- Izzy Mein
Is BookTok the New Book Club?
Walk into any bookshop these days, and you will inevitably find a stand of books with a sign declaring ‘TikTok made me buy it!’ or ‘As seen on TikTok…’ displaying an array of aesthetically pleasing books which have gained traction on TikTok, or its reading-oriented branch dubbed ‘BookTok.’ Izzy Mein tells us more:
Artwork by Sophie Pywell (IG: @S.louise.pywell).
The BookTok phenomenon has completely reshaped the book industry over the last few years, leading many to declare it the saviour of publishing in an increasingly digital world. The hashtag itself has garnered over 100 billion views, and has become so popular that it is now largely self-aware, with many booktokers now posting videos evaluating whether books that gained viral fame on the platform are worth the hype or not. While there are TikToks dedicated to every possible genre and author, there is a certain kind of book which has become synonymous with the BookTok label. Light, romantic and easily digestible, the rom-com is alive and well in the world of BookTok.
With almost 3.5 billion views, the undisputed queen of BookTok is Colleen Hoover. Videos dedicated to ranking and reviewing her books get hundreds of thousands of views and she has become the main face of BookTok. Hoover writes romance novels, which in another era would have been tagged with the ‘chick-lit’ label, and like books often given that label, Hoover’s books can easily be dismissed as light, easy reading, but her numbers are serious business.
The BookTok effect is real. Her most famous novel, It Ends With Us was published in 2016, initially selling 21,000 copies. As of the end of 2022, it has sold more than 3.4 million. She released a sequel, It Starts with Us in October of last year and it quickly became the most pre-ordered book in the publisher’s history, and sold 800,000 copies in a single day.
If Hoover is the new face of ‘chick-lit’, then another old-school publishing label, the ‘beach read’, has been reinvented by the woman who is perhaps second-in-line to the BookTok throne: Taylor Jenkins Reid. Reid’s alluring worlds and web of intertwined characters have also become hugely popular on the platform. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the story of a Golden Age Hollywood star in the mould of Elizabeth Taylor was first published in 2017, but as a result of its prominence on BookTok, sold half a million copies in 2022 alone. Quite apart from sales, it has already earned the honour of a Waterstones Hardback Special Edition, an accolade mostly reserved for long-established classics.
Another Reid favourite, Daisy Jones and the Six, which follows a Fleetwood-Mac style band in the 1970s, is the source text for a hotly anticipated TV series produced by Reese Witherspoon for Amazon Prime, while Evelyn Hugo and her 2021 novel Malibu Rising also have adaptations in the works. Perhaps it’s the easy real-world analogues for the figures in Reid’s books that makes them ripe for easy marketing, or maybe her characters’ glamourous worlds just provide good, old-fashioned escapism.
There’s no denying that Reid and Hoover, both of whom had been successfully published authors long before TikTok arrived in our lives, have benefitted from a rebranding of chick-lit, beach-reads and romance novels for a new generation. What remains true is that it is still an overwhelmingly female-driven and targeted segment of the industry. It makes sense that TikTok has come to replace the role of Book Clubs for Gen-Z, who, instead of gathering over a glass of wine and some gossip to share book recommendations, are doing it through social media.
But it’s not just TikTok users that are reading these books; due to their pretty, pastel-coloured covers, prominent placement and advertising, anyone who walks into a brick-and-mortar bookshop is immediately drawn to a table highlighting them. Perhaps BookTok is merely a marketing tool, reinvented for the social media age, rather than a saviour for an industry struggling to keep up with our fast-paced modern age. As a phenomenon that exploded during the pandemic, it is hard to predict where BookTok will go from here. The books that have most benefited from the trend are obscure novels from a few years ago which have been rediscovered, or, in the case of Donna Tartt’s classic, The Secret History, being reclaimed by a new generation, rebranded under the Dark Academia trend. Now that publishers know the kind of sales a BookTok success can generate, will we see more novels following a new formula, trying to replicate the success of Hoover or Reid?
As for the future of the book industry, it does seem more than a little ironic that a platform based around short-form content, blamed for shortening our attention spans, would be the saviour of such an analogue pastime as reading. However, 100 billion is a big number to dismiss. If we read even one of the books we come across after hours of endless scrolling, surely that’s a good thing? Over the past decade, social media has transformed every facet of our society, from entertainment to politics, and it seems like reading is only the latest.