Book reviews on Instagram: The characteristics of the vernacular genre


Book reviewing has become a common activity on the image-sharing mobile app Instagram, as part of the global #Bookstagram community dedicated to book readers and enthusiasts. At the beginning of 2019, there were over 28 millions of posts using the hashtag #Bookstagram, as well as a number of regional or local communities applying the #Bookstagram's idea of addressing ‘all things bookish’. This paper focuses on the genre and cultural engagement book reviewing, conducted by ordinary people and thus regarded as a vernacular form reviewing, in contrast to more amateur-oriented and professional forms. Vernacular reviews are characterised by the fact that the evaluation of artistic and aesthetic content is more connected to the everyday and lifestyle issues of the users, showing the activity in a more 'mundane' context than the two other forms. This way, 'IG reviews', as expressed by the user reviewers on Instagram, do not basically require demonstrated expertise in the field of literature, but authority is negotiated in other ways in interaction with the relevant networks.

This paper presents a multiple-case study based on a quantitative big-data approach in data collection and a series of qualitative analyses of book reviewers. The data was collected with the help of automatic retrieval of 800,000 posts tagged with #bookreview, featuring over 100,000 unique users. The community of all #bookreview content producers was, then, structured according to two different principles: 1) user reviewers with the highest book reviewing frequency; 2) user reviewers with the highest user interaction. Accordingly, two samples were formed for the analysis including the 50 top users and a sample of 10 most recent review posts from their accounts. The two samples were analysed in terms of characteristics of the uses of perceived affordances on Instagram and the review content, using content and discourse analysis. 

It was found that the IG reviewers make a versatile use of cross-platform use, focusing on the reading experience rather than on the book content, even if direct exposure of the reviewer, for example in the form of selfies, is systematically avoided. The analysis of the review content showed that the reviews could be categorised in three types, indicating three different quality standards.

The findings have implications to the conceptualization of the vernacular, online-native forms of reviewing and mediatization of cultural engagement. It is proposed that a theoretical shift is needed from the cultural production and intermediation paradigms towards cultural consumption or prosumption.

Keywords: review, vernacular reviewing, book cultures, reading, cultural engagement, Instagram, Bookstagram