The rise of reading: BookTok and its massive popularity

Having a nice reliable book to curl up with at the end of the day is the best way to unwind. Photo courtesy of mentatdgt

MADDIE WOOD | OPINION COLUMNIST | mawood1@butler.edu

Does “BookTok” sound familiar? BookTok is the name of a subsection of TikTok that began its rise on the app in August 2020. On TikTok, there are different “sides” of TikTok which users categorize other users based on the type of content they produce”. On this particular side of the app, people share their love of books and recommendations with others. It quickly rose in popularity, with the term “BookTok” becoming a known word among recurring TikTok users. 

BookTok has not only made a name for itself online but in the real world as well. Bookstores across the nation have taken to making entire shelves or displays of recommendations based on BookTok, including Barnes & Noble. Upon entering a Barnes & Noble retail location, one of the first displays a customer’s eyes are drawn to is a large BookTok sign and a table with its entire surface covered in the most popular BookTok books at that time. Even from a quick Google search of “BookTok in stores,” there are countless stores and their own BookTok selections. 

BookTok has become a widespread source of recommendations and reviews during its time. Book lovers have their own section of the internet where they can indulge in their reading pleasures with no fear of judgment and can interact with people who have the same interests as well.  

BookTok skyrocketed the popularity of physical books again. 20 million printed books were sold in 2021 with the help of TikTok. The rise of technology almost killed the love and need for physical copies of books; with the introduction of books as shared in mediums such as Kindles or even on your phone, people opted to use such technologies where one can have all the books they want in one place. In 2021 over 825 million physical books were bought, which was the most on record since they began keeping track in 2004, which is possibly in part due to the immense popularity of BookTok. This 825 million in 2021 can be compared to 2019 where only 751 million books were sold, a 74 million increase in just two years. 

Sophomore health sciences major Neily Pennington spoke about how BookTok has helped fuel the fire in people to read more. 

“I think that [BookTok] has been a big part of getting people who haven’t maybe read a book in a really long time to pick up [one],” Pennington said. “It’s becoming more and more of a trend, so it’s getting people to buy more books.”

Hard copy enjoyers find different fulfillment in physical books as opposed to audio or digital books. It has become increasingly popular with BookTok to annotate books, such as by TikTok BookTok user laurensbooks3 who showed her audience how she prefers to annotate books. Highlighting or making note of important aspects of the plot, or possibly a quote that really tugs at the heartstrings, is a nice way to keep track of everything enjoyable in the story. Having notes inside a book that a person has taken time to write and remember can make it feel more personal, like it has been loved and cared for and really read thoroughly enough to make notes of things within it. 

Payton Albregts is a first-year middle/secondary education major who explained a bit about how physical books bring a certain “vibe.” 

“I’ve never really been into audiobooks and all that [with digital books],” Albregts said. “I’ve always loved physical books. I love the aesthetics and how they look on my bookshelf.”

BookTok has contributed to a new large marketing strategy as well, with some books gaining immense popularity through the recommendations users give. It has given a brand new platform for authors to use and market their own works using BookTok as a “word-of-mouth” strategy.

There are many common book titles and author names that people may know because of BookTok. Colleen Hoover, Casey McQuiston, Adam Silvera: all of these authors have garnered increased recognition from this app. Some popular titles have blown up on BookTok even years after being published. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us was originally published in 2016. Despite being published six years ago at this point, it is one of the most loved books by BookTok users, debuting at number one on USA TODAY’s Bestselling Books List in January of this year, returning in June and again in August. 

The popularity of BookTok is a bit questionable on whether it would be as popular if it were on another platform. Has the immense use of TikTok among Gen-Z attributed to the trend? Communities of book lovers have been around for years, just not as seen in the public eye and well-known as BookTok. 

Albregts explained how people listen to BookTok because it originates and has a place on TikTok. 

“If [BookTok] was on another platform, it wouldn’t be as loved,” Albregts said. “If you were on Instagram and saw an ad, you probably wouldn’t care. TikTok is just so popular for [our generation].” 

With that being said, BookTok has brought about more communities on other social platforms as well. There are more people talking about and sharing their book recommendations on apps like Twitter, or dedicating entire accounts to books and reviews on Instagram. However, with all these different platforms having their own distinct communities, the one thing they have in common is BookTok. They always mention BookTok in some way, sort of like an attribution to where all of this started. 

Popular creators on BookTok who are known for their BookTok content and their accounts dedicated to BookTok have even gained themselves their own name: BookTokkers. It goes to show just how popular this section of TikTok is and just how popular these people are as well. These BookTokkers have thousands, even millions, of followers of fellow BookTok enjoyers who simply enjoy their content or their recommendations and reviews. 

BookTok has been a powerhouse these past few years, entertaining users with book ideas that they never thought to read. It resurfaced physical books in one fell swoop and brought back, or ignited, the love for its many users and community members. The community has a plethora of recommendations for its breadth of users. BookTok is still going strong after almost three years since it has been established, and it seems like it will continue to be loved. Hopefully, it continues to encourage readers to turn a new page in their reading adventures and keep their love of books alive. 

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