#BookTok: the Viral Paperback Renaissance

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Content and Digital Marketing Strategist
Aug 14, 2023

In today's fast-paced digital landscape of dancing trends, makeup tutorials, and outfit aesthetics, few would have expected a resurgence in reading's traditional form. Yet, thanks to the dynamic world of TikTok, there’s a thriving subculture known as #BookTok, which has surprisingly influenced Gen Z’s reading habits and breathed life back into paperback sales.

In a poll of more than 2,000 16-to-25-year-olds, almost 59% said that BookTok helped them discover a passion for reading, with 40% introduced to new genres by the app.

#BookTok is a corner of TikTok where avid book readers share, discuss, and recommend their favorite reads. According to a report from The Guardian, this community, with its myriad of reviews, emotional reactions, and bookshelf tours, has gained millions of followers and ignited a global book-buying frenzy. Started in 2021, BookTok helped authors sell 20 million printed books and in 2022, those sales were up another 50 percent.

No other form of social media has ever had this kind of impact on sales.

How #BookTok Reignited Gen Z’s Reading Passion

Creating a Shared Reading Experience

Gen Z values shared experiences and community engagement. #BookTok taps into this desire by bridging the solitary act of reading with the shared joy of online community interaction.

Diverse Recommendations

Publishers Weekly notes that #BookTok attracts a wide array of creators from diverse backgrounds, leading to eclectic book recommendations – from young adult titles, to romance, science fiction, and fantasy.

For example, books written by Colleen Hoover became a sensation on TikTok, and she is now one of the best-selling authors in the country. According to NPD BookScan, out of the ten best selling books so far this year, she has written four.

Fostering a Reading Culture

The New York Times mentions that the virality of TikTok videos plays a part in book trends, with peers inspiring others to read, creating a marketing domino effect. “It’s not one video that makes a book explode in sales,” says Ms. Brown from Doubleday. “It’s this grass roots explosion of people creating videos and then organically, by word of mouth, it grows from there.”

Driving the Paperback Renaissance

Despite the allure of e-books, #BookTok has played an essential role in boosting paperback sales.

The Tangible Experience

A Mailchimp article discussed the tactile joy and nostalgia associated with physical books, a sentiment often echoed by #BookTok users. Industry experts state that TikTok has a clear impact on book sales. Nigel Newton, CEO of Bloomsbury Publishing, credited his business’ profit growth of 220% in the first half of 2021 to the phenomenal impact of TikTok. In general, 826 million book copies were sold in the US according to data from NPD BookScan.

Visual appeal is also crucial on TikTok; books with compelling covers get more traction, emphasizing the importance of cover design.

Supporting Local Bookstores

Advocacy for local businesses is strong within Gen Z, and this extends to bookstores. Book Riot has highlighted several #BookTok videos promoting indie bookstore shopping. Bookstores start paying more attention to what books are going viral and will start to put out tables with selections of trending titles.

In fact, Barnes and Noble has partnered with TikTok as a result of this trend, racking up over a quarter of a million followers on their platform.

If you want to support local bookstores in the St. Louis area, check out The Novel Neighbor and Left Bank Books for some great book recommendations!

#BookTok has shown that technology can complement, rather than compete with, the traditional pleasure of a paperback book. As Gen Z dives deep into literature, inspired by short video clips, it becomes evident that the allure of storytelling remains timeless. In a day and age where most immerse themselves in a device to pass the time, TikTok has encouraged users to unplug and jump headfirst into captivating literature.

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