BookTok: The Rise of TikTok’s Haven for Bookworms
December 11, 2021 6:02 pm ||
It is no wonder that social media has become a gateway from reality, especially for those confined in the comfort of their homes when the pandemic forced everyone to quarantine. Apps such as TikTok, for instance, are no exception. The accessible platform featured limitless stream and short-span videos, which instantly hooked users to endless hours of scrolling. Hence, TikTok was able to garner millions of people, including the youth. For example, looking at the distribution of TikTok users in the United States, 25 percent are from the age 10-19 whereas 22.4 percent come from the 20-29 age group, making them the largest share of users compared to the other age groups.
While there are countless trends popping up each time, from the typical dancing videos to the meme-like rambling, one of the trends (or hashtags) that have captivated its users is BookTok. With more than 12.6 billion views, it is essentially considered TikTok’s “reading corner” for both book enthusiasts and the curious ones. Contributing users usually posted videos to show their adoration for their cherished books, favorite authors, and bookish experiences by using funny, catchy captions such as “books where the main character was sent to kill someone, but they end up falling in love” and “when you were 12 and your parents caught you crying over a book”.
Interestingly, the trend not only reignited the users’ eagerness to get out of their reading slump, but also boosted the sales of books. It indirectly helped publishers and writers to promote their books to the public. Not only is it a creative way of marketing them, the video posts are also a short yet effective method. For instance, the young adult novel They Both Die at the End, written by Adam Silvera in 2017, benefitted from this trend. The book skyrocketed to the top of the teen fiction charts, selling more than 4,000 copies a week. In the app, #adamsilvera has been viewed 10.8 million times. In addition, previously trending books are also emerging once more due to the rise of BookTok, with the likes of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen.
A combination of new experience and nostalgia through BookTok rekindled the many memories of its contributing users. Thus, the video reviews are rather emotional instead of reviewing books through an academic lens. Hence, it captured the “visceral reaction” to books. Whether it’s crying, screaming, or laughing, the users showcased a variety of emotions to express their adoration or frustration. One instance that captures this exact reaction is by the TikTok user @thecalvinbooks. He reacted to his one-day reading of Frank Herbert’s Dune hilariously by showcasing his frustration through profound screaming and rapid flipping of the book’s pages while on-screen captions such as “space witches?!” and “*confused” popped up in the midst of the rambling.
Furthermore, such expressive book reviews through TikTok hook users’ attention who stumbled upon it on their For You Page and provide users more convenient browsing to book recommendations. Compared to Goodreads or a simple Google search, the algorithm in BookTok rather promotes various genres using unique, intriguing phrases such as “convincing you to read my favorite books just by telling you their first line” to “book recommendations based on this aesthetic”. Such catchphrases not only make the viewers curious about the recommended books themselves, but also allow them to discover various genres in one setting. Nonetheless, such recommendation videos tend to be discovered by users through TikTok’s algorithm. Once they come across such videos and interact with them, it will keep showing similar ones in their For You Page.
Thus, with such benefits, the marketing of books might come handier if done digitally, especially for those who are written by upcoming authors. As a result of TikTok’s algorithm, even though users with large followings do have an advantage, those who don’t still have a chance to gain a footing of becoming huge. In fact, the algorithm strategy rather allows For You Page to contain a mix of videos with lots of likes and views, along with videos that are only seen by a few people. Such an instance happened to Olivie Blake, an upcoming author of The Atlas Six. Although the book was self-published, it was able to amass the attention of TikTok viewers. With the hashtag #TheAtlasSix garnering more than 11 million mentions, it has soared through the ranks of BookTok’s most recommended books. Due to the popularity of The Atlas Six, Blake was able to acquire the UK and Commonwealth rights in a seven-way auction, which was won by the US publishing house Tor.
In a glimpse, the BookTok phenomenon undoubtedly facilitated users, writers, and publishers alike to connect. However, the algorithm in TikTok could also hinder upcoming authors since they have to compete with those who have large followings, whether it is BookTok-oriented or a merely viral post. Nonetheless, the rise of BookTok has indeed taken users’ attention to start reading and minimize their time in front of phone screens.
Then again, whether trending or not, BookTok is always with its open arms for everyone who wants to start their adventure one page at a time. To put it simply, in the words of the master of horror himself Stephen King: “books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Author: Rizka Khairunissa Herdiani
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas
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 King, S., 2000. On Writing: A memoir of the Craft, New York, NY: Scribner.