Digital Culture

It’s BookTok’s World and We’re Just Living In It

Megan Stoker

Since the pandemic, TikTok has gripped the imagination of the social media-conscious reader. It is a phenomenon that has hijacked book consumption like no other – arguably more so than Audible, which was dubbed to anticipate the end of the physical book. Coming to notoriety in 2018, after initially functioning as a short-lived but popularised lip-syncing app called, it was taken over by Bytedancea and renamed TikTok, setting sights on expanding the app into one of the biggest social media platforms in the world. 

One of the most popular communities is BookTok (viewed over 108.2 billion times) which has been exploited by the multi-billion dollar global publishing industry to market and uplift their products. The sheer gravitas of this app is astounding as many texts that are scattered amongst our bookshelves (whether that be at home or our local Waterstones) may have fallen into relative obscurity – at worst, out of print – without the excited yet helpful hand of a ‘BookToker’ potentially situated thousands of miles away. 

Texts like Adam De Silva’s They Both Die at the End or Colleen Hoover’s published works have experienced immense but latent success all because of TikTok. This has also meant that more books have become subject to greater analysis, critique and discussion because of their content, impact on readership across age groups, representation or because of the way publishers have started to market their books – which are increasingly being marketed not for the bookshelf but the screen. Book covers are becoming more homogenous with clearer and bolder fonts, as well as a greater sense of aestheticism that embodies the rise of corporatised, minimalist ‘clean’ culture. Perfect to view through the lens and vibrant enough to be spotted on a bookshelf, or the perfect ‘in-between’ shade for a book influencer’s rainbowed arrangement. 

As a reader myself, I don’t feel any compulsion to download TikTok because I love to scavenge bookshops and trust my intuition. But, I simply cannot say that I haven’t read a book that isn’t popular because of the platform or been given one by a friend who saw it there first. 

The pervading nature of the app is supported by data from NPD BookScan from 2021 highlights how book sales increased by 9% to 825.7 million in the US specifically. In the previous year, The Guardian reported that the UK publishing industry raked in over £6.7 bn in sales, an increase of 5% in digital and print with TikTok as a core factor in the industry’s success. As a result, the book-selling industry is recognised to be greatly uplifted by TikTok and reflected in further statistics detailing the rise in registered independent booksellers from 867 to a promising 1,027 in 2021. 

Ultimately, this pushes the point that BookTok and/or potential future regenerations of the concept will continue to captivate, revolutionise and change the industry – whether that be for good or bad. Nevertheless, call me a traditionalist in this age of screens, likes and reposts but I still believe that using social media to influence my reading tastes is like marmite… so I’ll mostly be sticking to the shelves.

Image credit: The Guardian