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#BookTok: A hashtag changing the book industry

Maria John Sánchez
October 19, 2022

Young people are posting about their favorite books on TikTok. Publishers and the Frankfurt Book Fair are now picking up on the influential trend.

Three screenshots from TikTok

Who would have thought that TikTok, an app that started out as a platform for dance videos and funny clips, would give the book industry a new boost?

Following the Bookstagram trend, thousands of young people are posting about their favorite books on the social media app using the hashtag #BookTok. Altogether, the videos with the hashtag have obtained more than 84 billion views. There definitely seems to be an interest for books among young people, as it's mainly Generation Z, born in the late 1990s or 2000s, who hang out on TikTok.

TikTok has grown rapidly in recent years. In Germany, it is estimated that half of all 12 to 19-year-olds and a third of the population in their 20s use TikTok regularly.

Belonging to a Chinese company, the app has been accused of censorship by using word filters.

Bookshelves sorted by color

The hashtag #BookTok appeared on the platform in late 2020. Instead of dry reviews of books, TikTok users shoot creative short videos, mostly shorter than 60 seconds. In them, they present what they've recently read, play out novel plots or take part in challenges — like reading a book in one day.

Many BookTokers have organized their bookshelves by color. A nice cover is definitely a purchase criterion for them.

This may sound superficial at first, but hypes created through TikTok are having a real impact on sales figures and bestseller lists. An example is "The Song of Achilles" (2011), written by Madeline Miller. To the astonishment of the industry and the author herself, the novel became a bestseller years after its publication after being reviewed on BookTok.

Digital word of mouth

Young Adult fantasy, thrillers and romance books are particularly successful.

US writer Colleen Hoover has mastered this genre to perfection. Her novels obviously strike a chord with young readers: suspense, drama and great emotions. Hoover's BookTok fans film themselves bursting into tears while reading her books. The fact that many stories follow similar patterns doesn't seem to bother them too much.

It's the potential to connect with like-minded people that makes #BookTok so popular. No one from the top dictates which books are to be read. Recommendations are shared among readers, in a kind of digitized word of mouth.

Colleen Hoover
Author Colleen Hoover is profiting from the BookTok trendImage: Geisler-Fotopress/picture alliance

An opportunity for niche topics

Beyond promoting established authors, #BookTok has allowed unknown writers to break through as well. Olivie Blake's self-published novel "The Atlas Six" was so successful on TikTok that the author was signed by Tor Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan. The publishing company released in 2021 a newly revised and edited version of her novel, along with the following books of the trilogy.

Books featuring characters from underrepresented or marginalized groups and written by authors sharing that same identity are promoted under the hashtag #OwnVoices, allowing new communities of readers to be created.

The power of TikTok

Retailers have also recognized the potential of TikTok.

For example, German bookstore chain Thalia has set up in its stores presentations dedicated to BookTok bestsellers, and its online shop prominently lists BookTok as a separate search category.

The global phenomenon has also reached the marketing departments of publishing houses.

Tik Tok  channel dtv Verlag.
German publisher dtv Verlag has its own TikTok channel tooImage: tiktok.com/@dtv_verlag

Piper Verlag is sending BookTok influencers free review copies. Other publishers have also set up their own TikTok account to publish BookTok content, whether videos promoting new publications or short interviews with authors. They also replicate formats that work well on BookTok, launching for instance polls on which book has changed the readers' way of seeing life or starting a competition to see who can build the highest stack of books.

So far, among German publishers with their own accounts, dtv Verlag and Loewe Verlag, which specialize in children's and youth literature, have had the most success. But they're far from having reached the number of views obtained by the most popular BookTokers.

Frankfurt Book Fair launches cooperation with TikTok

The Frankfurt Book Fair, which runs from October 19-23, has also recognized the potential of BookTok. It features for the first time this year a special stage for BookTokers, where they will hold different talks, discussing their approach and the latest trends.

This article was originally written in German.