In light of recent controversies, bans and data privacy concerns, TikTok has found a silver lining through BookTok – a thriving TikTok subcommunity driving book sales and boosting reading among young social media users.
By uploading videos with the hashtag #BookTok, a community of like-minded bookworms – predominantly teenagers and young women – would share recommendations and engage in conversations around their favourite authors.
Now, the modest trend has grown into a global phenomenon, with BookTok videos regularly attracting views in the tens of millions and driving a resurgence in youth reading.
In Australia, #BookTok ranked second-most popular out of all TikTok community hashtags in 2022, and while the community may seem niche and self-contained at a glance, Booktok’s colossal social media engagement has been responsible for a surge in domestic book sales.
“The impact of #BookTok has been huge,” said marketing and loyalty manager at Dymocks, Gail McWhinnie.
“At least half of our top 10 best sellers each week for the last year have been Booktok-related titles.”
Young readers take their BookTok interests to stores so frequently that booksellers such as Dymocks and Big W now sport dedicated BookTok shelves to prioritise the community’s latest trending novels.
“Now that we know what Booktokers want and what’s trending, we can recommend similar reads from local Australian authors,” McWhinnie said.
“BookTok has been a delight to the industry. We’re seeing the younger generation embracing reading and making it cool again to be in a physical bookstore.”
BookTok’s popularity has grown during a concerning reading decline for Australian youth – an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey showed – with children’s participation in reading for pleasure dropping from 79 per cent in 2017-18 to 72 per cent in 2012-22, and only 63 per cent for children aged 12-14.
Meanwhile, screen-based activities proved exceedingly more popular than reading for pleasure, with 90 per cent of children aged 5-14 years spending at least one hour a week at their devices.
BookTok creator Yumna Sofyan told Information Age she’s been inspired to read more books since creating her first BookTok video in 2020.
“I read, on average, five books a month,” said Sofyan.
“It is really encouraging to read more when viewers comment to tell me what book I should read next.
“BookTok is generally an inclusive and positive space, the community loves to read books that are diverse, especially voices from cultures that aren't in the mainstream.”
In addition to hearing from her favourite authors and getting recommendations from fellow ‘BookTokkers’, Sofyan suggested part of BookTok’s appeal was in its accessibility compared to other online communities.
“I would say BookTok is a successor to BookTube – bookish YouTube,” said Sofyan.
“More in-depth, high-production bookish content can be found on YouTube, whereas TikTok is where creators can more casually share their thoughts on books due to its short-form nature.
“To put it more eloquently: BookTok is a space where book lovers interact on short-form bookish videos.”
Furthermore TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has announced plans for a publishing company of its own called 8th Note Press – although BookTokkers were quick to voice concern, given TikTok’s ability to make videos go viral at will.