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The Impact Of BookTok On Sales And Publishing

By Michaela O’Callaghan and Aimee Haldron


Over the past year, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media platforms and as with Instagram, there is a corner of this platform dedicated to books: booktok. Here, people share short videos such as recommendation lists, book reviews, bookish memes and book aesthetics to name just a few. And because of the rising popularity, there has been an evident impact on sales and on the bestseller lists, predominantly of young adult books. According to the NPD group, in America sales of YA fiction novels are up nearly 70% for the year as of May 2021. This has subsequently caused a lot of discussion within the publishing industry about the platform and how it is used.


There have been a number of books that have been hyped on BookTok and subsequently sold more books. One that has arguably benefitted more than most is Adam Silvera’s 2017 novel They Both Die At The End. There is a dedicated hashtag (#adamsilvera) which has now been viewed over 10.8 million times as well as Silvera having his own account where he has amassed over 13,000 followers. Readers would video themselves before reading the book and then after finishing the last page to show how truly heart-breaking it is. Since March 2021, when it shot to the top of the Teen Fiction charts, the book has sold more than 200,000 books in the UK, with more than half of these sales being in 2021.


It is interesting that BookTok is a platform that favours neither frontlist nor backlist titles. Remember Twilight? Well, that has seen a resurgence in sales.


How Can This Impact The Internal World Of Publishing?


Marketing and Publicity


Marketers are viewing Tiktok as a new platform that can reach new young audiences. TikTok hosts viewers that are both book lovers and those new to the bookish community, who may be dipping their toe into the waters for the first time. The beauty of the 'for you page' means anyone can be shown bookish videos. Marketers are encouraged to think carefully about their TikTok marketing techniques. Tiktok relies on its fun video-based content. However, this can be a tough cookie to crack if you are part of a professional team. To be ‘successful’ on BookTok videos must be more than another way to generate sales, they must be fun and on-trend. We particularly like Penguin Teen’s account which has over 242.5k followers!


In the same vein, writers might want to be cautious about venturing into the BookTok world without properly considering their place within it. At the London Book Fair, there were discussions about the pressure felt by YA writers to join TikTok and increase sales.


Another element to consider when marketing a new frontlist title is considering if there are any favourable comparison BookTok titles. Using this comparison title as a marketing hook could be a great way to capture the interest of young BookTokkers.


Finally, publicists might want to consider BookTok influencers just as they do bookstagrammers. Sending ARCs and proof copies to BookTokkers could be a great way to reach the right audience.


Booksellers


Booksellers are thinking of fun ways to connect with teens through BookTok. Many shops now have dedicated BookTok displays that encourage young adults to buy the new booktok favourite. More and more booksellers are considering how they can recommend titles based on the customers' BookTok interests. We have also noticed that a lot of Waterstones hubs have their own booktok accounts which offer great insight into the lives of booksellers and their own YA recommendations.


What Can Publishing Hopefuls Do?


  • Keep an eye out for BookTok campaigns. Note campaigns that have caught your attention, especially if you want to apply for marketing/publicity roles.


  • Set up your own BookTok. If you think it might be the platform for you, why not have a go? Experiment with different video styles and find out which ones you enjoy.


  • Consider different social channels and how they have been influenced by TikTok. Instagram recently announced its plans to become a more video-oriented platform. What does this mean for future bookish content?


  • Go into bookshops, look at displays and ask booksellers about BookTok favourites.


  • Stay on top of trends! Publishers are often looking for a new perspective when they are hiring. Think about how you could add value to the team by staying on top of rapidly changing social media trends!


We've barely scratched the surface of the influence BookTok has on the publishing industry, there are so many discussions happening within the industry on how best to utilise the platform but the successes already seen shows how, if it’s done well, it can have a huge impact.


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