By Maisie Clarke, Brittany Holness and Bianca Scasserra
At the Trends Team, we love scrolling through BookTok, finding what our favourite influencers are reading and discovering some new recommendations. However, we have noticed that this need to consume others’ reading habits may have negative consequences. Therefore, our article this week will pose the question: does BookTok create an impossible criteria for readers to strive towards?
Blogs and websites like Goodreads have always been reliable methods for book recommendations. BookTok has adopted a similar role, becoming a source for readers to find their next book. While those platforms prior to social media were paramount in helping readers find a new book, the current consumption of books far outstrips the past. This is likely due to the distinct possibility that every post can result in creators and the books mentioned going viral. These influencers, in addition to recommending books, post content like the large number of books they read, or their libraries filled with aesthetic books organised to showcase their collection. In most cases, the BookTokers are currently working full-time as content creators, explaining how they are able to consume so many titles. It is often not realistic for the casual reader to mimic this and the issue stems from the increased pressure to purchase these recommended books. It is not surprising that social media platforms like TikTok have been credited with the surge in book purchases; there’s an increased pressure to not only read more but to purchase physical copies of these books. While these posts are likely just for fun, they can make other book lovers feel unaccomplished when they are unable to match the pace of a majority of their favourite influencers. Similarly, in an attempt to match this pace, they will continue to purchase books which lead to overconsumption in this market, making this hobby become more expensive.
The growth of BookTok and its influence on the reading community has touched differing genres, extending from fantasy to romance books, ready to be discussed or kept as an aesthetic accessory to viewers sharing this passion. It acts as a champion for authors of marginalised backgrounds, pushing them in front of readers' eyes. Despite that, some have questioned whether the short length of many of these viral videos can accurately represent the contents of the books they are highlighting. They require little critical thinking, thus leaving the viewer susceptible to making an uniformed purchase. The traditional act of choosing a book that intrigues you is muddied by the increasing pressure to follow the latest trends. We foster an abstract relationship with these influencers, placing some level of trust in their recommendations. However, reviews manufactured by monetary gain and influence are unreliable. Whilst these videos could certainly be a force for good, the desire to keep up with the latest trends on BookTok could be more of a curse than a blessing, leading readers to purchase books they would normally have little interest in, or do not intend to read at all. Trend is now the greatest incentive for readers to pursue rather than an actual interest in the content of the book.
Furthermore, does TikTok present the ultimatum of buying or borrowing? Undeniably, every reader loves bookshops; places filled from ceiling to floor with the latest releases, respected classics, hardbacks, paperbacks, fiction, nonfiction and maybe even a cafe if you’re lucky! However, this does not mean that buying from bookshops is accessible or necessary; this is where the beauty of charity shops and libraries step in. Reading can be an expensive hobby but through alternatives to buying, the doors are open for more readers. However, with the rise of BookTok, do readers feel the pressure to choose the former, less attainable option? For example, it can be seen how aesthetic videos of book hauls of beautiful hardbacks and library tours filled with gorgeous Penguin Clothbound Classics present a desired standard for the reader. These videos reflect many readers’ dream of an overflowing book collection of only the best titles and covers, suggesting that this is the ultimate version of an 'accomplished reader.' Unfortunately, for many this is not an attainable reality. Due to this pressure of a specific standard, it can be argued that BookTok adds to the overconsumption of books, pressuring readers to buy over borrow, fuelling an already damaging phenomenon. Nevertheless, BookTok can still turn the tide. The platform has the influence to be able to encourage viewers to take advantage of their local library and to choose second-hand over brand new, an action which we hope many creators promote.
Overall, BookTok greatly influences readers positively and sometimes negatively. We hope that we have put into words what some may be feeling concerning the pressures the app can present in terms of overconsumption. However, whether you read one book a year from a genre you love, borrowed from a library, or if you hit your sizable reading goals each year, read diversely and buy from bookshops, you are still a valid reader as there is no criteria for a hobby done for fun.