As much as the whole book community is a really wonderful place full of really amazing bookworms, it’s not perfect.
There’s a lot of disparity between groups of people, which obviously reflect real life prejudices within society, even if they’re unconscious ones. Whether it’s against international bookworms or non-white bookworms, this is something that needs to be talked about and not quietly ignored.
Who Gets ARCs & Freebies?
I mean, first off, we can talk about the gap between people who get ARCs (from publishers and other means) and those who don’t.
The reasoning behind not sending books internationally is quite sound, shipping internationally really is expensive, especially when a large number of the English books being published are from American publishing houses. And in terms of even digital ARCs etc., publishing houses have warranted and real fears about piracy etc. based on other countries’ laws.
So in terms of ARCs for international bloggers, it really really sucks, but it makes sense. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it does seem reasonable to me why people don’t like sending things for free when they have to pay more rather than less.
The one thing that doesn’t make sense is why in the world Goodreads would start the new giveaway system. That’s just plain greedy. The platform is just hosting the giveaway–it’s already gaining more views and more adds by hosting giveaways. So by making authors/publishers pay $500+ dollars to host giveaways, and also limiting them to US & CA? That’s just greedy and cruel and unfair. I’m sure if Goodreads needed the money, they could garner it through other means (I mean, we already see bunches of ads). And they’re not the ones paying for shipping of the book, so why do they care if the publisher, for once, wants to ship it internationally? Do better, Goodreads.
But even for US bloggers–why are so many socially important book featuring minority groups not getting into #OwnVoices reviewers’ hands? Look at how many white BookTubers and bloggers and bookstagrammers there are with big platforms that publishers like sending books too, while lots more #OwnVoices reviewers don’t get the chance to do that beforehand.
Yes, large influencers who are predominantly white do good things for boosting a book’s popularity and buzz. But also, there’s a different sort of weight an #OwnVoices review holds–do you want to RT the tweet where the Taiwanese American teen tells you how much she related to the story or the white girl tells you how much she loved it? Both are obviously positive promo, but which has a stronger impact?
And I mean, publishing more often than not looks at the numbers rather than the influencer themselves, and you can’t blame the publisher too much. If you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for the money. They want to make money, and this is how they do it. I wish they did take into account #OwnVoices and smaller influencers more often, and they’re definitely working a lot closer to that, but it still remains rather tied to the promotion which is almost the same as money.
The logic they use is honestly sound for why they don’t send out ARCs to as many minority groups, because the minority group influencers have smaller followings. The largest influencers are a predominantly white group. It’s not the publisher’s fault (Mostly. I mean, ARCs can equal clout, but it’s not enough to build a following by just having ARCs. You still need to have decent content.) that minorities don’t have as large of a following, but it’s most definitely not the minorities’ faults either.
You know whose it is? It’s the viewer’s faults that minority influencers don’t have as large of a fanbase. Because these minority influencers aren’t getting the same amount of support as white influencers.
And it’s not like “OMG EVERYONE DROP YOUR WHITE BOOKTUBER AND GO READ BOOKS FROM THIS BROWN GIRL,” it’s those inherent subconscious biases we have. It’s those biases that say we want to watch videos from the pretty BookTuber–but look at your standard of who’s pretty. As Olivia A. Cole showed with her really great quick thread about cartoon animals and making them look female, “Whiteness is not the feminine default” (or at least, we really want this to be true).
As much as this really should be the truth, it’s pretty obvious that POC beauty is far behind white beauty, and people find more white people attractive than they do POC. And that’s a fact. (Just look at the makeup products out there.)
(This is one of the reasons why I really dislike YouTube. Blogging gives you more opportunity for a fair ground because it’s your words that count, not your pretty face.)
There Are Also Socioeconomic Disparities…
But beyond freebies being expensive to ship, international bookworms still have a really unjustified, sucky thing going for them.
And that’s the extreme emphasis for people to own hardcover books. You look at how the book community’s main platform constantly moves, and how it’s leaning more and more towards Instagram. And the viewership on Instagram really likes: hardcover books.
And hardcover books are usually always the newer editions, and paperbacks only come a year (or more) later. Meaning, if you want to keep with the trend, you get the ARC (which obviously isn’t usually feasible) or the hardcover.
But wait–what’s that? Hardcovers and new books are hard to find internationally? Hell yeah, they are. They have to buy these books at full price, and even purchasing from Book Depository is hella expensive (despite the sales they trumpet, it’s still more than then Amazon price, usually). We Americans have things like thrift stores and sales and lots of coupons and publishers sending us finished copies for free. But do the INTL kids have that? *snorts* Nope.
Meaning, it’s harder for INTL bloggers to get the photographic items they need to build their platform and appeal with the viewership.
Which also brings us to the other point, which is bookstagram. In the last section, I raged about BookTube. It’s bookstagram’s turn.
Because bookstagram is a very demanding platform. And it’s honestly really hard for anyone who has a lower class lifestyle to think about the sheer frivolity of bookstagram.
What are you going to spend your money on: food/rent/basic necessities, or some fake flowers?
Here are a list of some things that are vital to bookstagram, and here’s also me, tearing them all down and showing the socioeconomic issues:
- Owning Physical Books | I already mentioned a lot about this before, but INTL influencers don’t get as many books for free and books are hella expensive for them in physical format, which is a strain that is also visible for lower-income bookish people. Audiobooks and ebooks are cheaper, but viewers like to see physical books (preferably hardbacks), which is like a kick to the gut when you have a limited income, or when everything is uber expensive.
- Good Lighting | This isn’t as silly as it sounds, because you might be thinking “Why don’t you just take pics outside?” Well, for one thing, people in lower socioeconomic situations probably don’t live in a perfectly aesthetic fucking forest, thank you very much. And also, it’s well known that expensive houses have large, open spaces with good lighting and cheaper houses stray towards the outdated, dark styles. Furthermore, lower-income people don’t just work 9-to-5 jobs or are stay at home. A lot of the times, they can get home late, where the lighting isn’t at all existent, meaning their photos are artificial-light dependent. Oof indeed.
- Props | This goes back to the money issues thing, but props, as much as you say “Oh, props are cheap! You can find flowers for a buck at the dollar store and use this really nice wood patterned mat you can find on Amazon,” it’s still not super feasible. Tight money means using it wisely, and props are not really a smart way to use money.
- Posting at the Right Time | This is both an INTL and a socioeconomic problem (see: working late) because we all know that there’s good times and bad times to post on IG. And working during those times, or being asleep because you live in the wrong country, means your performance is getting a direct hit. (Because I’m pretty sure IG scheduling still requires you to press the button yourself at that time, unless I understand it incorrectly.) Just fantastic.
- Being Able to Take High Quality Photos | Look, I know bunches of you have your gleaming, case-covered iPhone that takes decent photos, but do you also know how expensive those things are? (I hope you do because you’re paying the bill.) All of my phones over my whole life have been $50 or less. (A fancy phone isn’t really a priority for me. If it functions, I’m happy. I’m fortunate enough to own a real camera.) $50 phones do not have good cameras. You’ve seen my IG stories. You know the camera is sucky. So telling a low income person with a non-iPhone quality phone to just “Use your phone camera because it works perfectly fine!” is pretty inconvenient and honestly offensive, because chances are, they can’t afford a phone that takes nice photos.
Being able to participate in conventional bookstagram (wood, flowers, lots of books) is basically an activity limited to middle to high income bookish people.
So basically, platforms like BookTube and bookstagram are equity-lacking platforms, because the viewers have a larger propensity to alienate people from lower socioeconomic statuses, people who are international, and people who are not the white-standard for beauty.
(Small clarification, I say non-equity because for bookstagram, it’s equal opportunity for sure because everyone gets the same platform to use, but it’s non-equity because everyone starts out somewhere different–low-income people and INTL folks at the bottom–so even if everyone gets the same resources, the outcome still ends up with these people lagging behind. See the graphic below for more clarification.)
More Miscellaneous Discriminatory Things
A couple other things I’ve noticed. Things like Twitter Chats are something that can’t satisfy everyone. It’s literally impossible, unless some people stay up really late. The standard Twitter chat time is 8 pm EST. What about those poor souls in Europe and Africa and parts of Asia where it’s time to sleep? Do they get the opportunity to scream in bookish with everyone? Nope.
What could happen is that Twitter Chat times vary to be more inclusive of bookworms. Y’know, just a thought.
Similarly, book conventions. Almost all the major book conventions take place in the US, and that already chucks out a whole group of people. Not to mention that getting there is expensive and whoops is that another group of people who were just isolated? Oops, my bad. Book conventions are great for creating buzz, but they also are hella expensive to get to and attend (costing both time and money) and a lot of people aren’t able to go.
If we took off the emphasis from making book conventions such a big and must-have thing and divert some of the resources from that into other pursuits (idk, #OwnVoices reviewers, maybe?), then that’s another step towards equity.
(Oh, and also, bunches of ARCs are sold illegally after cons. That’s also a downside :/)
So, in conclusion,
- if you’re white cis het allo and you live in America, then you have a natural group of people who don’t immediately dislike you and you have locational things working in your favor. You’re at the top of the pack, without even having to work for it.
- BookTube and Bookstagram are some of the most discriminatory platforms, because it isolates lower income, non-conventionally beautiful (aka non-white), non-US bookworms.
- Something must be done. Which brings us to…
So what gives? How do we change this?
This is a huge problem. Even though it may not be immediate and glaring you in the face, like the blatant lack of diversity in some novels, this is something that needs to be changed.
It’s also something that spans a lot wider than just the book community.
Look at BookTube. The way to make BookTube more accessible to people? Eliminate those white standards of beauty (aka, eradicate racism).
The way to make bookstagram more accessible? Eliminate the requirements for people to bookstagram in the conventional manner, with hardcover books and lots of props etc. (or, alternatively, eradicate poverty.)
It’s obvious we can’t do the parenthetical goals. We can’t eliminate racism or poverty or make international shipping cheap that quickly, not unless you want to invent teleportation and also simultaneously create a utopia.
What we can do, is try and change the way we look at things. Instead of putting a focus on hardcover books, put a focus on books in all formats. Instead of putting a focus on BookTubers to look super put-together with a face full of makeup and a giant, sprawling, hardcover bookshelf, put a focus on BookTube videos in interesting places with more natural get ups that stick a metaphorical middle finger up at beauty standards.
It’s YOU, the viewers, who decide where things go. If everyone stops following flowery bookstagram accounts and instead go for the outdoorsy ones, what do you think bookstagram is going to start shifting to?
Where the numbers are determine what influencers and even publishers do. The type of content you look at emphasizes what the market likes, and if the market likes not isolating international or socioeconomically challenged bookworms, then we’re moving in the right direction.
We showed the publishing world how diversity is important to us, and books by diverse authors with diverse characters are on the rise (though, not at the level they should be). Now, it’s time to show the whole bookish community how important people of all groups are to us.
Please don’t think this is me complaining on my own behalf. I am an Asian American cis het? middle-class bookworm. I’ve gotten so much aid from publishing in terms of free books to help build my platform. I’m far more privileged than so many other bookish people, except the white cis het allo middle-to-upper-class bookworms. And this isn’t how it should be.
I am using my platform to speak out about what I’ve seen about the bookish community and how we are continuing to isolate specific groups of people. Please, I urge you to use your own platform to boost the voices that need to be heard.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Concerns? The comment section is below.