I visited two bookstores during the past two weeks, one in Vaasa, a city on the western coast of Finland and one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Two stores, 9263 km apart, two stores that couldn’t have been more different from anyone another: books in different languages, different climates outside the door, different sizes and ambiences. Yet, though something united the stores, two identical shelves could be found inside. On the shelves were the same 20 books exhibited, with a sign on the top of the stand: "#BookTok".
#BookTok is a subcommunity on TikTok where readers recommend and review books. The usual book reviews on TikTok differ from traditional ones because they focus on emotions instead of information. While a more conventional review provides a summary of the book and evaluates the content and the author, the reviews on TikTok focus more on how the book makes you feel.
Standing in a bookstore seeing the endless running meters of books. Each have an appealing cover and a captivating blurb; it can be hard to know which book to choose. Therefore, the emotional aspect helps the receivers of the reviews connect the cover and the blurb to something personal the next time they see it.
The reviews on TikTok are a form of e-Word of mouth. Word-of-mouth marketing also earlier on played a crucial role with marketing books, but now a platform has been enabled where the e-WOM can reach millions of people worldwide.
Fellow TikTokers out there are probably familiar with how suddenly the whole feed is filled with the same song or same trend. In the same way that the rest of the content on TikTok is trending, books are doing so too. A couple of authors and specific books go viral, engaged with by enough people or benefited by the algorithms.
This explains the mystical shelves mentioned at the beginning of the article and is also one of the reasons that the reviews have such a significant impact on people.
I noticed the effects of #booktok myself; I saw a book on TikTok that I found interesting, but it was more challenging than anticipated to get my hands on the book. ’The books disappear from the shelves immediately when we restock them’, I got told by a confused bookstore employee ’this book is ten years old; nobody bought it before?’. The woman probably soon enough understood why certain books become so popular overnight and what role TikTok plays in this.
From a broader point of view, the influence can be seen through a rise in sales. According to NPD BookScan, the print book market in the U.S. went up 9% in 2021 compared to 2020; social media, especially TikTok, is a significant contributing factor. These changes can also be seen in other parts of the world. According to Statista, the estimated revenue of physical books worldwide is expected to have an annual growth rate of 3.54% from 2022 to 2027.
After years where digital media has competed with print, #BookTok is an interesting cross-over and proof of the influence social platforms like TikTok can have on our day-to-day.
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