Turning Pages in the Digital Age: Navigating the Book Revolution with BookTok and Beyond

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By: Maria Zoi Michailidou

From: Sciences Po Menton

It is no secret that recently the editorial landscape has dramatically changed. No longer is it necessary to send one’s work to dozens publishers, hoping that one of them might take a liking to your writing and actually accept to publish it. Nowadays, there are new players on board. One of them is TikTok, which promoting the hashtag #BookTok has become quite the force to be reckoned with in the field. The most famous example would be the author Colleen Hoover, who, by becoming famous on TikTok, managed to dominate the shelves in real life, at some point occupying six out of the ten spots on The New York Times’s paperback fiction best-seller list (1). Now her most famous book, It Ends With Us, is speculated to become a movie starring Blake Lively. Overall, according to the numbers published by BookScam, in 2021 alone BookTok helped authors sell more than 20 million books and the numbers keep rising (2).

BookTok has single-handedly changed the life of many self-publishing authors by encouraging them to share their work with others as well as providing them with a community in which they belong. In order to prove that, it is essential to have a look at the numbers. The hashtag #BookTok has gathered over 200 billion views on TikTok, boasting about 60 billion videos, effectively making it one of the platform’s most popular hashtags (3). That can only signify that both supply and demand for that particular genre of content are extremely high. It is safe to assume that the rise of BookTok has greatly influenced the habits of the consumers. In fact, according to a survey published by Nielsen Book in 2020, 41% of adults in the United Kingdom read more than they used to before the pandemic. As for the writers, BookTok represents a way to get positive feedback and keep them motivated to write.

The rise of BookTok has been beneficial not only for authors and readers, but also for bookstores. For example, Barnes & Noble, a renowned New York bookstore chain, reported a 14% rise in sales since 2020, leading to speculations that the Covid-19 pandemic played a role in the rise of Booktok (4). Nowadays, the famous chain’s website features a special page dedicated to BookTok’s best-selling books. Even in Barnes & Noble’s physical stores, BookTok shelves are now a common occurrence. Of course, many other bookstores have rushed to follow the trend, attracting even more customers.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that TikTok is not the only platform that has enabled authors to bypass traditional publishing houses. There are many platforms and apps such as Wattpad and Inkitt that serve as a safe space to publish one’s work. A success story worthy to be studied in that regard is the book series called After. Written by the then unknown Anna Todd and published in Wattpad as a fanfiction in 2014, nobody expected it to become a bestseller. Yet, shortly after the first chapters got published on the platform, the story gathered more than 500 million reads. Eventually, Simon &  Schuster published the novel, which gained a place in the list of New York Times bestsellers. By 2019, not only did the young adult novel series become a bestseller but it also got adapted into a film, which grossed around 70 million dollars.

Another similar example would undoubtedly be The Kissing Booth. Beth Reekles, the author, was only 15 years old when she started publishing the story on Wattpad. Soon, the story got so popular that it won the Wattpad 2011 prize for Most Popular Teen Fiction and subsequently Reekles was offered a three book publishing contract by Penguin Random House. The interest in The Kissing Booth was rekindled when Netflix decided to turn it into a series of movies, making it officially an international sensation. These examples prove that alternative methods to publishing can be as effective as the traditional one and sometimes even more so.

In conclusion, the data on hand shows that recently literature has experienced a shift which is much deeper than a mere change in the publishing industry. The very core of it was shaken and we can definitely see a profound change in the genres that are the most in demand right now. In particular, the young adult genre has been on the rise, with WordsRated naming it the fastest developing book category these past few years and with sales having increased by 48.2% since 2018. Even though the genre was already quite popular in the early 2000’s with the emergence of book series such as The Hunger Games, it is safe to assume that the recent surge in popularity can only be due to BookTok and self-publishing platforms, which have successfully managed to reignite the interest of thousands of young adults all over the world (5). After all, reading literature is not only about learning, but also about having fun.

  1. Alter, Alexandra. ‘How Colleen Hoover Rose to Rule the Best-Seller List’. The New York Times, 10 October 2022,  Books. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/09/books/colleen-hoover.html.
  2. Harris, Elizabeth A. ‘How TikTok Became a Best-Seller Machine’. The New York Times, 1 July 2022,  Books. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/01/books/tiktok-books-booktok.html.
  3. ‘TikTok’s #BookTok Trend 'Literally Changed My Life'’. 3 December 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-67555175.
  4. McMillen, Jenn. ‘Can BookTok Save Bookstores? Read Between The Lines’. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennmcmillen/2023/01/22/can-booktok-save-bookstores-read-between-the-lines/.
  5. ‘The 5 Most Popular Book Genres Right Now | The Urban Writers’. https://theurbanwriters.com/blogs/publishing/popular-book-genres-for-your-next-bestseller.
Second year student in Sciences Po Paris, Menton campus.
More posts by Maria Zoi Michailidou.
Turning Pages in the Digital Age: Navigating the Book Revolution with BookTok and Beyond
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