The BookTok Pipeline
BY MRUNAL DEORE '24
Walking into your local Barnes and Noble, you’re greeted by the familiar scent of books and coffee. Just as you turn the corner, though, you spot a sign advertising #BookTok. In an age where the internet has reimagined old hobbies, BookTok reigns supreme. A hashtag on Tiktok that harbors more than 100 billion views, BookTok consists of people gushing over book recommendations, promoting stories, and snipping interesting parts from their favorites. While BookTok has revived reading and stimulated the economy by motivating younger generations to invest in the hobby, it has also forced authors to conform to mainstream tropes and sacrifice their creativity.
With an ever-growing fanbase, BookTok has stimulated the economy by creating a TikTok-to-Barnes and Noble (B&N) pipeline. According to an industry analyst, there were 825 Million books sold in the US alone in 2021, more than any year since 2004. This gain has led to a 25% growth in the market and drove half of 2021’s market gain. Even though other social media platforms are active in book recommendations, like Bookstagram (Instagram) and BookTube (Youtube), nothing has made quite the same impact as Booktok. As social media becomes key in marketing, BookTok has successfully used short, captivating videos and mood-setting music to advertise books, making reading seem trendy. And its tactic has worked: after a 18% decline in reading before any BookTok attention, TikTok-featured books “saw an average 75% spike after promotion,” according to a 2021 Scribd review. Moreover, BookTok’s partnership with Barnes and Noble, which had previously stated that it would reduce stores, has led to the bookseller adding 25 more stores in 2022. They even plan to add 30 more stores in 2023, according to Book Riot. Inside B&N, QR codes and “BookTok trending” shelves allow customers to explore the hashtag and look for trending books. Consequently, the industries depend on each other to make the most revenue and keep customers coming back.
Moreover, BookTok’s rise has benefited its audience: namely the youth who are exposed to a variety of diverse books. BookTok has introduced books that are a reflection of the present-day society by promoting LGBTQ+ novels like They Both Die at The End, Song of Achilles, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Moreover, Booktok recommendations have started to highlight books by people of color; this diffusion of diversity allows readers to feel seen and also learn about different experiences. This diversity is reflected in sales: the head of Penguin Random House, for example, has seen a spectrum of books sell, ranging from classics to young-adult novels. Books allow one to reflect upon themselves, and thus with these recent influences, many younger people will have more opportunities to understand themselves.
However, these benefits come with a cost: the trends that popularized books are also shaping authors’ writing decisions, and some of those choices promote harmful themes. Young Adult (YA) books, for instance, have traditionally focused on the “coming-of-age” theme, but now they often rely on what is trending rather than genuine storytelling to market to their audience. BookTok’s influence on authors can be seen through the shift from using a “pick me” main character to a “girlboss” main character in response to the rampant criticism of main characters who radiate the “crybaby” personas. Through the rise of specific tropes, many authors have conformed to them and write books that lead to the BookTok path of success. However, the lack of character depth harms youth, pressuring them to act a certain way to fit in, rather than discover themselves naturally: after all, real life is far less black-and-white than a YA novel.
BookTok’s influence on economic growth is undeniable, and it promotes an activity that urges us to take a break from technology and enjoy immersing ourselves in stories. Despite these positive influences, many authors try to market their books in terms of BookTok’s standards, losing sight of reading’s beauty. Creativity should not be forsaken for marketing, because reading should ultimately be an opportunity for people to identify themselves in a novel.