A 26-year-old woman speaks to a camera and cries. It could be the product of anything: contemplating a life dedicated to the Omicron, or a classic apology video. But the subject of her distress is actually the book she’s holding just inside the frame of her phone’s camera. The TikTok has been seen more than 6 million times.
It’s part of BookTok: a space where readers and literature lovers can praise or point out flaws in their favorite young adult fiction, romance and fantasy novels. With #BookTok piling up 46.6 billion views and counting, “The BookTok Effect” was noticed.
Having been described as the “last sane placeon the internet — allowing queer readers and readers of color to carve out an inclusive space to share their thoughts and have a platform — creators can establish a book as a must-read. TikTok helps drive print book sales in the US, reports the World Economic Forum. In 2021, readers purchased over 825 million printed books, setting a new record; and 2022 is well on its way to bragging even stronger sales for retailers like Barnes & Noble, according to Bloomberg.
The conversation is often dictated by trending books on BookTok, or the app trending page himself. But with growing encroachment from publishers eager to capitalize on the trend, how long can BookTok remain one of the last communities on the internet uninterrupted by commodification?
“We’re reading a book…and we just want to talk about it.”
Kendra Keeter-Gray, 23, of @kendra.reads, launched her channel in March 2021. She has since amassed 119,900 subscribers and calls the growth “very organic.” Essentially, she thinks the appeal of her content comes down to the simple fact that “we’re reading a book, we’re really excited about it, and we just want to talk about it.”
And when what we consume shapes our perception and reaction to books, there is potential for profit. Some of the most high-profile examples of books propelled to popularity by the platform include Adam Silvera They both die in the end (2017), We by E. Lockhart were liars (2014), and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Ravens (2015), the latter amassing 972 million app views.
The rise of BookTok
Online book forums have long been a way to bring the reading community together, but BookTok’s digestible content coupled with its novelty have amplified the success of the video platform. In 2020, British publishing house Bloomsbury saw its profits increase by 220%, which CEO Nigel Newton partly attributed to “absolute phenomenonfrom BookTok. Titles particularly affected by BookTook’s hype include The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.
Online communities like BookTube have subsequently been “an extremely important focus” for the publishing industry since 2010, according to non-fiction book publicist Daniel Freeman.
However, there are stark differences between BookTok and BookTube that draw publishers to the former: “BookTok had a much greater effect and influence on sales,” says Shannon DeVito, director of books for Barnes & Noble. “BookTube tended to favor instant hits, usually tied to a specific YouTube personality or player. BookTok, on the other hand, has had a large effect on hundreds of titles, and those sales stick around for a very long time period. .” Stylistically too, adds Freeman, “BookTok tends to be a lot more playful with content creators engaging in different themes around books and using visual techniques, which are much more likely to go viral.”
The most visible difference is the length of the content. “BookTube has established itself as a place for long-form content, reviews, and of course, unboxings,” says DeVito, “while BookTok focuses on short, snappy reviews and emotions about the book.” It naturally refers to 45-second reviews that have the potential to dictate whether a reader chooses to pick up or put down a book. “BookTok has a head start because it’s so quickly consumable, and the genuine excitement of fellow readers and booksellers has created a thriving community.”
But with books traditionally referred to as an offline activity – a form of escapism that takes one away from the screen – is there a paradox in the fact that screens are the only way to learn more about books? ?
[BookTok] had a large effect on hundreds of titles, and these sales continue for a very long time.
Not at all, says Pauline Juan, who currently has 529,000 subscribers on @thebooksiveloved. With more people than ever reading on their phones, iPads or downloading e-books, BookTok has made reading more accessible. “Some people don’t have the money to buy a $20 book every time, but there are subscription options like Kindle Unlimited where you pay monthly and have access to a whole range of titles,” she says. .
It also allowed readers to turn the often solitary act of reading into a more communal activity. “Being on the app opens a method similar to ‘I already have this copy, do you want me to share it [with] you?’ or ‘did you know it’s on sale right now – it’s 99 cents,'” Juan continues.
At its core, digital media consumption revolves around a search for connections, whether through leisure or shared experiences. It’s no surprise, then, that BookTok, a digital community of book lovers, has accelerated so quickly and sparked a deep love of reading in the process.
Before, reading was an island activity, recognizes Juan. But BookTok offers a form of connection not just to another world through books, but to the users’ own world; it provides a platform where “you can pick up any book and still be able to connect with other people online while you read it – so not only can you enjoy this book on your own, but you can enjoy it with someone who lives in another part of the world.”
A new era of bookfluencers
But will BookTok remain an organic community of passionate book reviewers, or become another influencer machine? Bookfluencers are starting to emerge. “It’s already happening,” says Juan. “There are a lot of big BookTok accounts that [people] swear by.
“Publishers are now heavily focused on trying to get creators on TikTok to stream what they would like to stream,” she continues. While the way the industry is using BookTok to advertise books is gaining momentum, “it’s not as heavily driven as [via] Instagram or BookTube.”
“It’s always organic,” says Keeter-Gray. “It’s just that there’s money that can be made by just saying, ‘I really liked that’ – you take something that you really like, and that now translates into direct sales for the people.” The proportion of sponsored content is still low, according to Juan. Another BookTokker tells Mashable that creator fund membership would pay creators around 2 to 4 cents per 1,000 views. For most creators, that doesn’t mean much, and while referrals are a “best way to make money”, they aren’t a reliable source of income.
This is where BookTok differs from Bookstagram, BookTok’s Instagram counterpart, which is much more aligned with influencers. “There are so many tools on Instagram now,” says Juan. “You can tag your brand partner on your story [and] every potential outlet for you to distribute your content is monetized. TikTok is gaining traction, but we’re not there yet. BookTok’s appeal also stems from the nature of the algorithm. While Instagram’s algorithm produces tailored content, BookTok fosters more organic interest in books by increasing the chances of a user randomly stumbling across content.
Can BookTok stay authentic?
Ultimately, it will be essential to reconcile the publishers’ desire to sell with the authenticity of the creators. “I’ve always promised myself never to promote a book on my page that I haven’t read – if I haven’t read it, then I’ll say I never read it!” said Keeter-Gray. There is a difference between “when someone has read something and when someone has not read it, and when [people] I want to talk about it because it’s trending and what’s going to get them views.”
This feeling is shared by Juan: “I don’t post strictly for others [to like] because I’m going to burn myself out if I just post for other people,” she says. “Where is the authenticity in that? The enduring nature of the bonds formed by books and authenticity can trump encroaching capitalism. fallible, it reflects how BookTok can retain its magic.
Reading and talking about our favorite books will never go out of style…we just find new ways to do it.
Publishers are understandably optimistic about preserving BookTok as a digital community and inclusive space. “Reading and talking about our favorite books will never go out of style,” says DeVito. “We’re just finding new ways to do it.”
An emotional journey with a book never really ends – take the young woman who was left reeling from the end of You have reached Sam by Dustin Thao, a novel about loss, love, voicemails and what it means to say goodbye. She immediately turned to BookTok to ruminate on her feelings. “The end will destroy you,” she said, her voice choking with fresh tears. “I couldn’t read it cover to cover.” That’s the kind of emotion you can’t replicate in a sponsored post, and that’s BookTok’s enduring appeal.
“We’re in the midst of a reading renaissance,” DeVito adds. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
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