November 27, 2022

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

Why book blogs still matter in the age of BookTok

4 min read

I’ve been on the book web for more than 15 years and during that time I’ve watched the rise and fall of platforms. I remember talking about books on Livejournal, for Sappho’s sake. I started a book blog called Lesbrary in 2011 because I couldn’t find an LGBTQ book blog that wasn’t 90% M/M books. Of course, I started a companion Tumblr about it around the same time because that’s where I spent most of my time. Years later I joined BookTube, and years after that I even tried BookTok for a bit before slowly retiring.

During that time, I saw the literal internet grow and evolve, allowing for more niche spaces (such as a Sapphic book blog) for different formats and new personalities. I loved the passionate debates that took place on Tumblr about representation, the art/artist divide, and other prickly disagreements between fandoms… and then I loved those conversations a lot less when they kept popping up, on Twitter and Tumblr and YouTube and TikTok absolutely no progress made over time.

However, during all those moments of dipping in and out of different book worlds online, I kept the Lesbrary. It was starting to look dated. Who else follows book blogs? Who still reads their online content instead of watching videos? (Hello, readers!) More importantly, I was beginning to doubt if there was still a need for a Sapphic book blog like mine. More Sapphic books are being published today than ever before, and more people are reading and promoting them. BookTok has a lively Sapphic books section. I feel like I’ve contributed a small part to this environment, which I’m proud of: if I can make the Lesbrary completely redundant, I’ll be happy.

I haven’t packed up my blog and closed the windows yet. Because as I watched the same conversations play out over and over again on different platforms, I really began to understand how ephemeral most of them are. BookTube and BookTok are great for browsing and following, but they’re not easy to browse. You might be able to find general topics (like queer books), but searching for something specific is harder. The platforms are simply not designed for that. TikTok in particular should not be a store of knowledge or an archive of opinions. It’s a wealth of content and you’re meant to keep up with what’s new, not explore what came before.

Even the newest platform is mostly populated with young voices, mostly teenagers and people in their early 20s. Most of them haven’t lived through the days of live journaling, and they don’t dig into the WayBackMachine to see what’s happening in their corner of the internet is before they got there – I certainly never did. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does have some pitfalls, like repeating the exact same bugs as the previous platform, with the same arguments and splits.

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On the literal side, this also means that most people who create content on BookTok aren’t aware of books that were published five years or more ago, unless it’s Catcher in the Rye. Of course some incredible books are coming out now, but the recommendations you get there might omit some of the best books ever written in that subgenre/trope/category/etc because they were published before that person went online.

While I’m certainly nostalgic for the days when book blogs were the biggest cornerstone of the book web – not least because they weren’t dependent on a single giant corporation – I think their value is more than just nostalgic. Text-based content is easier to search and retrieve at the library or bookstore. There are also many contexts in which you might want to read a blog post instead of watching a video. Blogs can also be more long-lived: the Lesbrary has seen the rise and fall of multiple platforms like Tumblr. They can also function as an archive of sorts – not to brag about it, but the Lesbrary is actually included in the Library of Congress’ digital collections. But even without that, blogs disappear less easily than video content—even if they’re removed, they might still leave a spooky impression in an archive somewhere.

There are also many positive aspects for creators. I find that a book blog is much, much easier to maintain than a BookTube or BookTok account. Being in front of the camera is exhausting and can get expensive depending on how much you want to invest in good video quality and editing. Book blogs are cheaper and don’t require nearly as much energy to create content.

Can I recommend an embedding blog to people who create literal content online? It can be a great place to organize your content: for example, if you recommend your favorite queer mermaid books in a TikTok, you can embed the video in your blog and note the titles and authors for easy reference later. You can even add some affiliate links to make some money from this work depending on the size of your audience.

As we see this long-awaited online move to video, I’m not ready to say goodbye to book blogs. And if you’re reading this, it looks like you probably aren’t either.

For tips on starting a book blog and making money, check out What I’ve Learned from a Decade of Book Blogging and How to Make Money Blogging About Books.

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