By Paige Morishita
Since the pandemic started, you likely know a few family members or friends who’ve picked up reading as one of their new favorite activities. This shouldn’t be surprising based on statistics from NPD BookScan which found that 825.7 million physical book copies were sold in 2021 — this is the largest amount of print sales ever made in one year and a 9% increase compared to 2020.
A large part of the new reading frenzy can be attributed to the emergence of BookTok, a TikTok community dedicated to reading and books, that’s racked up a whopping 49.8 billion views. TikTok is the main social platform used by book lovers because they can create and interact with niche, authentic content that’s relevant to readers. Engagement is consistently high because app features like video replies to comments and stitching lead to organic, book club-esque discussions. With a hobby like reading that’s typically done alone, social media spaces like BookTok turn these more-or-less individual activities into a communal experience.
What’s most impressive about BookTok is that its influence spans different genres, authors, topics and even release dates. This can be seen by just looking at a small handful of viral titles listed below:
- Historical Fiction — “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)
- Literary Fiction — “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
- Greek mythology — “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller (2011)
- Romance — “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover (2018)
- Fantasy — “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V. E. Schwab (2020)
- YA psychological thriller — “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart (2014)
- Memoir — “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner (2021)
- Science/Psychology — “The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel van der Kolk (2014)
- Politics/Race — “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)
In fact, BookTok titles like these became so popular amongst readers that Barnes & Noble created a website section and in-store displays dedicated to books circulating on the platform.
Not only is BookTok helping people find their next read with ease, but it’s also forcing publishers to expand outside traditional publishing and promotion methods since any book can go viral. The BookTok phenomenon truly shows how social media gives users the power to shape markets and industries based on what they’re trending or demanding more of. For example, as BookTokers made conscious efforts to uplift self-published, BIPOC and queer voices, front shelves in Barnes & Noble and book recommendations on Amazon started to reflect that. It’s no longer retailers/publishers saying to readers, “This is what we want you to read, so you’ll read it.” Rather, readers are now saying to retailers/publishers, “Listen to what we want, and we’ll buy from you.”
My ultimate hope for BookTok and other social media book communities (e.g., BookTube and Bookstagram) is that readers will use this newfound power responsibly and push the publishing industry to be a diverse and inclusive space where all voices are heard.