Is Reading Really Dead?

Is Reading Really Dead?

By: Yasmeen Amjad

June 7th, 2023

This article is part of our Winter 2023 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.

Reading logs: the bane of every grade school student’s existence. Also a contributing factor, along with required reading, to people’s disinterest or falling out of love with reading. It has been speculated by publishers, book critics and teachers, that because of the gradual decline in students’ interest, reading is now dead. And that overall, the novel is dying. But with the help of social media, the world questions whether or not reading is actually dead.

Social media has changed the book industry, starting on YouTube around 2013 when “BookTube” reached its height in popularity. #BookTube is now a staple subgenre on the platform focusing on all things books. On this side of the platform, content creators were, and still are, pulling in around 500,000 subscribers from their videos of book recommendations, vlogs, hauls, to-be-read piles, tags and more.

During this era, dystopian, science fiction and fantasy novels were all the rave. These genres of books were so popular they seemed to have been driving the film industry at one point, bringing in hundreds of millions in the box office. Dozens of books, specifically young adult books, were being adapted for the screen, some of which included the “The Hunger Games” series, “Divergent,” “The Fault in Our Stars” and many more. Peoples’ love of books and reading was driving pop culture at the time.

Over on Instagram, a community of bibliophiles found each other through the hashtag “Bookstagram.” Here, literary fiction and pretty photos of end pages or a cup of coffee and an open book caught the attention of many bookworms. Some content creators raked in upwards of 300,000 followers. Some influencers had the opportunity to take over a publishing house’s social media for a day, receive books for review and take part in paid partnerships.

A few years later, book lovers entered a social media-centered cycle once again. BookTok, a community of bibliophiles on the social media app TikTok, has been taking the book industry by storm. The community has taken “word of mouth” to new heights. Books published years ago, such as Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us,” quickly climbed their way up bestselling charts. The driving force causing viewers to pick up certain titles is not solely the author but how it makes the reader feel. 

This was especially relevant at the height of COVID-19 lockdown, as people looked for ways to escape their reality. Everywhere they turned was a new horrifying pandemic statistic or another natural disaster infographic being shared on someone’s Instagram story. When the world became too much, BookTok, and all of its recommendations, were right there at one’s fingertips.

This is the case for Wayne State University student and avid reader Loren Safta. Safta states that “reading during [the COVID-19 lockdown] gave [her] an outlet, a way that [she] could experience hundreds of thousands of worlds and lives without risking [her] safety and the safety of [her] family. Even though [she] couldn’t go outside, [she] could still travel and [she] could still meet hundreds of new people and hear hundreds of new stories.”

The combination of BookTok’s growing popularity and a sense of escapism has led to the growth of specific genres in publishing. BookTok has promoted sales for young adult and new adult novels, specifically romance books and other fiction works such as literary fiction and “chick-lit.” 

This growing demand is resulting in cover design trends, such as cartoon characters on the front of romance novels and centered swords on fantasy covers, as readers seek out the most “aesthetic” cover of their favorite book or next read. Even trending books seem to include specific content as readers demand more books with favored tropes like enemies-to-lovers romances, sequels to books authors never thought to write, and movie and TV adaptations.

Safta, who loves to read books from several genres, has noticed her reading habits have changed due to social media’s presence in the book world. “I tend to base my selections now on what is more popular or what I’ve been seeing circulate around online. I have found a couple of really good books through social media that I never would have picked up or I wouldn’t have thought to pick up if I hadn’t heard about them through a platform,” she says.

Books are the new hot commodity. America’s largest bookstore chain Barnes and Noble partnered with TikTok over the summer to create the #BookTokChallenge. The goal of the challenge was to encourage readers to discover new books and authors and then use #BookTok to share their thoughts on what they read online. This was an interesting tactic. It pulled people in and used publishing’s greatest weapon, word of mouth, to encourage reading and therefore drive book sales.

Even subscription services related to books have been created. For example, Book of the Month, which curates a list of books readers can choose from; and Illumicrate, which includes a special, limited edition of a particular book and themed book-related items like mugs and stickers.

People within the book community continue to find new and innovative ways to promote their love for stories, whether that be through sharing book reviews, subscribing to content creators or purchasing book-related merchandise. The lifespan of reading and books is only growing. So, is reading really dying?

Yasmeen (Yazzy) Amjad is a senior pursuing degrees in psychology and professional and public writing. She hopes to use her knowledge of rhetoric and psychology to effectively edit and write stories. Yazzy is passionate about all forms of storytelling. In her free time, she enjoys baking, watching movies and TV shows, listening to podcasts, and reading for hours on end.