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How BookTok Is Transforming The Publishing Industry And Boosting Sales 

Published on April 5, 2022

BookTokStack

In 2020, as restrictions spread around the world, people baked bread, and they went on TikTok. That year, TikTok surpassed Facebook as the most popular social networking app, while in 2021 it ranked as the most popular website in the world. The social media platform is known for its short videos on everything from dance moves to cooking tutorials and funny cat videos (Nala the Cat is so famous she even made it into the Guinness World Book of Records). It’s also become a home for conversations on subjects like wellness and body positivity. There’s something else that came out of quarantine: readers who were stuck at home gathered on TikTok under the hashtag #BookTok. In this new community, they posted video reviews, recommendations, book-related memes and clips of themselves bawling over a sad book ending.

BookTok Is Driving Book Sales Like No Other Social Media Platform 

Two years later, with over 46 billion views and counting, the BookTok community is skyrocketing books to the top of bestseller lists, and its influence on the publishing industry is undeniable. Cory Beatty, senior director of marketing and publicity for HarperCollins Canada, says since the pandemic hit, the discoverability of books through TikTok has made a significant impact on their book sales.  

“I’ve been here now for almost two decades and there’s really been no singular social media platform that has driven book sales like TikTok,” Beatty says. “There just hasn’t been an easy correlation that we’ve been able to make in the past where we could say, Facebook made that book — there’s been a few exceptions — but the volume coming out of TikTok and BookTok is just incredible now. And we see it with our own books rising.”

BookTok Is Making Its Mark Across the Publishing Industry

In 2021, HarperCollins Canada saw several books take off at the same time thanks to BookTok users. Beatty says that some of their bestselling titles featured in the BookTok community have grown in some cases as much as 300% year over year.

In August 2021, Indigo, which is Canada’s biggest bookstore chain, reported they were seeing a surge in sales, thanks in part to TikTok. Indigo sets up tables in their stores with BookTok picks, which Barnes & Noble locations have also done in the U.S.

Older Books Are Getting a Resurgence

@aymansbooks this book ain’t for everyone, look up tw!#thesongofachilles #songofachilles #booktok ♬ original sound – Ayman


Beatty says while new releases from HarperCollins Canada have performed well on TikTok, some of their older books have experienced a major resurgence, in some cases a decade or more after they were published. One example he gave is The Song of Achilles, a retelling of Achilles and the Trojan War by Madeline Miller, which continues to top the list of BookTok recommendations.  

The book sold well when it was first published in 2011 and it won the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction. Then suddenly, a decade later, it soared to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. The book was so popular that Indigo reached out to HarperCollins Canada to publish an exclusive edition — all thanks to BookTok influencers sharing their love for the novel.

Beatty says this buzz is beneficial for older books that don’t have as much presence in the marketplace as new releases. This means they’re printing more books, which is obviously good news, but since they’re unable to predict which books from their back catalogue will take off on TikTok, he says they’ve faced issues in keeping up with demand.

“That is probably the biggest challenge that we’ve had is identifying the trend early enough that we can satisfy the need as it grows,” he says.

Booktok Is Influencing How the Publishing Industry Markets Books

@harpercollinsca How do you think it’s going? #songofachilles #madelinemiller #achillesandpatroclus #maincharacter #greekmythology #fyp #bookishhumour ♬ original sound – Tea

Thanks to the BookTok community’s influence, publishers are now integrating TikTok into their marketing strategies. Harper-Collins Canada launched TikTok accounts for the first time in 2021. This year, they launched a HarperCollins Canada account as an accompaniment to their HCCFrenzy account, which focuses on young adult books. Beatty says the tricky part has been figuring out the best way for their team to communicate with users on the social media platform.

“We’ve had several meetings trying to come to grips with how we can best use TikTok,” he says. “Having been around long enough to see other social media platforms arise, you understand that there is an authenticity that the users need to see. So we’re trying to invest more of our individual personalities into what is on TikTok rather than hard marketing pushes.”

They partner with influencers primarily by sending them free copies of books, inviting them to be part of social media campaigns and hosting book previews. Paid partnerships are rare: “We want to be authentic. We want people to genuinely come to our books.”  

While some might dismiss BookTok as a social media trend, the publishing industry is eager to see it stay, with Beatty adding, “We hope TikTok lasts forever.”

Lead image credit: A stack of HarperCollins Canada BookTok favorites. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Canada.

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The Author
Silvia Pikal is a writer and editor based in Calgary. She loves following her curiosity wherever it takes her, telling stories about the making of a ghost opera or the latest developments in health care. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in dozens of magazines, a short story anthology and most notably, on Blindman Brewing beer cans. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s going on adventures with her husband, Derek, and their spunky rescue dog, Mala. Silvia is fuelled by the 3 C’s – coffee, cheese and chocolate.