Why everyone is talking about BookTok

Article | Issue: Oct 2022

Across the world we’re seeing a revival of the romance genre which has been spurred on from the social media app, TikTok.

AKINA HANSEN explores the impact of TikTok on readers and book sales.

 

Last year, as households across Australia locked down to fight the spread of COVID-19, a new cultural phenomenon called ‘BookTok’ began trending online.

‘BookTok’ is a hashtag created by book lovers and is used specifically on the app, TikTok. Launched in 2016, the app allows users to share and upload short form videos that are typically of dances, stunts, pranks, life hacks and now books.

These book videos feature people sharing everything from must-read titles and their colourful bookshelves, to posting their book reactions.

During lockdown, we had virtually no social appointments (apart from the odd walk or grocery shop) and instead had more free time – granted, only if you weren’t looking after children. But with only your immediate surroundings to entertain you, many people resorted to picking up new hobbies and projects, which ranged from gardening, pottery, painting, and even Pilates. I’m sure many of you can relate to this.

Based on what they purchase, it’s easy to see the influence of BookTok and the revival of the romance genre.

For young people across Australia, these new hobbies included reading – which was surprisingly spurred on by TikTok. According to Simon & Schuster publishers, the majority of people using TikTok are women between the ages of 12 and 25.

Additionally, the Digital 2022 Australia Report revealed that the average amount of time spent on TikTok per month has increased by a staggering 40 per cent since the beginning of 2021.

WHY TIKTOK?

The short form nature of the videos on TikTok make it easy to fall into the trap of endless scrolling. This, plus the ease with which you can source specific content through hashtags such as BookTok, makes it a go-to space for young people, particularly those seeking book recommendations from like-minded individuals.

Across the world we are seeing the wide-ranging effects of BookTok. In 2021 Britain saw the highest sales of printed books in a decade, and in the US sales were the highest on record.

Similarly, in Australia the use of this app has also resulted in a drastic increase in book sales each week.

According to book sales data provider Nielson, the BookData team identified over 70 titles with a presence on TikTok that have boosted Australian book sales in 2021 and 2022. The combined sales of these titles saw a 242 per cent increase in value from 2020 to 2021, with 83 per cent of these books being backlist titles (published before 2022), and 62 per cent being published before 2021.

HOW BOOKTOK HAS INFLUENCED BOOKSELLERS

Bookseller Josh Hortinella, from Dymock’s on George Street, Sydney, has noticed a direct correlation between BookTok and book sales. ‘We’ve definitely seen an influx of younger readers in the store, from those ranging in their late teens to early 20s. Based on what they purchase, it’s easy to see the influence of BookTok and the revival of the romance genre,’ says Josh.

Other popular genres on BookTok include fantasy, young adult and even self-improvement and business titles. But according to Nielson, the genres that are driving book sales in 2022 are romance and sagas – with leading value sales of $8.6m in 2022.

Josh confirms this, stating, ‘Romance sales were around 60 per cent up for 2021 compared to 2020 … Colleen Hoover is definitely our most popular author in the romance section. Her books It Ends With Us and Ugly Love are featured in our Top 10 bestselling titles almost weekly.’

Interestingly, backlist sales are higher than the last three years, with BookTok titles, It Ends With Us and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo making their way into the Australian Top 10 chart.

EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT IT ENDS WITH US

Author of It Ends with Us, Collen Hoover

Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends With Us was the top selling backlist book in 2022, selling 69 per cent more copies than the top backlist title the previous year.

According to Simon & Schuster, both of these authors have seen a significant surge in sales for their other titles too.

Even Australian author Sally Thorne has benefitted from BookTok, with her novel The Hating Game selling 1200 copies a week this year, compared to 120 copies a week last year.

To keep up with the demand, bookshops are now featuring BookTok sections. At Dymock’s they have created a dedicated wall right at the front of the store.

‘This wall is usually reserved for what’s trending or in theme for the week, and it felt only right for BookTok books to be featured when they play such an integral role in the book industry these days,’ Josh tells me.

The power of BookTok in influencing readers is evident from the deluge of customers who remain consistently camped out in front of the BookTok section. They eagerly look through the shelves and rarely leave empty handed.

THE BOOM OF ROMANCE

The end of lockdowns has further reinvigorated people into buying physical copies, particularly romance. And in response, Dymocks has installed a new romance section that also provides recommendations based on your favourite romance genre tropes.

If you scroll through BookTok you’ll see dedicated romance tropes from ‘Enemies to Lovers’, ‘Second Chance Romance’, ‘Retellings’, ‘Fake Dating’, ‘Spicy’, ‘Throwbacks’, ‘Love at First Sight’ and ‘Books that Make You Cry’.

TikTok is a performative medium that uses emotion to connect with its audience – this is evident with BookTok videos that show cry reactions to novels. Considering this, we can see why the romance genre has really taken off on the app. Its emotive themes and heart-wrenching stories lend themselves to the theatrical nature of the app.

For example, the 2017 queer romance novel, They Both Die at the End by American YA author Adam Silvera, has experienced immense popularity across BookTok, with videos of people cry-reacting, to the book going viral. In the US, this book was the bestselling title in 2021 with 300,000 copies sold. In Australia, it has topped the Australian young adult charts six times, and has sold more than 25000 copies since trending on BookTok.

BookTok has renewed young people’s interest in the romance genre and has in turn spurred on book sales. It’s a welcome surprise that highlights the incredible power of social media in creating trends and enabling readers to get their voice heard about what they want published.

Check out the BookTok hashtag on Tiktok here.

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