From the virtual depths of TikTok, a new community of booklovers has emerged through the hashtag BookTok.
BookTok is a growing circle of bibliophiles who post videos recommending and reviewing books. Content ranges from spoiler-filled reviews, book suggestions and colour-coordinated bookshelves. Just like TikTok has taken the world by storm, BookTok has shaken the publishing industry and changed the nature of book marketing. With a collective 22.1 billion views, videos with #BookTok have sent backlist titles to the top of bestseller lists and helped new authors to launch their careers.
Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (Ecco, 2011) is a textbook example of how BookTok and viral social media videos can drive book sales. TikTok videos with #thesongofachilles now have 87.6M views, with users sharing their thoughts on the novel in all sorts of creative ways. Miller’s 2011 novel is now selling around 10,000 copies a week, which is roughly nine times as much as when it won the Orange Prize back in 2012, and it is now fourth on the New York Times best-seller list for paperback fiction. A publisher at Ecco noticed this spike in sales and traced it back to a TikTok video called “books that will make you sob” in August 2021, in which The Song of Achilles featured. That video now has nearly 6 million views.
So, who’s catching on? Not only are retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Waterstones creating regular content on TikTok using #BookTok, but publishers are starting to fill the space too and take hold of this opportunity. Penguin Teen, an imprint of Penguin Random House, now has 250.6k followers and over 7.6m total views. Targeting a young-adult audience, they are posting book reading challenges, reviews, recommendations and book-related sketches. Not only is BookTok helping titles to become more visible online, but it can also drive significant sales. TikTokers are 17% more likely to make an impulse purchase of something they have seen in the app than users of YouTube or Facebook. If BookTokers make it easy for viewers to find a quick path to purchase, then BookTok can become a major platform to help boost book sales.
BookTok has been a crucial and powerful way of introducing a younger audience into reading. These bite-size videos make books seem far more accessible, exciting and trendy. Yet, whilst TikTok certainly started as a hub for content-hungry, screen-obsessed Generation Z users, the demographic is changing fast. Now two-thirds of the TikTok audience are over the age of 25 and #momsoftiktok has 69.8B views. So there is space for BookTokers to tailor content to a range of ages.
Is this craze here to stay? With the phenomenal resurgence of backlist titles and the growing number of BookTokers, yes, it certainly looks that way. More and more publishers and retailers are catching on, and BookTok is becoming a core social media platform for book marketing. But maybe it’s not just BookTok that will stick around. With the average attention span of 8 seconds, YouTube is similarly realising the necessity of short videos and have just announced the upcoming launch of YouTube Shorts - a new short-form video on YouTube for content creators and artists. For established YouTubers, these short videos will no doubt draw a welcome swarm of users back to YouTube and hopefully build momentum for BookTube once more.
So whether it’s through BookTok or YouTube Shorts, these 15-second videos are looking like the future, and it’s an exciting time for publishers, retailers, authors and BookTokers alike to experiment with their content and book marketing strategies.