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Diversity & Digital Space

More often than not, when I shove my responsibilities away to curl up and relax, I read a sentence of my book – and then immediately pick up my phone.


My go-to hit of dopamine is Bookstagram. I’ve curated a newsfeed made up of endless scrolls of book reviews, book photographs, bookish discussions and reading recommendations. I snuggle down further into my blanket, pick up my tea and add a million new reads to my ‘to be read’ list.


But does Bookstagram have a more tangible, wonderful bonus than that dopamine hit? Is there another level to the democratic affordances of the platform that directly impacts the industry?


A white bookshelf displays the colourful spines of a variety of books. Cover image: Nick Fewings on Unsplash, 2018. Used with a CC BY 2.0 licence.


An exclusive history

The publishing industry has a vicious history of exclusion and white, male privilege. In a panel discussion run by The Wheeler Centre called ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’, publishers and literary agents from the UK and Australia were brought together to ‘explore and re-enforce the obvious’: despite it being the 21st century, the books we make and read are still not representative of the world we share.


BIPOC authors are still left on the slush pile, despite proving time and again that underwritten stories are the ones readers are craving and will gladly absorb.


LGTBQI+ stories are limited to side characters, told exclusively through romance narratives, or excluded altogether.


But slowly – very slowly – things are changing.


There’s been endless research undertaken about the notion of Web 2.0 and the digital new age. But what does this mean for us as book buyers, as lovers of the written word?


A panel discussion on representation, voice and agency in the publishing industry, recorded in 2022. Video: The Wheeler Centre. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f970spKKOn8.


A democratic platform

All of a sudden, the newsfeeds of countless readers are full of wonderfully diverse kinds of reviewers.


In a post about Bookstagram and diversity in literature, Book Riot gathered a list of popular Bookstagrammers from diverse backgrounds who champion feminist, BIPOC, LGBTQI+ and other kinds of reading experiences. Nkisu, a Bookstagrammer from @hoarding.chapters, insists that ‘the world isn’t just one shade of grey, so it doesn’t make sense that literature should only follow one narrative and showcase only one type of person.’


Readers, it seems, are searching for stories that are representative of the real world; its diversity, complexity and vibrancy. Bookstagram is a place for real readers to congregate and make their voices heard.


Direct access to real readers

As a platform, Instagram enables the publishing industry—those who are actually curating, facilitating, editing and producing the books we read—to have access to real readers. Bookstagram becomes a meeting ground for publishers, literary agents and buyers to research what readers are looking for in a new release.


As a result, this online digital space becomes flooded with content as Bookstagrammers are sent free copies in exchange for honest reviews. Bookstagrammers have become a new form of advertising.


Despite this, Bookstagram has never wavered in championing honesty. It has never shrunk away from discussing the changes we need to be seeing in the industry.


Community

In a piece on Bookstragrammers, The Washington Post describes the online bookish world. ‘In these sprawling but welcoming communities, readers have found one another, banding together in a global, aesthetically pleasing book club that’s open for discussion 24/7.’


A solitary activity—reading with a book in your lap and a blanket over your knees—has become a public, social one. As a result, we’re inspired, peer-pressured and ultimately encouraged to read widely, with our critical thinking switched on. There is, of course, still room for mindless mindfulness (I’ll never be convinced to stop reading smutty romances), but readers are aware of how what they buy and choose to promote online can directly influence the big wigs of publishing, even if it’s through a chain of influence or a small string of followers.


After Story

I recently read After Story by Larissa Behrendt and published by UQP. It’s safe to say that I would never have found this book alone; I was attracted by the beautiful cover design, sure, but it was recommended by my bookish community via my newsfeed not once, but multiple times.




Maddy holds up a copy of After Story by Larissa Behrendt, in 2022. Photo: Madeleine Corbel.


Eventually, I added it officially to my Storygraph ‘to-be-read’ list and got my hands on a copy. It was unlike anything I had ever read: a First Nations woman and her daughter travelled together to the UK to do a literary tour. The mother viewed each site of western academia and prominence with wide eyes and an open heart, but questioned why society’s value is so misplaced. Why do we care so much about a 600-year-old building, when an older, culturally-significant tree back in Australia gets cut down? Why do the British think they can hold on to a First Nations man’s body in their museum for ‘research’, rather than giving it back to his people?


Questions that I had never considered were raised through my reading. This quickly became one of my favourite books of the year. And I found it through the democratic recommending power of Bookstagram.


Times, they are a’ changing

When people say that times are changing and not for the better, or that they wish for the ‘good old days’, I tend to disagree. The affordances of digital platforms have allowed me, as a reader, to connect with other readers who are just as passionate about change.


Collectively, the Bookstagram world wants books written by authors who are representative of the real world we live in—a diverse world of different cultures, sexualities, experiences.



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