BookTok – A Passing Fad or A Lasting Passion?

You know it’s a BIG THING when companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble take notice, and that’s exactly what has happened with BookTok. If you don’t know what BookTok is, then read on.

BookTok is a thriving community within the TikTok app, devoted to everything books. We will explain. The question is, is it just a passing fad, the new new thing, or is it here to stay as an important channel for the entire publishing industry? We think that chances are, it is the latter, because it’s already having a major impact on book sales across the globe, from Louisiana to Liverpool, but the answer probably lies in the generation that you belong to. More on that later.

What’s Different about BookTok?

What’s different about BookTok is that it was not started by the publishing industry, as a means of promoting books, but by a loose group of GenZ’ers who loved to read and who began posting their experiences with their books on TikTok. Members of that generation (born around or after the turn of the millennium) are adept users of Social Media and were practically born with cell phones in their hands – with all the good and bad that brings. Many would say that the cell phone creates a very short attention span for habitual users, but who amongst is not a habitual cell phone user these days? Social Media and cell phones are forever linked together, and that generation, as much as any other, is a consummate and creative user of the technology and its capabilities.

And so, TikTok was developed to appeal to that generation. It is a video-based Social Media app that allows anyone who is so inclined, to create a short 15-second video on any subject of their choice. It is ready-made for GenZ’ers, and apparently increasingly so for the rest of us. What could be more enticing to a short attention span than a 15-second video showing funny and passionate opinions about a book?

How it Began

BookTok began organically during the pandemic when young people, among others, found themselves quarantined with little else to do, and began posting to TikTok under the hashtag #BookTok about books they had read, books they wanted to read, books they loved, books they hated, books they could laugh and joke about, and “books I would give my soul to read again for the first time” (an actual group in Booktok). Very quickly, they built up bubbling sub-communities of like-minded readers. As you might imagine, most of the initial subjects reflected the tastes and interests of their age group, from romance, fantasy to sci-fi and LGBTQ+ titles. There’s an established Harry Potter group, for example.

GenZ’ers were not known to be prolific book readers, at least not as much as the older generations, so what happened and why did it lead to such a significant increase in book sales? By the way, if you’re not convinced that BookTok by itself was an important component of the sales increase, refer to the opening lines of this article, research PRH’s use of the app, and read comments by Nigel Lawson, the CEO of Bloomsbury, on the “phenomenal impact of BookTok” on book sales in 2021.

Several of the books posted in BookTok videos have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Most Barnes & Noble stores have “BookTok” tables. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others have sections of their websites focused on books originally highlighted on BookTok. And because this phenomenon was created by consumers, it doesn’t matter whether the books in question are front list bestsellers or ten-year old backlist titles. They are just books that stand out to the “BookTokers” for a whole host of personal reasons, to such an extent that they felt they had to join the burgeoning community and post a video about it.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The reason BookTok is different is not because of the “ForYou” algorithms that curate unique content for you based on what you have looked at in the past on the app. But when subjects and hashtags are repeated for multiple users they becomes trends and can quickly go viral. One video with a particular hashtag has generated more than 37 million views and counting, many with emotional comments of their feelings about the book in question. Videos with the #BookTok hashtag have been viewed over 12 billion times. This is hardly a passing fad, and the initial fervor generated during the pandemic has extended beyond the original GenZ’ers, to more and more of the population at large, although some studies have shown that only about 2 percent of Boomers are using TikTok today. That may change.

With these kinds of numbers, naturally the whole publishing community, from authors to publishers, from influencers to agents, has jumped on board. Publishers began to cooperate with authors and BookTok creators to promote their own titles. Video creators are beginning to monetize their work through sponsored posts and working with subscription companies. Internet posts for authors on how to generate sales through BookTok are plentiful. And publishers are reaching out to the authors with large numbers of followers, offering payment and contracts for publicizing their titles. And so it goes – it continues to build.

It should be noted that there are plenty of other apps on Social Media that cater to the loyal and even passionate book reader (BookTube, Bookstagram among others), but they have arguably not had the same impact on sales as BookTok. They tend to contain more contemplative and studious reviews, and don’t always reflect the immediacy, the passion and enthusiasm clearly evident in the BookTok videos. The attraction originally was the authenticity and passion obvious to all in the videos they created. Sincerity sells. The value to the community was that it empowered the readers themselves. Today, some bemoan the fact that the movement is now being joined by the commercial interests of the industry at large, but there are no indications yet that the big company interests will overpower the grass roots. The app is still booming and users are unquestionably creating more opportunities for more authors and readers – and very enthusiastic readers at that. That’s got to be good for everyone!

Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash