How Bookstagram and Booktok are deciding the fate of books

How online reading communities are changing the course of reading

By Tamreez Inam

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Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 5:16 PM

I started my Instagram account (@tamreezi) dedicated to books back in 2017. For me, it was a way of cataloguing the books I was reading and to find other readers to discuss those books with, since none of my friends read much or the few who did, could never get the momentum for a book club.

With Bookstagram, I found other readers who shared my passion and whose recommendations I began to trust and look forward to. I made friends and found my ‘online tribe’. I also enjoyed the creativity of taking nice pictures of books, focusing on bright photos with minimalistic backgrounds where the book and its accompanying written review remained the focus of attention.

Fast forward six years, while I still enjoy my Bookstagram account, the trends for book posts have changed a lot. With the popularity of BookTok (people posting short book-related videos on TikTok), there has been more and more emphasis on videos and reels and much less on photos and written content on Instagram as well. As a result, engagement has really gone down for accounts who aren’t incorporating a mix of videos and photos in their posts.

While us oldies can lament the shortened attention spans and the lack of quality written content, it doesn’t change the fact that video is here to stay and BookTok is now the most popular platform for book recommendations, especially for younger readers. Apart from bringing Gen-Z readers to books, BookTok has also done much to promote ‘hidden gems’ and independent bookstores.

Both Bookstagram and BookTok serve as ‘mega online book clubs’ where readers turn to their peers rather than celebrities, experts or industry professionals to tell them what to read. At the time of writing, the hashtag #booktok had more than 200 billion hits (yes, 200 billion!) on TikTok, whereas the hashtag #bookstagram had been used 97.7 million times on Instagram.

It is no surprise then that books that go viral on BookTok can get sold out overnight and the platform can change the fortunes of an author overnight. Colleen Hoover’s book It Ends With Us was released in 2016 but it was only after it went viral becoming a ‘BookTok sensation’ during the pandemic that it reached bestseller lists and ensured that not just its sequel It Begins With Us but many of her previous books also ended up as bestsellers. Whether these books deserve the hype and praise is another story, but they seemed to be responding to a demand amongst younger readers for certain genres, romance in this case.

Fantasy and sci-fi also do well on BookTok and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is the most popular book across all genres with over one billion mentions. Another backlist contender that found fame and fortune during the pandemic through BookTok was Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, which had initially been published in 2011.

Traditionally, people turned to celebrity-run book clubs, such as Richard & Judy’s Book Club in the UK or Oprah’s Book Club in the US, to get trusted recommendations based on their interests. The ‘top 10’ or ‘bestseller’ lists or book reviews published in magazines or newspapers like The New York Times or Sunday Times were also great sources of recommendations. While all these channels still hold sway when it comes to determining a book’s popularity and success, now it is online communities like BookTok which determine who ends up on those lists.

In turn, authors, bookshops, celebrity book clubs and publishers have all embraced these ‘alternative’ platforms as part of their marketing and promotion activities to ensure they remain engaged and relevant, especially to a younger generation of readers.

So now the question is: do we oldies get on BookTok too? I think my son might disown me if I did, but you never know.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

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