Much has been written about how the almighty algorithm shapes our taste in everything from food and music to movies and books, but Penguin Random House is leaning into TikTok’s major #BookTok trend to help users discover titles and engage with fellow readers.
On Tuesday, the publishing giant announced a new deal with TikTok that lets people link to books in videos using the popular #BookTok hashtag while also working with various creators to curate content. The feature will direct users to a page that has additional info about the book and the other videos about it created by various TikTok users. According to Penguin Random House chief marketing officer Sanyu Dillon, BookTok provides an “emotional journey” that is driving more successful videos compared to those that merely provide a book synopsis.
“It’s very powerful that BookTok is driven by real people, making real recommendations,” Dillon said. “And because the best videos kind of capture that feeling of a book, this, in turn, gives viewers and users more confidence in their book discovery in their path to purchase.”
For years, curated recommendations inside of bookstores have helped guide readers toward new titles they might be interested in. But does relying on a social platform like TikTok to serve up relevant content expand or limit potential readers from broadening their horizons?
It’s not necessarily just one or the other, Dillon said. She pointed out that the footprint of many bookstores often limits how many titles can be sold or how various titles are promoted on shelves. For example, she said TikTok communities within BookTok might help people to read more books in a certain category than before, provide a greater group of related authors to choose from, or help someone discover more books by their favorite authors.
Much of BookTok’s adoption has been driven by organic content from everyday users, but Penguin is trying to approach its role by co-creating content for TikTok with creators and users. Although Penguin works with thousands of creators across its various subsidiaries, it’s also hired three micro-influencers in-house, including two for TikTok and one for Instagram.
“We do understand that an algorithm can be absolutely effective, but you can kind of stay in your lane once you’re in that algorithm,” she said. “We want to kind of expand the awareness of the various categories that we publish and the authors that we are publishing every year.”
To do that, the company has recently created other tech-driven initiatives. Last year, it created a tool called Today’s Top Books which scraped data across every online platform where Penguin titles are talked about and shares those popular titles at any given moment. Penguin has also begun other more curated initiatives on other social platforms such as All Ways Black, a community on Instagram that highlights Black authors and books.
Link to the rest at Digiday
Color PG skeptical. He doesn’t claim to be an expert about TikTok or BookTok, but he does know that online communities can change directions and attitudes in a flash.
PG has doubts that Big Publishing can keep up with anything that moves very fast. And he has his doubts about cool BookToc videos are likely to spring forth from an organization that hasn’t actively engaged with ebooks (a very old technology, relatively speaking). Whenever PG imagines a world in which Amazon never existed, he wonders if TradPub would have changed at all.