NEW YORK: Digital novels have been around for years, but have struggled to find a form on social. Mother New York, in partnership with the New York Public Library, have developed Insta Novels, an experiment in literary Instagram that suggests a future for a centuries-old artform.

The NYPL’s ongoing mission is to promote books, reading, and learning to the masses. Like other public institutions – the BBC in the UK, for instance – a shift to an internet of walled gardens has changed the game they must play. 

Not only that, but its competition now includes whatever counts as ‘content’, be that sport, film, or cat GIFs. “With the technology available to us now, we are able to meet the public where they are – if they’re looking at Instagram, we will put books on Instagram”, said Angela Montefinise, an NYPL spokesperson.

From a design point of view, Instagram offered an ideal canvas for the agency to work with. “Instagram unknowingly created the perfect bookshelf for this new kind of online novel”, said Corinna Falusi, partner and Chief Creative Officer at Mother New York. “From the way you turn the pages, to where you rest your thumb while reading, the experience is already unmistakably like reading a paperback novel.” Using the app’s ‘Highlights’ feature, readers can save the book and return to it at any time.

According to NYPL, it was the agency that came up with the basic idea, but it was in partnership that the novels were chosen. The campaign has launched with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with illustration from the designer Magoz.

In the coming months, the library will put out Instagram versions of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis.

Beautiful as the illustrations are, what’s interesting about the project is its shot in the arm to the stodgy world of book marketing. Compared to the author’s heavy lifting in a previous model, along with the occasional poster, the Insta Novel presents a way to sample and trail a book or story in a manner that feels natural to the platform’s users. Press attention has been positive, noting the idea’s innovative, delicate design and user utility. Others have pointed out that for an entire novel, users may need a way to save their place. If, however, classic novels can take to Instagram, modern fiction – even poetry – could also see a new avenue for promotion.

The day of launch “was the Library's most successful day on Instagram ever,” said Montefiese, “with more than 10,000 new followers (that's over 70% over our average daily growth).” Ideally, the effort won’t just drive awareness, but will see people continuing to read through the library’s SimplyE reading app.

Sourced from NYPL; additional reporting by WARC staff