What is BookTok? Get to Know the New Player Driving Sales in the Publishing World

A banner graphic with the text "What is Booktok?" at the center. Screenshots of TikTok videos thumbnails are on either side of the text. The screenshot on the left is from user amys_bookshelf with 7.2 million views. The thumbnail has the text "Books I'd sell my soul to read for the first time again" overlayed on an image of books. The screenshot to the right is from user lauryns_library with 346.1K views. The thumbnail has the text "Books for every mood" overlayed on an image of books.

If you are on the internet in any capacity, there is a very slim chance that you haven’t encountered the phenomenon that is TikTok. It has joined, and in many ways surpassed—in terms of cultural relevance—the ranks of popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Tiktok is a short-form video hosting app that has quickly gained widespread popularity all over the world. According to Forbes, TikTok was the number one most-downloaded app globally in 2021, with 656 million downloads. It is the second most-downloaded app in the first quarter of 2022, and the first among the top global apps by consumer spend. TikTok boasts a user base of 1 billion––and counting. The app is known for propelling songs to the top of the charts via viral dance challenges and sound-bites that play in the background of any number of videos from storytimes to cooking, fashion, and humour videos that play on a loop. A recent example is the Wednesday Addams dance challenge that went viral on TikTok following the release of Netflix’s Addams Family spin-off show, Wednesday. Lady Gaga’s song “Bloody Mary”, which users dubbed over the dance number, has seen a rise in streaming, with Gaga herself performing the challenge on TikTok.

Everything that achieves popularity on TikTok seems to have real world impact, often in the form of sales for a product, be it a trending song, a clothing fad, or a kitchen gadget. There is a corner of TikTok for even the obscurest of interests. So it is no surprise that book lovers have also found their way onto the platform, with “BookTok” serving as the affectionately dubbed term for the bookish corner of TikTok.

While TikTok videos can range from 15 seconds to 10 minutes long, Wired reports that videos between 21 to 34 seconds perform best on the app. Many BookTok videos fall within this category as well. Due to the short format, Booktokers tend to forgo in-depth reviews—as one would usually encounter on BookTube (the bookish corner of YouTube)—and instead opt for tropes found within a particular book, or the overall vibe of the book. For example, BookTokers may make videos listing their favourite romance books about meet-cutes, academic rivals, or enemies to lovers. They may rave about their favourite books with diverse casts, books that made them sob by the end, or books about falling in love for the first time.

Mainly, BookTok videos tend to focus on capturing the feeling or essence of a book, and the emotional impact it had on the reader in order to capture viewers’ attention in under a minute. However, it is important to note that one viral video cannot guarantee sales. It is when more and more people latch on to an existing trend or conversation, causing a ripple effect of content on BookTok that furthers the buzz about a particular title and impacts its sales.

To quote the New York Times, “In essence, BookTok supercharges something that’s always been essential to selling a book: word of mouth.”

So, “How well does bookish content fare on the app?” you might ask. Let’s look at some statistics:

Boggling BookTok Stats

  • The hashtag #BookTok currently has 95.5 billion views on the app, #BookTokChallenge has 186.8 million views, and #booktokrecommendations has 104.3 million views.
  • The most popular BookTok video has 5.2 million likes, posted by user @skullkidz. It seems to have resonated with viewers by capturing the thrill of seeing somebody in public reading the same book as them.
  • With the capacity for exponential audience reach, BookTok has also driven a massive boost in sales for backlist titles. One example is Colleen Hoover’s romance title It Ends With Us, which was first published in 2016. The title saw a 693 percent increase in print sales in 2021, selling 768,700 copies.

BookTok’s Impact on the Publishing Industry

Publishers and retailers have taken note of TikTok and kickstarted initiatives to capitalize off of the app’s popularity. Publishers such as Penguin Teen and are joining the platform and creating content. They have amassed over 274k followers to date.

Retailers like Indigo and Barnes & Noble are jumping into the action as well, with store displays specifically dedicated to books trending on BookTok. Indigo recently also launched a TikTok x Indigo Book Club, highlighting books by Canadian authors, while Barnes and Noble has created a #BookTokChallenge partnering with TikTok to create a #BookTok hub, prompting readers to create content about select titles from the hub. At B&N retail stores, these books have QR codes that link back to the #BookTok hub.

This is an unprecedented and marked change in the industry, the likes of which other popular social media sites such as Instagram or YouTube haven’t been able to achieve.

BookTok’s Impact in Canada

According to BookNet Canada, 21% of all Canadian book buyers are on TikTok, an increase from 17% in 2021. BNC also notes the occurrence of a “backlist boom”, with several top trending backlist titles on BookTok seeing sales boosts in Canada anywhere from around 140% to over 200,000% between 2019 and 2022.

Moreover, library loans for several trending backlist titles and series on BookTok have increased in Canada over 500%, with holds increasing over 1400%. Popular BISAC categories among both book buyers and library patrons include Fiction / Romance, Young Adult Fiction / Social Themes and Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy.

BookTok’s impact in Canada, similar to the rest of the publishing industry, clearly shows an upward tick in momentum with no signs of stopping.

#CanLit on BookTok

Is there space for books by independent Canadian publishers to thrive on the platform? Absolutely. Currently, #CanLit has 1.1 million views on TikTok, a number that could stand to increase even more. One measure would be to boost independent publishers’ visibility on the platform.

According to CBC, many Canadian authors have been able to reach a wider audience through TikTok, by using specific hashtags for their videos, or reaching out to BookTokers for partnerships. TikTok offers the opportunity for anyone to succeed on the platform, regardless of their number of followers.

Canadian publishers should join in the fun! Download the app, discover and engage with the creative content posted by BookTokers, and perhaps even post a #BookTok video or two of your own.

Stay tuned for another BookTok article revealing thoughts, tips, and tricks from several Canadian BookTokers! For any burning BookTok questions or comments, please email the Technology and Marketing Specialist.

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