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How #BookTok Made Reading Cool Again

By Sumaiya Nasir | April 4, 2022

Whilst scrolling aimlessly for hours on TikTok, as one does on a slow Saturday night, one may happen upon the hashtag titled “BookTok,” an online sanctuary for literature lovers and book fanatics alike. The BookTok hashtag has currently garnered 42.6 billion views across the platform.

BookTok is just one subculture of TikTok; lovers of astrology, beauty, cooking, music, sports, and even politics have their own space to congregate and discuss their opinions. TikTok has an algorithm curated specifically for users - if it detects that a user is liking videos of tarot readings and astrological predictions, for example, they are more likely to view that on their “For You Page.”

TikTok was launched in 2016 but rose to popularity among Gen Z consumers in 2019 and early 2020. Now it holds its place among the top-most used social media platforms, alongside Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The beauty of TikTok is that in a generation with declining attention spans, teens are able to create and watch videos ranging from thirty seconds to three minutes of content catered to their specific interests.

The BookTok tag centers mainly around YA fiction, though there are many subcommunities that branch off from this that appeal to all kinds of readers. At the forefront of the hype are books by Colleen Hoover, Sally Rooney, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Sarah J Mass. Readers have turned their attention away from titles including “They Both Die at The End” by Adam Silvera, which dominated the tag during the emergence of the hashtag, to “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Otessa Moshfegh, the modern-day unhinged woman’s manual.

Book sales have risen among recent years, though not all of it results from the popular social media app. The initial COVID-19 lockdown forced people of all ages to turn to books and television to distract them from the sudden halt on their lives, and book publishers and sellers saw an increase in the consumption of books.

That being said, it is certainly false to say that the app has not influenced Gen Z and even Millennial readers in finding their next reads. According to a report by Publishers Weekly, “It Ends with Us,” a book originally published in 2016, garnered 21,000 sales within its first month after release. In 2021, it was selling nearly 17,000 copies a week. The impact of TikTok content creators is unparalleled and is changing the publishing game.

The appeal of BookTok videos is that they are able to attract a wide set of audiences. Videos titled “books that made me cry at 3a.m.” and “hot girl summer books” are enticing to younger audiences and consumers are more likely to gravitate towards viewing these kinds of videos. Many micro-influencers post monthly reading updates or book haul videos, which adds variety to the tag.

Alexis Semons, a Junior at the University at Albany, said that BookTok got her into reading again. "Lately I haven’t been reading like I used to, and BookTok got me back into reading. It has helped me explore different genres and read books I would have never picked up in the book store. Now every time I go to Barnes and Noble, I check the BookTok tag to see what’s trending now!"

Book sellers and retailers, such as Barnes & Noble have taken to including sections on their websites and in-stores dedicated solely to the most popular books on BookTok, periodically changing the lineup as readers direct their interest from one book to another. It is common to see a group of young adults huddled around the table, searching for a specific book they happened to see on BookTok.

This is only the beginning - as BookTok reaches more people, and more diverse audiences, the hashtag will only continue to grow. TikTok as a social media platform is only going up in popularity, and it is difficult to see a future without the app. So long as BookTok reigns, the book publishing industry shall stay.


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