Booktok: Is Tiktok Selling Books?

Madisen Kuhn (@madisenkuhn) woke up one February morning to find that her self-published poetry book from five years ago was suddenly on Amazon’s list of best sellers.

How?

The answer is quite simple: a viral video. A poetry-themed account (@mythicalfairyss) on the social media platform, Tiktok, posted a video of one of Kuhn’s poems from her self-published book, Eighteen Years, that was set to music. It quickly blew up from there. Within a single week the viral video had significantly increased her book sales.

Tiktok, an app known for short videos that cover everything from dance moves to recipes to DIY tips, now caters to books as well. The reading community on Tiktok, known as Booktok, currently has 6.2 billion views and serves as a space for book lovers to discuss their favorite books through recommendations and reviews. While there is content for every genre within Booktok, the titles that get the most recognition fall under the YA and fantasy categories. Don’t know what to read next? Booktok content creators have you covered with videos like, “Books I Would Sell My Soul to Read Again” and “My Favorite Books by Trans Authors.”

Now the publishing industry is wondering what their role is and what their next move should be. Multiple Barnes and Noble locations have started their own Booktok display, a table that highlights the books that are going viral. The best part is that this newfound fame doesn’t just apply to recent releases; books like We Were Liars by E. Lockheart, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller are examples of books that were published years ago and have recently climbed back to the top of the charts.

One publisher that has been two steps ahead in the world of Booktok is Penguin Teen. With over two hundred thousand followers, Penguin Teen is one of the only “Big 5” publishers with that substantial of a following, and even though Booktok can be very YA-centric, it’s clear that the team has figured out a method to the madness for social media in 2021. Other publishers, and sometimes even authors, have started to work with these accounts to generate a bigger following, offering free books or other incentives to publicize their books. Selene Velez, an eighteen-year-old Booktok creator with one hundred and thirty thousand followers, told the New York Times that she’s in an Instagram group chat with other creators solely to discuss aspects that she never had to think about before, like how much these video editors should be charging for their services. At the end of the day, Booktok parallels the message that other social media platforms already promote: it’s important to have a presence.

Whether or not a video is intentionally a hit or if it was filmed with a marketing strategy in mind, it’s clear that Booktok has found a way to reach younger audiences while also appealing to those of us who are still big advocates for the printed word. Touche, Booktok, touche.

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