How Reading Culture is Adapted on the Internet


  • Dorothee Birke
  • Johannes Fehrle


It has become a commonplace among media pessimists to see digital culture as inaugurating the end of books and reading. Conversely, our article examines how book and reading culture are adapted to the internet in various ways. Books and reading are at the center of an impressive number of popular digital platforms and practices, such as book blogs, or book related communities on Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube. These practices transcend the binary thinking about 'old' and new' media that can often be found in commentaries on the contemporary medial landscape, where book reading is more often than not understood as an inherently valuable medial activity, while the use of new media is seen as more problematic.

After mapping the main elements of this 'two media cultures' debate, we turn to two case studies in order to examine which ideas and ideals about the purposes and effects of reading are implicit in this emerging new reading culture on the internet. We first discuss the "Guardian Reading Group" as an attempt by a traditional newspaper to use the affordances of web 2.0 to open up traditional book review formats to an interactive reading community. Our second exemplary case is the phenomenon of BookTube, a subdivision on the video sharing platform YouTube where millennials celebrate reading, using book culture as a form of self-fashioning and socializing. Our media-ecological analyses show how these phenomena can be understood as a snapshot of the socio-cultural functions attributed to different medial practices at this particular moment in time. At the same time, they also outline how the understanding of these functions are embedded in long historical traditions of (novel) reading and its symbolic dimensions.