I’ve been on the bookish internet for more than 15 years, and in that time, I’ve watched platforms rise and fall. I remember talking about books on Livejournal, for Sappho’s sake. I started a book blog called the Lesbrary in 2011, because I couldn’t find an LGBTQ book blog that wasn’t 90% M/M books. Of course, I started an accompanying Tumblr for it at about the same time, because I spent most of my time there. Years later, I’d join BookTube, and years after that, I even gave BookTok a try for a bit before slowly backing away.
Over that time, I saw the bookish internet grow and evolve, allowing for more niche spaces (like a sapphic book blog, for instance), for different formats, for new personalities. I loved the passionate debates happening on Tumblr around representation, separating the art from the artist, and more prickly fandom disagreements…and then I loved those conversations significantly less when they popped up again and again, on Twitter and Tumblr and YouTube and TikTok, with absolutely no progress made over time.
All through these moments of dipping in and out of different bookish spaces online, though, I kept the Lesbrary. It began to seem more and more outdated. Who follows book blogs anymore? Who reads their online content anymore, instead of watching videos? (Hello, reader!) More significantly, I began to doubt whether there was a need for a sapphic book blog like mine anymore. More sapphic books are being published now than ever before, and more people are reading and promoting them. BookTok has a lively sapphic books section. I feel like I, in some small part, contributed to this environment, which I take pride in: if I can make the Lesbrary completely obsolete, I’ll be happy.
I haven’t packed up my blog and shuttered the windows, though. Because as I watched the same conversations play out over and over again on different platforms, I really started to understand how ephemeral most of them are. BookTube and BookTok are great for browsing and following, but they’re not easy to search. You might be able to find general topics (like queer books), but looking for something specific is trickier. The platforms just aren’t designed for that. TikTok especially is not meant to be a repository of knowledge, an archive of opinion. It’s a firehouse of content, and you’re meant to be keeping up with what’s new, not exploring what came before.
The newest platform is also usually populated with young voices, especially teenagers and people in their early 20s. Most of them have not lived through the Livejournal days, and they’re not digging into the WayBackMachine to see what was happening in their corner of the internet 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 mistakes as the platform that came before, with the same arguments and schisms emerging.
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It also means, in the bookish side of things, that most of the people making content on BookTok aren’t aware of books published five or more years ago unless it’s Catcher in the Rye. There are some incredible books coming out now, of course, but the recommendations you get there might leave off some of the best books ever written in that sub-genre/trope/category/etc because they were published before that person got online.
While of course I’m nostalgic for the days when book blogs were the biggest corner of the bookish internet — not least because they were not dependent on a singular giant corporation — I think their value is more than just nostalgic. Text-based content is easier to search, to pull up at the library or bookstore. There are also plenty of contexts where you might want to read a blog post than watch a video. Blogs can be longer lasting, too: the Lesbrary has seen the rise and fall of several platforms, like Tumblr. They also can act as a kind of archive — not to brag, but the Lesbrary is actually included in the Library of Congress digital collections. Even without that, though, blogs are less likely to disappear without a trace than video content is — even when they’re taken down, they may still leave a ghostly impression on an archive somewhere.
There’s also a lot of positives for creators. I find a book blog much, much easier to maintain than a BookTube or BookTok account. Being in front of the camera is exhausting, and it can be expensive, depending on how much you want to invest in good video quality and editing. Book blogs are cheaper, and they don’t require nearly as much energy to make content.
For people making bookish content online, might I recommend a tie-in blog? It can be a great place to organize your content: for instance, if you recommend your favorite queer mermaid books in a TikTok, you can embed the video on your blog and note down the titles and authors, making it easy to reference later. You can even add some affiliate links for the chance of getting a little bit of money out of that work, depending on the size of your audience.
As we see this long-anticipated online pivot 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.