BookTok and its Influence on Reading and Bookselling Trends
I find the ease of recommendations on BookTok very appealing – short, easy-to-watch videos on my For You Page have led to me discovering books I might not otherwise have read, and I’ve found new creators who share engaging book recommendations.
The fact that these videos are interspersed with other TikToks that the algorithm deems interesting to me means that BookTok has become a seamless part of the content I regularly consume.
The power of BookTok
BookTok is the subcommunity on popular video-sharing app TikTok that focuses on books and literature. Creators make videos discussing books they read, and TikTok users eagerly watch and engage with these videos.
According to Scribd’s 2021 year in review, one of the “standout trends affecting books is BookTok, the part of social media app TikTok where book lovers extol their favourite books and have helped turn titles … into massive successes.”1
BookTok, like many TikTok trends, constantly evolves and provides infinite opportunities for content creation. Videos can include book reviews, recommendation lists based on particular genre or theme preferences, books that make readers feel certain emotions, and videos that focus on the aesthetics of particular books and bookshelves. Currently, #booktok has 39.7 billion views.
The data shows that BookTok causes major sales increases for books that become popular on the platform. For example, “What’s most notable is following an -18% decline in reading before any BookTok attention, books highlighted in TikTok saw an average 75% spike after promotion on that platform.”2
BookTok has demonstrated significant influence on bestseller lists, with Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo both landing on the bestseller lists after going viral on TikTok.
“Notably It Ends With Us enjoyed a 70% jump thanks to BookTok, going from -17% before promotion to 53% to 73% to 141% quarter-over-quarter, and Song of Achilles jumped 68% from 1% to 69% then continued to grow at 59% and 31%. Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was especially interesting because it went from a -24% decline in Q3 2020 to 48% growth in Q4 — that’s a 72% jump in just one quarter — then it held relatively steady growth at 46% in Q1 2021 and 41% in Q2.”3
How BookTok influences readers
BookTok inspires readers to pick up various genres, from classics to young adult fiction; this variety of genres means that many readers with diverse interests are reached. Michael Windle, head of digital at Penguin Random House Australia, is “seeing a mix of fan favourites: from fiction, to more recently non-fiction works such as motivational memoirs, to the classics.”4
TikTok’s For You page plays a role in giving users uniquely tailored content that helps them discover new books and genres – unlike other social media platforms that give you content based primarily on users you follow, TikTok’s algorithm provides you with a tailored feed based on what and who you watch and interact with.
BookTok’s popularity can reawaken a love for reading in young people, the target demographic of TikTok, who might not otherwise read or enjoy reading. TikTok reaches a new audience in an visually engaging way, motivating these young people to read and discuss books.
Watching people’s visceral reactions to books, as well as well-thought-out reviews, gets audiences intrigued by the books that become viral on TikTok. The popularity of reaction videos, such as people crying while reading heartwrenching books, shows BookTok user’s investment in raw emotional displays and genuine connection to books.
The visual aspects of TikTok videos also provide an engagement and intimacy that written reviews (that are unlikely to be read by young people anyway) do not. BookTok’s focus on the reading experience, as well as the books themselves, adds to the authentic nature of the content.
The desire to talk to someone about a book after you’ve finished reading it is a universal experience for readers, and TikTok can fill this role with its easily accessible community and variety of books discussed. This sense of belonging and connection to a wholesome section of the internet is what motivates many people to view and create BookTok content.
BookTok provides a community within which users can talk about fictional worlds and characters, diversity and representation in books, and how books make them feel. Word of mouth can have a significant impact on what people read, and TikTok is now playing a considerable role in this book-sharing process.
BookTok’s influence on bookselling trends
BookTok’s ability to make books go viral has inspired retailers to create dedicated BookTok sections, both instore and online. Retailers are taking advantage of BookTok to market their books to readers and to help readers find particular books more easily. A Google search of ‘BookTok’ returned dozens of results about book retailers’ BookTok sections: Dymocks, Barnes and Noble, BigW, Booktopia and Book Depository have dedicated sections to books popular on BookTok. Goodreads also has a BookTok Recommendations Shelf.
According to Dymocks, the latest trending books on Tiktok include several genres: YA, Fiction, Non-fiction and books by TikTokers. Barnes and Noble’s BookTok section is characterised by genres – the highlighted genres are Teens and YA, Fiction (including Historical Fiction, Thrillers, Literary Fiction and LGBT Fiction), Romance, and Sci-fi and Fantasy.
No other social media platform seems to influence the mainstream sale of books like TikTok. While Bookstagram (a portmanteau of books and Instagram) can be popular in specific niches of readers, it hasn’t inspired mainstream readers or booksellers in the same way.
BookTok reminds us of the power readers and reading communities hold in driving bookselling trends, and what empowered readers mean for the publishing industry.
1 Bussel, RK 2021, 2021 Book Trends Show The Power of BookTok and Rise of Audiobooks, Forbes, New Jersey, viewed 11 February 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelkramerbussel/2021/12/31/2021-book-trends-show-the-power-of-booktok-and-rise-of-audiobooks/.
2 Sung, S 2021, Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021, webpage, Scribd, San Francisco, viewed 11 February 2022, https://blog.scribd.com/scribd-year-in-review-reading-trends-in-2021/.
4 Duncan, E 2022, Tiktok’s ‘BookTok’ is a new chapter in how we read and celebrate books – and it’s powerful, webpage, ABC, Australia, viewed 14 February 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/the-drum/2022-01-13/booktok-creators-and-popular-books/100743006.