Has a gift ever been given so freely to publishers as the gift of BookTok? BookTok was born out of a community of book lovers who flocked to the newest social media in town, Tik Tok, to recommend, share, and joke about their favourite books. This digital community of readers proved so popular that the hashtag ‘BookTok’ currently holds 21.8 billion views on the app. Yet it’s not always the case that social media attention translates into sales and profit, which raises the question – is the book industry feeling the financial affects of this free, new-age promotion? If you have taken a trip into your local bookshop recently, you may have seen them acting upon the BookTok phenomena, as many bookshops now have stands dedicated to promoting titles that are popular on the app (see below). And it’s not only the in-person sales booksellers are trying to capitalise on with their marketing, as many bookseller’s websites, such as WH Smith, have dedicated pages promoting these books for digital customers as well.

Image description: A BookTok display stand at Waterstones Gateshead. Photo courtesy of Waterstones Gateshead.
Image description: A screenshot of a page on WH Smith’s website titled ‘#BookTok YA Book Recommendations’. https://www.whsmith.co.uk/book-lists/booktok-recommendations-ya-books/

But are these backlist Young Adult titles actually having an increase in sales? Charts and data editor Kiera O’ Brien, speaking at the 2021 Bookseller’s Children’s Conference, highlighted that the highest selling YA book for 2021 so far is in fact a book that was released in 2017 – They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, which has consistently sold 5,000+ copies every week within the UK since May 2021. They Both Die at the End has been a huge hit on BookTok, and currently holds 7.9 million views for its hashtag, whilst similar YA titles also boast massive amounts of views, such as E. Lochkart’s 2014 novel We Were Liars, which currently has 64 millions views. The surge in sales for these two titles, along with many others, has had a huge effect on the publishing industry, with O’ Brien stating that the YA category has rose 61% in sale value in the UK when compared with the same period last year. And the clear translation of the attention these titles are receiving into sales can be seen in other territories as well, as both of these novel’s have occupied the number one and two spots on The New York Times Bestseller’s Young Adult Paperback category every month of 2021 so far.

Image description: Screenshot of The New York Times Bestseller’s Young Adult Paperback category for the month of September 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers/2021/09/01/young-adult-paperback-monthly/

And these two titles are just a sample size of the countless backlist books that have seen huge spikes in sales due to the popularity and attention they have gained on BookTok. It is not often that older titles suddenly start flying off the shelves without the publishers or authors having much input, making BookTok a hugely fortunate time for the book industry. Yet it didn’t take long before publishers recognised the opportunity a platform like BookTok has provided and quickly began being proactive and canny with this new unique form of marketing, and now often collaborate with BookTok influencers with large followings in order to promote certain titles, as well as many publishers now having their own BookTok accounts. Although the success that these publishers and authors are seeing for older titles is fantastic, I personally think that the best thing to come out of BookTok is the amount of young people that have picked up a book because of the platform and are engaging in discussions about what books they love and why, especially in a time in which every form of digital media (including Tik Tok) is fighting for their attention.