BookTok’s Impact on Literature

Staff Writer: Kamryn Kobel

Email: kkobel@umassd.edu

TikTok, the short-form video application, has quickly dominated the social media scene. The app is currently number one in entertainment, with over one billion users worldwide. Since the application reaches such a wide audience, the trends within the app have become very influential.

Many types of entertainment industries, including the music and television industries, have been impacted by whatever trends on TikTok. The book publishing industry is no exception. 

The community of readers within the app has created what they call BookTok – the subgenre of TikTok videos that discuss books. Users make videos where they recommend books, often sorting them by trope. Tropes popular on BookTok often include “enemies to lovers”, “morally gray villains”, the “I hate everyone but you” trope, and “fake dating”. Most of these tropes and the novels that contain them are romantic.

The BookTok hashtag currently has 80.9 billion views

BookTok’s popularity is being utilized by one of the largest book retailers: Barnes and Noble. Many Barnes and Noble stores feature displays that showcase BookTok-recommended titles and authors. There is an entire BookTok page on the Barnes and Noble website that advertises books that fall into the tropes that are most often recommended on the app. 

(A table displaying #BookTok titles at a Barnes and Noble retailer. https://whnt.com/entertainment-news/booktok-here-are-the-best-books-according-to-tiktok/)

BookTok has also become a genre on Goodreads, a site where users can keep track of the books that they’ve read and find recommendations for titles and authors that they might like.

Goodreads does not sell books, so the creation of BookTok as a genre on the website implies that these types of books have become a new categorization of literature. The books that are categorized under this new genre are almost entirely fantasy and romance novels. Almost none of them are nonfiction or biographical. 

The problem is that BookTok has become an echo chamber for these readers and the types of books that the users are recommending to each other. Many BookTok videos recommend the same titles, authors, and tropes. Very few books that don’t fall into these tropes gain popularity on the site.

The hashtag #romancebooks has 3.7 billion views, while the hashtag #nonfictionbooks only has 30.6 million. Even the hashtag #literature has fewer views than romance books, with only 554.1 million.

There is a large disparity between the types of books that BookTok recommends within their community, with romance being overwhelmingly popular.

For someone who is just getting into reading, BookTok and the online community that it encompasses can be a useful tool. The utilization of tropes and the “if you liked this book, you should read this book” strategy that Booktok often uses can be helpful for new readers looking for new books.

However, the impact that BookTok has had on the publishing industry is making it harder for authors to publish books that do not fall into the BookTok genre. Multiple authors and Barnes and Noble employees report that the store will not be picking up and stocking new hardcover releases.

Publisher’s Lunch, a news site for publishers, reports that “…new title count will be reduced in favor of trade paperbacks of better-selling names,” meaning that the sellers will be more willing to pick up titles that they know will sell well.

Whatever is popular on BookTok at the moment will be the first to be picked up by sellers. Based on the numbers from TikTok, romance and fantasy will be the most sought-after, which means those are the types of books that publishers will want too.

This is a potentially dangerous direction for the publishing industry to be headed in. The book-echo-chamber that BookTok has created directly impacts the publishing market. Not only are BookTok readers homogenizing their literary intake, but they are also homogenizing the market, too.

Solely engaging with romance novels is not beneficial for readers, and it is harmful to authors and publishers.

Genres outside of BookTok such as nonfiction, biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction, literary fiction, and essays are all put at a disadvantage as long as BookTok users are not talking about them.

Whatever BookTok users recommend are the books that are getting read– and, inversely, whatever books they don’t recommend aren’t. 

Literature should be diverse. Books should give readers perspectives into lives and scenarios that are unlike their own. Readers should be consuming books about people of different races, genders, sexualities, views, and cultures.

Nonfiction and biographical works are important for learning and understanding more about the world.

The echo chamber of literature that has been created on TikTok is detrimental to all of these ideas. Booksellers and publishers should be taking the dangers of this homogenization into account because the authors and books outside of BookTok deserve to be read, too. 

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