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This is BookTok, a new community of book-lovers on TikTok creating a new generation of readers. Contrary to popular belief, reading isn’t dead: millennials read more than their parents, and the average Gen Z-er has read a book in the last week. But online communities like BookTok are bolstering the hobby even further, pushing what was once a small corner of the internet into the mainstream.
WAIT, THERE ARE BOOK LOVER COMMUNITIES ONLINE?
Reading may seem just like a hobby to some, but writers or not, there’s a whole community out there of people who live and breathe books. They anticipate the next big release or keep tabs on the latest up-and-coming author, finding a group of people with whom to do so.
While it all started on forums, particularly on sites like Goodreads—a social network for people to log, rate and review books—BookTube on YouTube was the next big thing.
As make-up artists, pranksters, and reaction channels soared to popularity, so did “BookTubers”, who review books in video form, dive through their hauls, and participate in “tags” or challenges, all the while nurturing a niche community.
But the internet also sprouts drama—particularly on YouTube—and the BookTube community has been known to have their fair share just like the others. Reading isn’t just confined to the paperback of a humble book club anymore; it has its own influencers, celebrities, and gossip, a stark contrast to how most people think of “avid readers”.
BUT HOW DOES TIKTOK COME INTO THIS?
New platforms mean new communities, and there was no way book-lovers were missing out on this one. Trading the long-form for short-form, creators compacted their content into TikToks, as the algorithm shot them to everyone’s For You page.
The short-form meant that readers were finding ways to make immediately eye-catching content about books: Books That Left Me Heartbroken and Shattered (@amyjordanj), Enemies to Lovers Recommendations (@aaliyahreads), even meme-y content like this TikTok about pretending to love a book you still haven’t finished (@slimjimjo):
And just like how TikTok pulled this new generation into the world of dance, the same has happened with reading, as BookTok inspires young people to embrace reading.
In a Guardian article about the rise of BookTok, 15-year-old Mireille Lee who runs @alifeofliterature with her sister says, “It all comes down to the fact that when you see a book, you’re like: ‘no more homework thank you very much. I tried influencing my friends to pick up The Selection [by Kiera Cass], or Red Queen [by Victoria Aveyard], and they were just not having it. [Instead] we showed them loads of images with some really popular music, and that was a huge success.”
WHAT’S BEEN THE IMPACT?
For the publishing industry, the effects of BookTok are starting to mirror the influence that TikTok has had on the music industry.
Just like any fandom, there are certain books or names that are hugely popular across the community. On BookTok, while most are young adult fiction (considering the audience), it can also be a mix. Some of those “BookTok books” are: They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
There’s been an obvious impact on the sales of the books that make the rounds on the BookTok circuit, as well as the genres at large. According to NPD, YA fiction novel sales in America skyrocketed to nearly 70% for the year as of May 2021.
Adam Silvera’s novel is also often used as a case study—the TikTok trend that shot his book to fame had creators filming themselves before reading They Both Die At The End and after, where they were usually crying. Since then, it’s shot to the top of teen fiction charts and more than half of his UK sales occurred in 2021, four years on from its original publication.
The publicity manager for that book, Olivia Horrox, has pointed out that it’s the “visceral reaction” that captures viewers’ attention, while marketing consultant Kat McKenna explains in the same article that “these ‘snapshot’ visual trailers are making books cinematic in a way that publishers have been trying to do with marketing book trailers for a really long time.”
Even book retailers are benefiting, like Canadian bookstore chain Indigo, who reported a 27 per cent revenue increase compared to the same quarter last year.
But most of all, it’s the support, friendships, and community within BookTok that are drawing young people to books. The perception that reading is a ‘nerdy’ hobby is quickly fading—now, it’s wholesome.