A Look at the Books

The impact of social media on book publishing

A Look at the Books

#BookTok is infamous at this point. Its presence can be seen at a local bookstore, in all online literary spaces, and even inside Blue Valley High School on the NEHS bulletin board. The most popular books are the ones that blow up on TikTok and books that are decades old have seen a sudden resurgence because of this social media phenomenon. MyVision.org reports that nearly half of people decide to read a book after discovering it on social media.  #BookTok is not a new community with the hashtag popping off in 2020 when people were stuck at home and in need of something to do. The same year, the number of print books sold was 751 million, the highest number recorded since 2007 according to the NPD Group. 

Bookstores, a struggling industry, are seeing major improvements in sales all thanks to online book communities and TikTok’s immense reach. Shannon DeVito, a Director of Books for Barnes & Noble, reported that books popularized by TikTok sold 10 times the regular amount per week. The New York Times found that Barnes & Noble reported a 14% gain in book sales in 2020. Nowadays, there is a high likelihood that any bookstore will have a #BookTok shelf stocked with all the current favs. 

#BookTok is not the only online book community with most social media websites having a place for readers to voice their opinions. Bookstragram is similar to BookTube in the form of short form content often featuring books of a certain genre with some superficial reviews. BookTube has more in depth reviews that appeal to a more dedicated audience of readers. The most prominent genres vary across platforms with romance being a heavy hitter on BookTok and fantasy carrying more of a currency on BookTube.

Publishers know the power of social media. The traditional practices of print ads, book tours, and word-of-mouth advertising still exist, but it is much more common for publishers to utilize social media communities. Publishing houses send advanced reader copies (ARCS) to BookTubers, and the community is intertwined with authors with interviews being a common way for author’s to promote their books and Booktubers often being writers themselves. TikTok also gives a platform for authors easily promote their books, and supposedly authors are receiving book deals from publishers because of their #BookTok popularity. 

Authors use the internet as a major marketing tool and the internet is making it more and more possible for writers to create successful self-published books without the need for a publishing house at all. Bookstats found that self-published books contribute to 51% of overall ebook unit sales and 34% of e-book retail sales in 2022. The number of self-published titles, registered with Bowker, reached 2,298,004 in 2021. However, the accessibility of the internet also leads to the saturation of the market and authors needing to do more to stand out. 

#BookTok has not gone by without controversy and one major scandal concerned the novel, Lightlark. Although there was much drama surrounding the book, including the author, Alex Aster, being accused of being an industry plant, the most glaring issue was the book was not similar to how the author described it in her viral TikToks and how the book relied heavily on tropes. A large concern of the reading community is the so-called “tropeification” of publishing and the fact that some of the books that have gained popularity on TikTok were well-written. Readers are worried that the elements that prompt a book to go viral on social media are not the same ones that create a good book. Writing to appeal to wide audiences often removes personality and opinions which are necessary to build intriguing books with new ideas.

Another concern is the lack of diversity in books that TikTok’s algorithm only exacerbates. Lack of diversity in publishing is already a major obstacle with the famous New Times Report finding that in 2018 only 11% published were by authors of color and that 85% of people in publishing were white. The TikTok algorithm creates an echo chamber for the same type of book to be massively popular. However, many content creators are actively trying to create diversity in book communities and it is not difficult to find books by authors of any race on the internet. An example is the BookTuber @thisstoryain’tover, who created the #ReadinColorChallenge to promote different books by authors of color each month. The internet can be a great tool to find amazing books that include diversity of all kinds, but it is essential to look deeper than just the periphery of viral books. 

Social media, like everything in life, comes with the benefits and disadvantages, but it has most certainly changed the way the publishing world operates. Publishing houses can use social media to promote a bestselling novel, and #BookTok has exposed more people to the wonderful world of literature. After reading a popular #BookTok novels, it is important to dig deeper into genres and authors in order to find a diverse range of books that will foster a lifetime love of reading. Visit a library or local bookstore, and find new books over the summer!