It was somewhere around 2006 when I first learned what blogging was, and it didn’t take long for me to set up my very own, learning in the process all about HTML and coding before I knew what coding was. My first site was a book blog, one I maintained for nearly a decade through the early blogging days, the great migration to social media platforms, and the surge in popularity of book content creators.
I eventually made Instagram my main platform for “blogging,” by then no longer a side social media promoter for my longer articles, but as a main way to showcase books I was excited about. Over the last five to ten years or so, creators have seen explosions across BookTube, Bookstagram, and BookTok, with the content seeming to stray farther and farther from the original text-based book blogs. And though the content is now more video-focused, “blog” is a vague enough concept that all this book media could actually still fall under that umbrella, even without all the pieces we think about when we think about blogs of 2009. Book Riot’s very own Danika has an excellent video on why book blogging isn’t actually dead, even though people think it is.
This brings us to 2020, in the throes of a global pandemic, burnout beyond repair, and general feelings of everything being too much and too loud and too overwhelming. There are too many platforms and too much to see on the platforms.
But I was sensing a change in my own media consumption, and it seemed like others were too. I found myself, instead of scrolling through socials to see the same five books promoted again and again, seeking out creators whose work I admired and opinions I valued. I began to notice many of them had newsletters, something I previously would have wrinkled my eyebrows at and ask, “Why would I voluntarily sign up for more emails?”
But then, against all odds, I found myself signing up for newsletters, particularly bookish ones. It felt like going back in time, reading my blog roll-up of all the new posts I’d missed since the last time I logged on. I loved how thoughtful and carefully the content was constructed. While I am just as much obsessed with TikTok as the rest of the world, I really loved that this simple format — an email — was giving me both a new window into books and one that felt increasingly familiar and cozy in a hard and scary time.
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I eventually started my own book newsletter, Reading Under the Radar, a brand-new venture that has me excited about books and writing for the first time since the pandemic began, focusing on books that likely are not on popular online lists or featured all over BookTok, books a little more under-the-radar than the bestsellers. I was personally enjoying longer, more carefully thought-out pieces rather than lots of quick bursts.
And I’m not alone.
Substack, one newsletter hosting platform, has interesting infographics on how the popularity of newsletters has grown and continues to grow, but most notably, in September 2021, Substack alone generated nearly 25 million visits, not even mentioning any other hosting sites. The popularity is growing exponentially, with more and more people finding their niche interests represented by newsletters they can subscribe to without all the hassle of the other things they don’t want. People are setting rituals much in the same way people would sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning to read the newspaper, only this time, they’re reading their newsletters. The Cut, in an article from July 2021, declared email newsletters a “new literary genre,” both in describing traditional newsletters covering pop culture, politics, and more, and in those that are serialized fiction newsletters, presenting one new chapter of a story at a time to readers.
With the slow movement lifestyle becoming more popular, the rise of #CottageCore, plus the burnout everyone is feeling from never-ending work cycles, something that feels slower and like a bit of a throwback is not only enjoyable, it’s refreshing and needed. Evolving back to a longer piece of text-based content does seem strange, especially in the age of TikTok, but the numbers don’t lie, and millions of people are finding joy and comfort in creating and reading newsletters, just like they used to with blogs.