BookTok has passion—and enormous marketing power

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From The Economist:

A young woman holds up a book and smiles. “This is day one of me reading ‘The Song of Achilles’,” she says. The video jumps forward. “And this”, she moans, her face stained with tears, “is me finishing it.” Another clip, entitled “Books that will make you SOB”, offers written notes on how assorted stories got readers to cry, such as “I can’t think about it without bawling” and “ended up crying sm [so much] i had to change my shirt”. This is BookTok, as the literary wing of the app TikTok is known. Imagine the emotional pitch of a Victorian melodrama, add music, and you have the general idea.

BookTok is passionate. It is also profitable—at least for publishers. Bloomsbury, a publishing house based in Britain, recently reported record sales and a 220% rise in profits, which Nigel Newton, its boss, put down partly to the “absolute phenomenon” of BookTok. On Amazon, BookTok is so influential that it has leapt into the titles of books themselves. The novel “It Ends With Us”, for instance, is now listed as “It Ends With Us: TikTok made me buy it!” Evidently TikTok did a good job: the romance is riding high in the top 100 in both Britain and America.

The medium is not quite as gushy as it might seem. Much of the overdone emotion is ironic, and some of the videos are very funny—particularly those with the hashtag #writtenbymen, which poke fun at the male gaze. Nonetheless, many would make mainstream book reviewers tut. But why should the young women who are BookTok’s stars care what fogeyish literary types think of them? Until fairly recently, their perspective was marginalised in both fiction and criticism. White men dominated both—even though most novel-readers are female.

. . . .

BookTok has helped upend that hierarchy. Selene Velez (pictured), a 19-year-old American student, is behind @moongirlreads_ (an account with 185,000 followers). She focuses on authors who aren’t typically “taken as seriously” as others. “I’m a woman of colour,” she says. “I try to promote authors of colour.”

At the same time, BookTok pushes back against publishing amnesia. Books are imagined to confer immortality on authors—to be a “monument more lasting than bronze”, as the Roman poet Horace wrote—but the lifespan of most is startlingly short. Dig out a list of bestsellers from 20 years ago: not only are today’s readers unlikely to buy them, most won’t have heard of them. Many of the books will have joined the legions of what W.H. Auden called the “undeservedly forgotten”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG found a list of The New York Times Adult Fiction Bestsellers for November 11, 2001. Here it is:

1 THE KISS, by Danielle Steel.

2 ISLE OF DOGS, by Patricia Cornwell.

3 MIDNIGHT BAYOU, by Nora Roberts.

4 THE CORRECTIONS, by Jonathan Franzen.

5 BLOOD AND GOLD, by Anne Rice.

6 A BEND IN THE ROAD, by Nicholas Sparks.

7 BLACK HOUSE, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

8 THE BEST-LOVED POEMS OF JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS, selected by
Caroline Kennedy.

9 THE MITFORD SNOWMEN, by Jan Karon.

10 JOURNEY THROUGH HEARTSONGS, written and illustrated by Mattie J.T.
Stepanek.

8 thoughts on “BookTok has passion—and enormous marketing power”

  1. PG, for a better ‘known author’ comparison, I’d suggest finding the bestsellers for the YA to compare, as that’s the market many booktokkers are in, at least that I’ve seen. I did a brief google, but I seem to have the name wrong.

    Aside from that, booktok is definitely it’s own thing. Usually very ironic, with the trends of music and voiceovers that circulate among the tokkers (some are really hilarious, some make me roll my eyes). It’s not really an environment where I’ve seen many authors participate though, and it is really heavy on the hardcopy (not ebook) trad pub.

  2. *pokes comment form*. Huh. I’d submitted a comment and it looked like it posted, but now it’s gone. Did I say something wrong or did the system just eat it?

    • R – It looks like both comments are up now.

      Regarding the first comment, if this is your first time commenting on TPV or if you’ve commented before or switched email or user name, I have the blog set to hold the first comment from an individual until I have a chance to review it.

      The purpose of this is to catch junk comments that make it through other filters so they don’t automatically show up online.

      Since I’ve approved both of your comments, future comments from you should appear quite rapidly with no requirement for me to approve them. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused you.

      • Here’s an update on my previous comment. When I checked WordPress for R’s email address, I discovered that she had already had several comments approved.

        My only conclusion is that I haven’t offered adequate sacrifices to the Internet Gods lately.

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