Featured image: Megan O’Sullivan
#BookTok has become the internet space for book lovers, who share every book they love, hate and everything in between. Emerging during the first lockdown in 2020, a time when bookshops weren’t open, and delivery services were stinted.
It’s no surprise that book lovers took to the most popular social media site to search for their newest read. This space on TikTok allowed readers to connect with others over their mutual love for books in a time of separation and disconnect.
#BookTok is undeniably positive for the reading community. With many condemning the popularity of certain reads, refusing to participate in the ‘hype’ and disregarding #BookTok favourites’ level of ‘intelligence’, it’s important to recognise the mass growth of the reading community prompted by TikTok.
Two years on, even amidst the throws of ‘normal’ life, #BookTok is still shaping every best-seller list and heavily editing the marketing process of literature. With 89.8 Billion views to date, the #BookTok community continues to soar. There are even entire sections carved out in bookshops, including Waterstones dedicated #BookTok Fan Favourites displays.
But why is this the case? Reading is one of the oldest forms of entertainment. The genres promoted on TikTok are not new, nor are book reviews and literary opinion pieces. So why did TikTok prompt a huge increase in book sales in 2022? And does it hold more power than a traditional review in a newspaper?
According to a report from the Publishing Association, 2022 saw a 14% increase in book sales. “A huge amount of what is being driven by TikTok is in print sales, and we are finding a lot of young adults are discovering books they love, sharing them with friends and driving sales and new interest, and that can only be a good thing,” said Publishing Association Chief Executive Stephen Lotinga.
For me, the primary difference with a TikTok book review is their focus on emotion and feeling and how this is conveyed to us through short-form video. It makes reviews quick and more accessible as they are easier to understand. #BookTok doesn’t come without its controversies though. Some readers suggest that all they see is the same basic storyline which often doesn’t live up to “the hype”.
Historically, reading has been associated with intelligence and academia. Making it unappealing to the younger generations, who are often forced to read books within the education system. Often, these books don’t fulfil their interests and birth stigma against literature. We can no longer relate to Victorian orphans or working-class governess who is struggling to marry. I think this is a reason why the younger generations needed a platform to rejuvenate their literary interest.
#BookTok speaks to our emotions and bookish interests directly in a way that was previously less accessible to young adults. It does not focus on the ‘intelligence’ level inferred by a novel, but the emotions it stirs and its ability to cater directly to your interests. The many sections of #BookTok mean that no matter what genre, trope or niche desire you wish to read, you’ll find a plethora of video recommendations detailing the emotion each text provoked for each creator and what specific interests are present.
#BookTok is not only influencing readers; it’s influencing the author, too. Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends with Us became a sensation on the app, with readers becoming emotionally attached to the main character Lily Bloom. Following her journey from falling in love, to being abused, to finding lost love from her past, readers became desperate to know what would happen to Lily Bloom as she rediscovered love.
Earlier this year, Colleen Hoover published a prequel titled It Starts with Us which follows Lily’s journey after her abusive relationship and follows her life as she discovers love from her past. In the novel, Hoover acknowledges the power of #BookTok, and says she wouldn’t have written the novel without support from the platform.
We live in an instantaneous, 24/7 consumerist society, meaning anything we want can be provided to us pretty easily via the internet. #BookTok is no exception to this. Gone are the days of having to have a conversation in a bookstore to find recommendations or buy the paper to see the top book picks of the month. TikTok caters to our quick and compulsive lifestyle. Hashtags make it all too easy to find thousands of books specific to what you’re looking for. As with just a few interactions, the algorithm will ensure book videos appear on your ‘For You’ page without prompt.
Our fast-paced lifestyles mean this is a way more effective way of filtering out the books we won’t enjoy in a way that looking through a bookshop can’t allow. A quick TikTok video can be influential as it shows selective content based on users’ previous interactions. We also can instantly connect with others through the comment section, which can mirror the value of a traditional book club.
In a world of technology and disconnection, #BookTok allows us, book lovers, to connect over a common interest and easily access a book community from the comfort of our homes. It’s skyrocketing both new releases and existing texts to the top of best-seller lists, undeniably influencing the publishing industry and the wider reading community along the way. #BookTok is here to stay.