It’s National Poetry Month and the sales of poetry collections are on the up thanks to – wait for it – Instagram. Because of this platform – and the ‘Instapoets’ debuting their work on it – poetry has made its way off of the shelves, onto our phone screens, and back into the popular consciousness.
So, what is an ‘Instapoem’? Who are these ‘Instapoets’? And why are they (surprisingly) so divisive?
The Great ‘Instapoem’ Debate
An ‘Instapoem’ is a short poem posted on social media. Authors combine their original writings with images, creating highly shareable posts on Instagram (but also Twitter, Tumblr and other social media platforms) – little pops of poetry that users encounter as they scroll.
Among the roster of Instapoets, Rupi Kaur is the most recognised and criticised. As Kaur rose to fame – her Instagram profile boasts an impressive following of 3.6 million followers and her poetry posts on Instagram regularly reach 300k likes – so did the number of articles aiming to discredit her work.
Features under titles such as: “The Problem with Rupi Kaur’s Poetry”, “Instagram Poet Rupi Kaur Seems Utterly Uninterested in Reading Books” and “Rupi Kaur: The Inevitable Backlash Against Instagram’s Favourite Poet” quickly accumulated and Instapoetry became the subject of heated debate.
The legitimacy of this new strand of poetry has been fiercely disputed, with many naysayers taking issue with its simplicity in terms of style and imagery. Countless articles have been published about Instapoets, decrying their choice to ‘dumb down’ the medium in order to make it more commercially appealing.
Instapoetry: Making Poetry Accessible Again
On the opposing side on the Instapoem, many champion Instapoets for the accessibility of their work. Fans argue that Instapoets give readers permission to explore a genre they previously found difficult to grasp or thought of as having little relevance to modern society.
In the eyes of the Instapoetry fans, all negative reception comes down to the fact that young poets are bypassing the traditional literary gatekeepers – not only taking over millions of social media feeds but also the tables at bookshops.
Indeed, only five years ago it would have been hard to imagine that twelve of the top 20 bestselling poetry authors in 2017 would be “Instapoets” and Homer, legendary author of the Odyssey, would trail behind Rupi Kaur and r.h. Sin in third place.
47% of poetry books sold in the U.S last year were written by Instapoets.
Kaur’s online success has translated into international celebrity and two print collections. Milk and Honey, Kaur’s first collection, was self-published and spent more than 100 weeks in the New York Times bestseller list. Whilst her second, The Sun and Her Flowers, reached the top three on Amazon’s bestseller list, holding a place next to Oprah Winfrey. The 26-year-old made nearly £1m from poetry sales last year alone and was consequently named one of Forbes 30 under 30.
Fellow Instapoets r.h.Sin (1.5m followers), ATTICUS (1.1m followers) and Robert M. Drake (1.9m followers) are now all New York Times best sellers, with multiple collections under their belts and a number of celebrity fans – Robert M. Drake’s poems, for instance, have been shared on social media multiple times by members of the Kardashian clan.
A Rising Tide for Publishers: Instapoets and Profitability
This ‘shareability’ – the ease with which you can search for, copy and share Instapoetry for all your followers to see (totally cost free) – was originally seen as a barrier between Instapoets and profitable book sales. But it seems that Instapoetry collections have not just sold with healthy profit margins but also boosted sales across the poetic board.
In the U.S, the annual growth rate of poetry is up by 21% since 2015, making it one of the fastest growing categories in publishing. Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show a record £12m sales last year. That’s roughly an increase of £4.5 million pounds in the last five years. Apparently, it pays to be a poet in 2019.
Instapoetry has also caused a massive shift in the medium age of those purchasing poetry collections. Two-thirds of buyers in 2018 were younger than 34 and 41% were aged 13 to 22. Even if they haven’t received the seal of approval from the literary community, these Instapoets have run away with the hearts (and cash) of today’s youth.
Whether you like them or not, Instapoets have transformed a medium and revived an entire industry. They have inspired thousands of young people to pick up a book and get reading, a campaign many have tried and failed at over the years. And I think that’s a pretty good bottom line (or final couplet) on the subject.
Enjoy this blog? You may also want to check out our blog on ‘The Future of Instagramable Hotspots’ or this one on social media trends in 2019 – and why not sign up for our newsletter while you’re at it?