December 8, 2023

Let’s Talk About BookTok

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.

14 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About BookTok

  1. It’s so ironic how we now turn to social media for book recommendations since for me at least, social media is what I’m trying to unplug from when I pick up a book. Still, I find myself finishing a book and heading straight to TikTok for recommendations before I buy/borrow my next one. I really hope ‘BookTok’ continues to help the physical book industry thrive in the digital age!

  2. I love this! I especially love how you described the shift in power. It’s no longer the publishers and retailers dictating the sales but it is truly what the readers want all thanks to social media. So very interesting how a hashtag has the ability to shape markets. And what is crazy is that I fall into that little booktok category – I have read all but two books on the list you provided – I heard of most of them through the app and/or picked them up at Barnes and Noble because they were prominently displayed. I hope this trend continues! It is providing a new never before seen space for voices to be uplifted and spotlit!

  3. Hi Paige! I loved reading through this article. As an avid book lover, I know I have personally been influenced by some book recommendations on TikTok specifically. That being said, it is so empowering to know that there are so many avenues for BIPOC and queer authors to receive the recognition they deserve within literature through social media.

  4. I really loved reading this article. I have succumbed to buying SO many more books because of the amazing reviews on BookTok and the Barns & Noble BookTok table. I was an advid reader well before book reviewers made their way to BookTok, so it has been interesting to see the growth of the book industry with the increasing use of social media platforms. I have also enjoyed being able to see recommendations for genres that I haven’t been interested in before but have been made interested through the use of the platform.

  5. Hello Paige, this blog is everything! Tik Tok is a game changer. Some of my favorite Tik Toks are finding good book summaries. The personalized interactions on Tik Tok opens up a conversation that reflects on so many emotions correlated with the audience when reading the book. Since the pandemic, reading has become such a huge part of my life. Two years later, it is so refreshing to see people on Tik Tok (especially around my age) relating to the same emotion that I felt when reading the book. I also live for unpopular opinions about certain books. All in all, Tik Tok is fantastic for having a “virtual book club.” My mom always pushed me to read but it is so much more meaningful when you are able to reflect on books with a community. -Leah Friedman

  6. Hi Paige,
    Finally, someone is talking about BookTok! I have always been an avid reader and when the pandemic struck I read over 20 books over quarantine. Once BookTok arrived on the scene, I felt that I finally found my corner of social media. Before apps like TikTok, I never looked for book recommendations from Instagram or Twitter. I felt that written reviews were so boring and revealed too much about the plot. With BookTok, I feel that I can get a review of a book that gives me a “feeling” rather than just telling me the plot. It is a whole new type of book review that connects to the audience in a different, more powerful way. Great post!

  7. Hi Paige, I love how you brought this topic up! I personally am one of the many influenced by BookTok. In fact, I’m currently reading “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid and just purchased “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover- both mentioned in your blog. I think that BookTok is one of the more positive trends to come out of TikTok as it has increased physical book sales and encouraged Gen Z to pick reading back up. I love this trend and hope it continues as I keep getting great recommendations from it!

  8. Hi Paige, I’m so glad that people know and are talking about BookTok! I really enjoyed reading your post and thought your analysis of the recent power shift was very insightful. I completely agree with you and am happy that publishers are making more decisions surrounding what consumers actually want. Hopefully, as you said, this shift will help more diverse authors and stories get noticed.

  9. Hi Paige! I, like many of the people who commented before me, am an avid participant in BookTok! I really enjoyed reading your post and I appreciate that you explained why BookTok is such an important community. I think that your explanation of publishers listening to what the reading community has to say about the content they enjoy is really important and it relates back to the Clue Train article we read at the beginning of the term. I agree that BookTok is helping to promote more niche authors and I hope it continues!

  10. Hi Paige!
    I love your choice of topic for your blog post. It is so easy to pick apart social media and the different platforms for their negative attributes, and your focus on a positive that has come from TikTok can help provide a fresh perspective. Social media can spread more than just trendy products and fake news; BookTok is a great example of something having a positive influence (for the most part). I also think it is great that you speak on the potential and hopes of it amplifying all voices. Taking a trend like this one and using it to get the attention of a large audience on a range of important topics maximizes the power of social media.

  11. Hi Paige! I think I have found my way to BookTok. I go through phases where I’ll read a bunch, and then phases where I can’t imagine sitting down and reading a book. I typically like to read when I travel, so I’ll make a big book purchase before the trip. I have found myself going to TikTok to find book recommendations so I would agree that BookTok has changed the reading game. I wish GoodReads would be more active on social media and promote books on TikTok.

  12. Hi,

    TikTok’s idea of “BookTok” is very creative. I really enjoyed your piece. Reading is a great area to explore, given the number of book lovers across the world. Also, with TikTok’s huge following, this new “product” will not only rake in more profit for the company, but will offer readers a new avenue for accessing different books.

  13. Hi Paige!
    As a personal fan of BookTok, I enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve been into Colleen Hoover recently and got into reading her books because of TikTok. I think these communities are exciting new ways for people to create community without being physically together. You stated it well by saying that BookTok has turned this “individual [activity] into a communal experience.” I’m definitely going to read some of the other recommendations on your list.

  14. Hi Paige! I love BookTok so much and enjoyed reading more about it in your blog post! I’ve loved reading for a long time and have seen the decline of bookstores and physical books being bought in the past few years. However, it has been incredible to see how the rise of the BookTok trend has gone beyond TikTok and has impacted physical bookstores and encouraged them to hop on the trend like Barnes and Noble did!

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