How BookTok makes money

From Vox:

Walk into a Barnes & Noble these days, and you’ll see a peculiar sight. Instead of Barnes & Noble branding everywhere, there’s BookTok branding everywhere.

Tables of books emblazoned with BookTok signs, pushing the books that are popularly recommended on TikTok’s reading community. A little reading journal for sale titled BookTok Made Me Read It. A special display just for Colleen Hoover, who went from indie romance author to queen of the bestseller list after blowing up on BookTok. There’s a little sign over her name that says “BookTok.”

Loosely speaking, BookTok is a community of people on TikTok who focus all their content on books. They pan their cameras across shelves of beautiful hardcovers, analyze the tropes of their favorite genres, recommend their favorite books, record themselves throwing their favorite books across the room in a fury of emotional overwhelm. The stereotype is that BookTokers lean young and emotional, but as users are quick to point out, the community is huge. Search the #BookTok tag long enough, and you’re bound to find a BookToker who talks about books that appeal to you.

What all BookTokers have in common is that they are a hot commodity. Barnes & Noble is leaning so hard into the BookTok angle right now because, simply put, BookTok sells books. It’s one of the only things that does.

“It’s one of the strongest drivers that we’ve seen in the US market in the last couple of years. It is the only area of the market right now with very strong growth,” says Kristen McLean, the primary industry analyst for books at the industry tracker Circana BookScan. “When I look at the data, there’s no other area of the US publishing market that we can pin that’s seeing that level of year-over-year growth right now. That’s the third year of growth for these authors.”

During lockdown, as Americans with extra time on their hands began picking up books to keep themselves busy, the US book market grew at unprecedented rates. The post-vaccine market appears to have corrected itself. Before the pandemic, it was common for the US book market to grow at rates of 3 or 4 percent. From 2019 to 2021, it grew 21 percent. In the first three months of 2023, according to Circana, it has declined 1 percent — except for the authors whose books blew up on BookTok. So far this year, they’re seeing an increase of 43 percent over their 2022 sales figures.

In a market where it’s notoriously difficult for anyone to make a living, BookTok is helping a select few people make a whole lot of money. That state of affairs raises a surprisingly knotty question: How much of that cash is making its way back to the creators who made the videos that are generating all of these book sales in the first place? And how is it getting to them?

Link to the rest at Vox

Here’s an example of a BookTok feed (PG hopes it only plays audio when you’re on this post of TPV.)

You may have to click on the speaker icon to hear the soundtrack.


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