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Over the shoulder shot of phone with TikTok search bar open.

The BOOKTOK effect – is a resurgence in reading the panacea to lockdown?

Lily Welsh 19/8/2021 

Covid has seen the emergence of multiple unforeseen trends that have taken the internet by storm – and now you can add BookTok to the list.

Somewhat surprisingly – as the world’s leading video platform – TikTok is responsible for reigniting a global passion for reading, by facilitating an online viral community of booklovers.

Dedicated to booklovers, BookTok is a stream of the TikTok algorithm ‘For You Page’, on which literary lovers post their reading recommendations, inspired artworks, reactions to favourite book tropes and characters (most commonly fictional men), and dramatic musical remixes accompanied by aesthetic videos. Creators convey their opinions in a punchy minute or less. 

No monetary or sponsorship incentives are involved — it’s just passionate book fans gushing over their favourite tomes. And it’s not uncommon to see BookTok creators shedding tears, the ugly type, over their recommendations. 

With International Book Lovers Day celebrated last week on August 9, this trend has boosted the popularity of BookTok, as bookworms celebrate their intoxication with all things’ literature. 

Take popular BookToker, Libby Ann (@LondonApples), who has already accrued 96.1K followers and 4.1M likes on her TikTok account, dedicated to her love of books. 

Graphical user interface. @londonapples tiktok account homepage

Images Source: @LondonApples TikTok account https://www.tiktok.com/@londonapples?lang=en

Recognisable for the teddy bear beanie she constantly adorns and her drool-worthy reading nook, Libby believes, “BookTok has become so popular because people in the community always feel like a friend you have known forever.  The small community I have has become like a second family to me!”

“I love being a part of all the discussions about the issues brought up in books as well as hearing everyone’s opinion.”

“And most importantly – I love that you can become close friends with someone because you started fighting over a fictional guy in the comments.”

Simon and Schuster, an American publishing company, has released statistics demonstrating the power BookTok has had in influencing the public to buy books. In a media release, #BOOKTOK 101: Your guide to a major new force in publishingthe company says the US Young Adult book market is “up almost 50 per cent in the first half of 2021 thanks to #BookTok with bestsellers such as They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera selling over 300,000 copies”. 

In the Australian market “more than 25,000 copies have been sold since #BookTok discovered the title”, and the novel has held first place on the Young Adult charts six times, maintaining its position in the “Top 5 since March”. 

The global pandemic has played a significant role as a catalyst for the online community, giving people time to reignite their passion for reading. Up-and-coming BookTok creators Marissa Davis (@Thatssodavis 7478 followers, 268.0K likes) and Isabella Rodriguez (@isabellaxbooks 6261 followers, 387.9K likes) concur. Both appreciate the unity the platform provides amid the pandemic, to what is otherwise an individual hobby. 

Images source: @thatssodavis TikTok account https://www.tiktok.com/@thatssodavis?lang=en

Davis says, “reading is typically a lonely hobby and having people to share your thoughts with on books is so fun and makes you feel like you have a sense of community around you.

“I got involved during a lockdown in COVID. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I saw a video come across my For You Page with book recommendations. I thought, “TikTok has a whole section of people who are just as obsessed with books as me?” 

Rodriguez says BookTok re-sparked her love for literature. For the first time in a long time, she “picked up a book… [and] read it in 2 days”. 

Girl with straight face. In foreground is text that says "me trying to justify the morally grey characters actions because he's my favourite little psycho".

Rodriguez created her account in January, loving how the platform allows followers to “interact with people from all around the world… [and] interact with your favourite authors.”

She says, “it feels like the best experience ever”. 

A girl smiling for the camera, text "enemies to lovers + enemies to friends" above her.

Images source: @Isabellaxbooks TikTok account https://www.tiktok.com/@isabellaxbooks?lang=en

In 2019, Macquarie University Economics Research released Australian Book Readers: Survey Method and Results by David Throsby, Jan Zwar and Callum Morgan, which summarised reading habits in Australia. The research concluded that 51% of Australians were occasional readers and had read “between 1 and 10 books in the last 12 months,” 41% were frequent readers and had read “more than ten books” in the same period. 

Just a year later, in 2020, the Australian Government’s Australian Council for the Arts released their Arts Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic report. The report says, “since the lockdown began, more than a third of Australians have been reading more (36%)” due to having more time for leisure activities. 

While BookTok has taken advantage of the numerous pandemic lockdowns internationally, primarily promoting Young Adult and Fantasy novels, global retailers such as Barnes and NoblesBooktopia and Dymocks have been quick to capitalise on the trend, establishing web pages dedicated to the BookToker’s top picks.

BookTok reminds people why they love to read and empowers them to explore different genres that may have been taboo in the past. Saba Mohammed, another fresh BookTok creator (@urfavbooktoker, 3563 followers, 208.5K likes), says the online community is a judgement-free zone, especially for women whose taste in reading is often stereotyped. 

Images source: @urfavbooktoker TikTok account https://www.tiktok.com/@urfavbooktoker?lang=en

“As girls we grew up thinking romance was embarrassing, and we shouldn’t talk or tell anyone that we enjoy reading romance and it’s a guilty pleasure.”

Mohammed says, “BookTok helps to show everyone that any type of reading is valid, any book is valid, and I 100 percent adore that.”

Graphical user interface, website

With the growing community of social networking bookworms infiltrating the social media platform algorithms, searching “BookTok” in the TikTok app can summon over 14 million instant results. Books from every genre are racing off the shelves and book-nerds are thriving with TBR (to be read) lists that never seem to end.

Why not take advantage of the latest lockdown and curl up with a BookTok recommended novel this weekend?

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