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Can TikTok Save Publishing? The story of BookTok and how books went viral

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Can TikTok Save Publishing?  The story of BookTok and how books went viral

“For the first time, this year there will be TikTok”: to speak is Annamaria Malato, the president of Più libri più libera, the Small and Medium Publishing Fair scheduled in Rome from 7 December. Again: “There will be booktokers (book influencers, ed) who will talk about the appointment, but also a meeting in which we will try to reflect on how this can be an opportunity for small and medium-sized publishing, and how we are able to decline it”.

At this point, a question could arise spontaneously: what does an application that has always been associated with music and ballet have to do with reading? It has something to do with what you might think: in 2021, according to data from the Italian Publishers Association and the Center for Books and Readingthe publishing market has grown by 16% compared to 2020. According to many, also thanks to TikTok.

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What is BookTok

Let’s try to take a step back and start with a story. The Song of Achilles is a book by Madeline Miller, released in 2012. It is the Boston writer’s debut novel, a story inspired by the Iliad that tells the story of the friendship and love between Achilles and Patroclus. The book was released for the first time in Italy in 2013: 8 years later it is consistently among the best-selling books in our countrywith Circe, another novel by the same author. The reason for this success (net of the quality of the books in question) has a precise name, and this name is BookTok.

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BookTok is a hashtag, born spontaneously on TikTok during the first lockdown, in March 2020. It is what is defined as a trend, which involves the suggestion of new books to read within the platform, exploiting languages, such as viral sounds or video effects, put available in that space. There first peculiarity it is precisely this: precisely because of its expressive modalities, it is the emotional component of the narrative that is told, with less space for the plot. Bottom line, many of the BookTok videos seem to answer the same question: How did that book make me feel?

As the months go by, the hashtag starts to work: views increase and new creators start riding this wave. L’algorithm, as often happens, manages to associate perfectly content creators and interested potential users. In total, videos tagged as #BookTokItalia collect over 1.2 billion views in our country, which become more than 91 billion for the global hashtag #BookTok.

And trend that the same platform has been trying to ride since 2021: In the UK, TikTok has partnered with a number of local retailers to sell books directly within the social network. In our country a dedicated section has been created this year, which allows members to earn points by performing certain actions, such as inviting a friend to download the app or creating a video with the hashtag #BookTokItalia. Once accumulated, points can be redeemed for vouchers to spend on Amazon.

Specifically, the contents with the hashtag #BookTok are among the most diverse: they exist reading advice, such as those of Professor Valentina Ghettibut there are also live moments in which booktokers meet people to read together, as they often do Megi Bulla, which is called Daphne’s Library on the app. But there are also those who choose to specialize in a great classic like The divine Comedycome Simone Terreni, who has a profile entirely dedicated to the best-known Italian opera Of all times. There are some too writers, such as Roberto Saviano and Zerocalcareand publishing houses, such as Sellerio, Minimum Fax and Mondadori.

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The impact of TikTok on publishing

Views, interactions and comments that soon have consequences in the physical world e on the publishing market all over the world. In the United States, last year was the year in which the most books were sold since 2004: 825 million, according to data collected by NPD Bookscan, one of the most important American publishing analysis services. According to the New York Times, BookTok contributed directly to the sale of over 20 million physical copies. Data strengthened by another NPD report which, in a dedicated analysis, revealed as the most celebrated authors on the platform had doubled their sales in 2021 compared to the previous year.

In our country, after the very positive data of 2021, growth slowed, with a drop (-3.7%) in the first 4 months of 2022also due to the economic situation. Despite the small stop, sales of foreign fiction, probably the most popular genre on TikTok, continued to increase, registering a + 6% compared to 2021.

I libri del BookTok, da Only Yanagihara ad Hannah Arendt

In the rankings of 2021 and the first 4 months of 2022 of the 10 best-selling books in Italy, in addition to The Song of Achilleswhose dedicated hashtag he registered 256 million views on TikTokthere are, among others, The Tear Maker by Erin Doom (90 million views), the best-selling book so far this year, and As long as the coffee is hot di Toshikazu Kawaguchi (500mila views).

But besides the rankings, BookTok has also changed the libraries: many have inaugurated sections dedicated to the most successful books on TikTok. Mondadori even has opened a section of the site with the suggestions coming from the social network average. In addition to those already mentioned, there can be found The last night of our livesby Adam Silvera (4.9 million views) e A life like manyby Hanya Yanagihara (25 million views).

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On TikTok yellow books work toosome examples are How good girls kill by Holly Jackson (69 million views) o The truth about the Harry Quebert case by Joel Dicker (3.5 million). But love stories are also strong on the platform, such as It ends with us by Colleen Hoover, with over 1.7 billion views combined, He 7 married Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, with over 7 million views, or self-published How soul ever by Rossana Soldano (40 million).

A little behind too some classics, like Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie e The friend found by Fred Uhlman, while among the protagonists of BookTok there is also the German political scientist and historian Hannah Harendt: the hashtag with her name reaches 1.4 million views.

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