In times where staying at home and scrolling through social media for hours on end is more socially acceptable than ever, TikTok has taken the world by storm. Two years on, the most downloaded app of 2020 and 2021 is now one of the most influential drivers of Gen Z consumption. The appeal? Anybody can post and go viral thanks to TikTok’s unique algorithm which is engineered for virality.
Most creators choose a niche for their content and stick to it as this is frequently advertized to be key to gaining more followers. Simultaneously, this makes it easier for TikTok to push out the content that their audience really wants, which is… all kinds of content really. Because TikTok learns about your interests quickly - by evaluating the time you spend watching a video or how you engage with it - the “For You Page”, which is the first page you see when opening the app, looks different for everyone. When my friends ask me: “what side of TikTok are you on?” (a phrase that is commonly used to ask somebody what kind of content they are seeing on their “For You Page”), there are many possible answers I could give them. But my answer would definitely contain the word “BookTok”.
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What is BookTok?
BookTok, as the name suggests, revolves around books or all sorts of reading. Creators will post anything ranging from book hauls to recommendations or advice on how to become a faster reader. When we speak about influencers, most people instantly think of creators of beauty or fitness content. But BookTokers are influencers too as they have an enormous impact on the publishing industry and their recommendations reach hundreds of thousands of people. Some viral videos on BookTok have as many as a million views – a level of exposure few authors would complain about.
Within the BookTok community there is a lot of discourse around the best “BookTok books”, which refers to books that are frequently recommended by BookTokers.
What kind of books are trending on TikTok? Here is a list of the most popular “BookTok books”:
Colleen Hoover, the author of "It Ends with Us", "Verity" and "Ugly Love" - which are all beloved by the BookTok community - has an active TikTok account as well where she regularly entertains more than 500,000 fans; it is not unlikely that her books are so beloved by BookTokers because she privately engages in the community.
How do influencers create trends?
The books that are recommended by BookTokers only receive little criticism, which upholds the trustworthiness of those content creators. Though there are some videos by creators where they refer to popular BookTok books as “overrated” or “not worth the hype”, most of these recommended books end up having excellent reviews on Goodreads (4+ stars) - a long established platform for readers, which can also be used to stay up to date with what other users are reading.
We polled 14-19 year olds in the US regarding the trustworthiness of influencers and established the following insights:
- Gen Z trusts influencers: 41% indicated that they believe that influencers recommend products because they genuinely enjoy them, meaning a large proportion of Gen Z does not necessarily question the opinions of their favorite influencer.
- Gen Z will follow up on influencers’ recommendations: 40% reported that they would “definitely consider” purchasing a product recommended by a reputable influencer, whereas 28% indicated they would “probably consider” it.
- Only few remain unfazed by trending recommendations: 10% responded that they would never consider influencer-recommendations at all.
Seems like influencers are indeed very influential.
The hype around influencers - where does it come from?
So what’s the deal with copying influencers’ every move? In the case of BookTok, we can assert that it offers a platform to connect with a community of like-minded people. Particularly now, where content and content creators sway markets, long-term habits and short-term actions.
How much does Gen Z care about having a community?
- Large parts of Gen Z love to be part of a community: 42% of respondents indicated that having a community that they share the same interests with was “very important”.
- Few respondents did not care about community at all: 38% reported it was at least “somewhat important”.
The demonstrated importance of the community makes the popularity of BookTok, or the craze about TikTok in general, very reasonable.
So teens find themselves comfortable in a community where they can talk about what they’re passionate about. Great, but why must they buy every book that their favorite influencer is reading? The answer is simple: FOMO (fear of missing out). In times of social media, it is easier than ever to compare yourself to others, and Gen Z is heavily affected by this:
- FOMO is taking over: a whooping 42% of our Gen Z respondents have indicated that they “frequently” experience FOMO.
- Nobody is safe from FOMO: if not “frequently”, 39% experience fear of missing out “sometimes”.
When browsing through BookTok, the same couple of books are thrown at you repeatedly and if you haven’t read them, it’s difficult to relate to the reviews: both the ones by the BookTokers and the conversations that their videos spark in the comment sections. Sounds like our teens are under a lot of pressure to keep up with trends; social media induced FOMO is not at all limited to BookTok but can be found in other niches; similar phenomena explain the sudden craze about a Russian fashion accessory or Gen Z’s behavior when investing into cryptocurrencies.
How does the industry respond to the rise of BookTok?
Is the industry responding to this phenomenon at all? The answer is yes! Many bookstores are even putting up a “TikTok section”, which displays all of the trending books. With BookTokers pushing boundaries, it’s probably safe to assume that these shelves will soon take up even more space in store. One store who has introduced such a book display is Barnes and Noble Westminster, who have showcased their new Gen Z targeting aisle via TikTok, in a video that has reached more than 1.2 million views and counting. Is this a trend that could become long-term?
Having your book become popular on TikTok seems like winning the lottery, which has resulted in more and more authors joining the platform to connect with the community and simultaneously advertize their books. The impact that TikTok has on the industry is undeniable. Upon opening Goodreads, users are met with the “Trending with Goodreads Members” recommendations, which almost exclusively consist of trending BookTok books, where many of these books are rocking the same amount of reviews as some literature classics. While it is possible that Goodreads is also mostly used by the younger generation, it does not undermine the power of BookTok. Some newer editions of trending BookTok books are even labeled with a “Trending on TikTok '' sticker to signal its popularity within the BookTok community. Books that are aimed at Gen Z should certainly be advertized on and associated with a platform that reaches exactly that audience.
Anything that encourages reading certainly cannot be a bad development though BookTok may make it harder for authors to be read by Gen Z if they do not attempt to use TikTok for marketing. At least 55% of poll respondents have indicated that they have at least heard of BookTok, which speaks for the prominence of TikTok and the growing interest that young people have in reading. In the age of influencers, however, they may all end up reading the exact same books, just as they tend to rock the same fashion trends or invest in the same cryptocurrency.
The Key Takeaways
Influencers are becoming increasingly important as our community-driven youth experiences FOMO and considers content creators to be trustworthy as well as knowledgeable in their niche. With the booming popularity of the social media platform TikTok, Gen Z is discovering or reconnecting with interests, such as reading, which gives way to the upsurging popularity of content niches, such as BookTok. Content creators on BookTok, which are referred to as BookTokers, push out a high volume of videos that discuss books, mostly focusing on books that are already widely circulating in the BookTok community. This leads to a handful of books receiving a disproportionate amount of attention as the influencers’ followers want to stay in touch with the current trends. The impacts of this phenomenon are visible not only in the online world but also in local bookstores, which are putting up BookTok shelves, displaying the current favorites of Gen Z.
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