Thursday, September 29 2022

Ask anyone in the post what #BookTok is, and they’ll tell you it’s their pandemic savior. Around 2020, a massive community of book lovers, readers and authors found their tribe, revolving around the hashtag on the short video app TikTok, which was launched in 2017. #BookTok quickly became one of its most popular and influential sub-communities, where avid readers create, watch, and share short videos of book lists, reactions, and recommendations. To date, the tag has garnered over 41.8 billion views.

In addition to helping create bestsellers from new titles, #BookTok has provided an unexpected boost for a number of backlist books. In mid-2016, for example, Colleen Hoover’s popular romance It ends with us had sold a respectable 21,000 copies; four years later, thanks to huge word-of-mouth from #BookTok readers, it has sold over 308,000 copies.

Little-known Canadian poet Russell Thornton also saw a massive increase in sales – and a commissioned reprint – of his 2000 collection The Fifth Windowafter an influential TikToker named Ohmarni posted a video in December claiming psychic powers drove her to her job.

Publishers and booksellers have responded by setting up their own TikTok accounts, and many now cater to the platform’s most influential 20-somethings. Meanwhile, major bookstores, from Barnes & Noble in the US to Dymocks in Australia, are now offering displays dedicated to #BookTok trends.

India’s population has theoretically been denied access to TikTok after Narendra Modi’s government banned more than 50 Chinese-originated apps in 2020, citing national security fears. Faced with these restrictions, I deployed the secret weapon of any middle-aged dinosaur that encounters a technological pitfall: I asked a bunch of teenagers for help. After a helpful refresher on VPNs (virtual private networks) and a return, after many years, to using anonymizing browsers, I embarked on my own spellbinding #BookTok adventure, eager to recapture the exhilarating joy of my life. early reading.

“[It] is like a really speedy book club,” librarian Elly Roberts explained in a recent post. “Users create movies under a minute, featuring book recommendations, reactions to reading a heartbreaking or drama-filled ending, awesome libraries they’ve discovered, or time-lapses of them. themselves reading.”

I quickly added that of Rebecca Roanhorse Between earth and sky fantastic series, inspired by the civilizations of pre-Columbian America, and by Matt Haig The Midnight Library to my book shopping list. I soon wondered if I should read more #enemiestolovers novels, and found myself developing an unhealthy fascination with the melodramatic thrill of “crying reader” videos. (BookTokers believe in sharing their emotions, throwing books they don’t like across a room, shouting, or lip-syncing to music.)

Not surprisingly, the greatest growth in interest has been among readers aged 16-24. The BookTokers have almost no gender snobbery, propelling novel writers such as Penelope Douglas (Punk 57) and thriller writers like Alex Michaelides (The silent patient), to the top of the graphs. But this demographic has also reignited a love of older books – including James Joyce’s Centennial Ulysseswhich started trending after #BookTok joyously discovered Joyce’s eproctophilic letters to his wife Nora.

Online communities — from Goodreads to Instagram’s #bookstagram hashtag — have long attracted Gen Z readers, but it’s the billions of views and snowball growth that make #BookTok such a force.

Yet success is also extremely unpredictable, and as to the community’s long-term impact and potential, I’m slightly skeptical. Already, top #BookTok influencers are being wooed by mainstream publishing, and over time you start to notice the same authors and book titles popping up on recommendation lists, dulling the platform’s initial charm by as a surprising engine of discovery. And the non-stop TikTok videos, emotional and entertaining as they are, will soon leave you craving more in-depth commentary and a wider range of genres.

Still, this brief immersion in #BookTok inspired me to dust off my grandmother’s Mills & Boons, and allowed me to pick up new romance novels without snobbish guilt. BookTokers may be a lot younger than my generation, but they’ve built a place where we can all be #booknerds together.

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