By Wyatt Bandt
It’s safe to say that we’ve all heard of TikTok at this point. It’s become unbelievably popular in the last few years, earning the title of most downloaded app in 2019 and 2020, and maintaining over one billion monthly users in September 2021. With short videos ranging from dogs, DIY, to how to cook Grandma’s enchiladas, TikTok has pretty much everything. With the advent of BookTok, it even has something for the bookworms like us.
BookTok was always present on the platform, with a handful of creators sharing their favorite books, recommendations, and memes for the book-minded. However, it wasn’t until mid-2020 that BookTok erupted into the mainstream, with several creators such as @caitsbooks—run by Cait Jacobs, a long-time book blogger—going viral. In part, the success of BookTok can’t be separated from the quarantines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; many BookTokers saw surges in their followers as people began consuming more digital and print content. Over a year later, BookTok is still going strong. It clearly has filled a niche, with new creators sporting the BookTok hashtag appearing all the time.
One thing that makes BookTok special is its reach. Normally, the only way the average person hears about books is word of mouth or walking around a bookstore. If they’re an enfranchised reader, they may be subscribed to websites or magazines that give recommendations, but this is far from the norm. BookTok is able to seamlessly interact with both die-hard book lovers and people who are just looking for something new to read. Much like a ‘crate’ style subscription service where a company curates a collection of games, clothes, or snacks to send you each month, a user can subscribe to a BookTok channel that focuses on their preferred genre. Then, with each new video, they hear about new titles they may be interested in.
In addition to its accessibility, BookTok is able to interact with literature with more personal flair and style, and are much less of a time investment than reading a longer review. No matter your view of the word ‘influencer’, personality is an important aspect of BookTok’ing and is what may draw you toward Abby of @abbysbooks and her sense of humor, versus Ms. B of @gvhslibrary and the ever-present influence of her being a high school librarian, with her poking fun at herself and her students.
BookTok has also become a space that actively fosters diversity, with channels focusing exclusively on writing for— and by—the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities, such as Jacob Demlow of @a.veryqueerbookclub. BookTok’s ability to break through the ‘standard’ literary canon reminded me of a course I took in university that did the very same thing with American literature. Instead of well-established classics like Fahrenheit 451 or The Grapes of Wrath, we read books and stories that were written by more than the handful of prolific authors of a limited demographic. From indigenous tribes’ creation myths to Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup’s experience as a free black man being kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1853, what I read in that course was the first time I fully experienced the diversity of American literature, simply because my preconceived notions of what ‘American literature’ was had never been challenged. Just like that college course, BookTok is great way to find literature from all walks of life.
But BookTok affects more than just the consumer; it has also reflected back on the publisher. Books featured on BookTok often see increases in sales, and particular genres have seen a major uptick in popularity. The NPD Group, and American market research company, stated that the YA genre was 70% more popular as of May 2021, something they attributed to BookTok. Stores have also started leaning into this new market, with giants such as Barnes & Noble that have a BookTok tab on their site, boasting the most popular books in the community.
To conclude my research, I wanted to hear about BookTok from the source. Over the holidays, I interviewed with Sydney Blanchard of @sydneyyybean to ask a few questions about her experience as a BookToker.
When did you become a BookToker, and what was that experience like?
SB: I posted my first BookTok video in November of 2020, back when “BookTok” hadn’t even really been established as a subgenre yet. At that point, I had only come across a small handful of book-related videos, and I noticed they were all recommending the same few books without much variety or diversity. I myself had been an avid reader and book collector for years and felt like I had a lot to add to the conversation! I very quickly realized that there were tons of other users like me on the platform who were looking for book recommendations similar to what I could offer, and the rest is history!
How have you seen BookTok affect your readers?
SB: I’ve noticed a lot of my followers finding BookTok through my videos, and they tell me how much more they’ve been reading since finding it, which is obviously fantastic. I think the consensus of most of us on BookTok is that, before we joined the community, we were reading way less than we are now. Now we just can’t seem to get enough!
How have you seen BookTok impact publishing?
SB: BookTok has impacted publishing in a major way, and the evidence of this is clear in the way certain genres are flying off the shelves now, especially romance. I’ve seen numerous authors specifically thanking BookTok for helping their books reach more readers and I think it’s safe to say that people are reading more now than ever before.
What does BookTok bring to the table that traditional advertising doesn’t?
SB: I think BookTok brings a huge sense of community that really inspires and motivates people to read and to explore genres that they maybe wouldn’t otherwise. People are much more likely to go out and buy a book that was recommended by their favorite creator than maybe an ad they saw somewhere else. There’s a big sense of trust involved.
Why do you love BookTok?
SB: I love BookTok because it’s brought so many amazing friends, books, and opportunities into my life. Before discovering it, I knew very few people who were avid readers like me, so discovering this community was pretty life changing. I’ve been able to diversify my own reading in ways I never expected and to help others find their own love of reading as well!
Though TikTok is often associated with dances or staged pranks, BookTok is a sunny little corner that is helping people find books they’ll love. And, as more people flock to creators like Sydney and many others, publishers are taking note and wondering how they can best tap into the growing community of BookTok.
Article originally Published in the February / March 2022 Issue: New & Upcoming.