant recommendations of the same authors – among these Colleen Hoover, Taylor Jenkins-Reids, Madeline Miller – and the same genres – romance, YA – and even tropes – yes, we get it by now, enemies-to-lovers is very fun.

Granted, I like some of these, but when all you see is these same books and writers, it can get quite repetitive.

This repetitiveness can be due to the general demographic of BookTube – young, white, female – who tend to be drawn to similar literature. But the books that get popular on these platforms deeply affect the publishing world: the hand that dictates the publishing world is less often the drive to publish meaningful and hard-hitting literature, but rather greed for profit.

This can incite a toxic cycle that seldom lets new players in – new authors, genres, themes, ideas. What does it mean for books that don’t so easily fit into fan-favourite categories? For authors who don’t echo the latest literary trends or tropes? For voices that can’t be so easily marketed to the mainstream market?

Then again, the publishing world is what you make of it. Readers can read and consume whatever books they wish. Members of the book community can make an effort to follow diverse voices and channels. Publishers don’t need to stick to by the popular, the mainstream, the norm, for the simple purpose of profit.

The problem is that many do.  

This isn’t a new idea – it’s the cause of hundreds of think-pieces, angry social media posts, online discourse. Some might say it’s the responsibility of the members of book communities to show publishers that diverse and different genres are profitable. But one can also wonder – what does it mean that genres and authors need to be deemed profitable to gain a chance of publication, of an audience, a platform?

What does it mean for the future of literature, and the circulation of ideas?