The BookTok table in the Barnes and Noble on Forest Drive. (Photo by Julia Goulet)
In 2016 Colleen Hoover released “It Ends With Us,” a story about the struggles of being in an abusive relationship. It sold about 21,000 copies in the first month. It hit the New York Times Best Seller list in its first month but quickly faded.
But six years later, the book has sold 4.1 million copies, and it has been on the NYT Best Seller list for 83 total weeks. The second round in the book’s popularity hit after it went viral on Booktok.
Booktok, a subcommunity on the app TikTok, was created in August 2020 after a user posted about what she was reading. The trend gained popularity under #BookTok.
When BookTok started, it was mostly users reviewing books. Now it is a community of readers with more than 94 billion views and subgroups with millions more hits. Some influencers make memes about the books they’ve read, including booktoker @Aymansbooks. Other booktokers such as @kendra.reads create recommendation videos based on categories such as favorite tropes or authors and monthly reading wrap-ups.
A book that goes viral because of the #BookTok hashtag is known as a BookTok book.
The effects of BookTok can be seen across the industry: Book sales are rising, bookstores now feature BookTok books, and out-of-favor books are returning to the New York Times Best Seller list years after publication.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGED SALES, BOOKSTORES
Users on BookTok promoted “It Ends With Us,” along with other Hoover titles, including “Verity,” “Ugly Love,” “November 9” and “All of Your Perfects,” each published years ago. All are still on the NYT Best Seller list, most for more than a year.
Hoover’s tag on BookTok has 2.4 million views, and as of Oct. 18, 2022, she had sold 8.6 million print books, publishing two books just this year.
BookTok has helped other authors such as Taylor Jenkins Reid, Madeline Miller and Adam Silvera, who published books years ago and now are seeing a rise in sales after going viral.
In the United States, there has been a 9% rise in book sales from 2020 to 2021, a record-breaking number, according to NPD Bookscan.
Barnes and Noble on Forest Drive has seen an increase in sales and a change in the age of book shoppers.
“We’ve gotten a lot of messages from our more corporate offices saying that these influx of sales have really been beneficial to them,” said Shane Clark, 22, a lead bookseller at the store. “Because of more people coming in, a lot of employees can have pay benefits and pay increases.”
BookTok caters mostly to younger people, who follow influencers posting on the app. Clark said he has seen a shift in customers’ age demographics, from the older crowd that lives in Forest Acres, where the store is located, to younger readers.
“(Booktok) has gotten a lot of younger, more college-aged kids, not even college age, but more high school- and even middle school-age people to come in and start reading and really branch off from their pre-established hobbies,” he said.
He has noticed with this shift that the younger people are gravitating toward BookTok books.
Smaller and older bookstores around Columbia such as Ed’s Editions Bookstore on Meeting Street in West Columbia don’t necessarily use BookTok but can still see the impact of it in their store.
“We’ve had people come in here and tag us or make (a post) while they’ve been in the store,” said Eric Albritton, manager and part-owner of Ed’s Edition. “Even though we’re not active on (BookTok), we do end up on there, in a way. And it’s a really good thing because it’s a bridge, especially with Booktok, to get the younger generation in.”
BookTok also can promote bookstores.
“It just helps people find us, especially people that are visiting from outside of South Carolina,” said Patti Spires, manager of The Book Dispensary on Gracen Road in Columbia. “We have people that go on vacation that are from Michigan or New York. They always route their trip to come through and stop in and visit on their way to wherever they’re going. That’s pretty impressive.”
Barnes and Noble has changed the store’s layout to showcase BookTok books.
“We have a true BookTok table in the main ‘power’ aisle of the store right when you walk in,” Clark said. “We also have a lot of different end caps at the end of the main displays or aisle, all throughout the store.”
HOW READERS VIEW BOOKTOK
Naomi Uchida hadn’t read a book for pleasure in years.
“I stopped reading a lot when I reached senior year of high school,” said Uchida, 20, a junior international studies major at USC. “I started getting a couple of recommendations specifically for ACOTAR (“A Court of Thorns and Roses”) because that kind of blew up. And it just sounded interesting.”
Uchida said she always has loved fantasy but wanted romance, too, and she couldn’t find that in the young adult books she was reading.
“Once I started figuring out that there’s actually a lot more adult authors,” she said, “I kind of started realizing that there was something out there for me to read.”
Like Uchida, Chastity Welborn read as a child but stopped. The 22-year-old house cleaner in Columbia said BookTok helped her get back into it.
“When I started reading again, I went to BookTok to get recommendations,” she said.
And many of those recommendations point to Hoover’s newest novel, “It Starts with Us,” the sequel to “It Ends with Us.”
It sold 800,000 copies the day it was released, Oct. 18, and was the most pre-ordered novel in publisher Simon & Shuster’s history, according to a press release from the company.