Examining the BookTok potential
TikTok has made plenty of headlines over the past year, notably, for our purposes here, in the book world. The BookTok community on the platform has driven sales of several titles, as book lovers share their emotional reactions and candid thoughts on old favourites and new discoveries, including the likes of ‘They Both Die at the End’ by Adam Silvera, ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart, ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid, ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller, ‘It Ends With Us’ by Colleen Hoover and ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ by Sarah J. Maas. The TikTok boost certainly seems to be giving renewed energy to the YA fiction sector in the UK which had been declining up to 2020, but it’s important to note that the popular books span both adult and YA fiction, across genres, with the examples above featuring romance, mystery, mythology, fantasy. It’s about the shared reading experience, not about where the books happen to be shelved, and we then see that buzz translating to more mainstream discovery methods like bestseller lists and prime bookshop/website placement, spurring on sales across the wider population.
We may not be able to predict which books will next take TikTok by storm, but we can explore patterns among book buyers who use the platform and focus on what kinds of books they’re more likely to read, pointing to which genres could benefit from this new promotional outlet. Overall, 14% of UK book buyers were TikTok users in the 12 months to April, rising to 37% of 13-24s and peaking at nearly half of 16-19s. That puts it ahead of Facebook and Twitter for older teens, and not far behind Twitter for under 25s altogether. A third who reported using it were women aged 13-24, with women overall accounting for more than 60% of TikTok users among the book buying population.
Given how prominent they are, let’s focus on those under 25s. Consumers aged 13-24 bought 65m books in the 12 months to April (17% of the overall book market) and spent £538m on those books (20% of total market value). They over-index in some the strongest performing sectors of recent years, like self-help/mind, body & spirit, graphic novels and children’s non-fiction, along with accounting for more than half of YA fiction sales, an area with its fair share of book phenomena over the past decade. So this consumer base was already capable of picking up on and driving trends, and now TikTok is the latest tool facilitating that – but not all types of books may find an audience on there.
When asked what genres they’ve read/used over the last year, book buyers who use TikTok were less likely to say they read crime/thriller, general popular/literary fiction and historical fiction, in part pointing to the pattern we would generally see with younger consumers anyway. Crime/thriller does remain the most popular genre for TikTok users, even if it’s to a lesser extent than for overall book buyers, but for 13-24s, both YA fiction and fantasy/science fiction overtake crime. Beyond those leading genres, the two that see the strongest edge for TikTok users are romance/love stories, reflected in the titles mentioned at the beginning, and vampire/paranormal/dark romance, no doubt crossing over with the YA/fantasy/romance crowd. The strong areas of fiction may not be all that surprising, but non-fiction throws some variety in there as well, with relatively more interest in science/nature books and books to do with personal development, wellness and health. The graph below shows a range of popular genres and how they compare for TikTok users and overall book buyers.
TikTok users are less likely than the overall book buying base to report daily reading, with weekly the most prominent response, but they do engage with book-related activities and media in higher numbers, such as discussing books online or in person, reading reviews and articles and using book-specific social media sites, along with being more active on social media and online forums in general. We’ll inevitably see these patterns evolve as TikTok continues its rapid expansion, but in this moment, it’s looking to be an ideal place to not only spread the word about specific books to a receptive audience but also to find vocal, engaged readers and gain open insight into what they’re consuming and why.
Data extracted from the Books & Consumers monthly survey, based on book buyers from May 2020 to April 2021. For more information, please contact contact firstname.lastname@example.org.