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Book community begins a surprising new chapter

Social media is being embraced by the book community with readers gaining advice and recommendations from online content creators changing the way they interact with books and connect online. Anna Solome reports.
A book is held open on a tartan tablecloth, surrounded by snacks, pens, and a basket of books.
Readers on a picnic together with multiple books and snacks. Photo: Anna Solome.

The book community is ever-changing with new communities forming across social media platforms. The latest app to embrace the community is TikTok with its enormous rise to popularity in 2020 with the formation of the hashtag #BookTok. The hashtag is garnering huge success with it having over 42 billion views as of 2022. This is causing a range of impacts for different types of members of the community.


Social media consists of user generated content making it accessible for people to share their opinions. Users can form connections with the creators they follow as they find someone with similar values to them. Amy Stokes shared her perspective on how social media has impacted her experience as an avid reader.


“Finding recommendations from readers such as myself… I find them more trustworthy because I can relate more closely to the books they are liking rather than professional reviewers.”


Amy highlighted a disconnect between traditional professional book reviewers and everyday content creators, with the people she follows on social media providing a relatable outlook appose to professional reviewers sometimes having “uptight and niche” opinions.


A major difference between TikTok and other platforms is its ability to show a user content from a wide range of people from not only those that they follow. Amy said, “on TikTok the main focus is finding videos from people that you don’t follow on the for you page” allowing users to see different points of views and reviews of a book.


By seeing a range of people viewers can diversify their reading while still understanding what is trending. When picking her next read Amy explained she is “indecisive” and “never knows which books to choose” so saving different recommendations helps the decision process.


When a large volume of content is posted on social media trends begin to form in the books recommended and the content produced. To respond to trends some stores are creating “#BookTok” or “#trending” displays alongside book covers featuring the words as part of their designs. These displays allow readers to easily find the books they see online when they enter the store as they can go to the trending section.

A copy of the book 'The Love Hypothesis' sits on a tartan tablecloth, surrounded by other books, pens and snacks.
TikTok trending logo as focal point on book cover showing how the platform is being leveraged to sell books. Photo: Anna Solome.

A Melbourne based bookstore manager said “readers have an idea of what they want initially and are presented with so many more than the one or two books they had in mind” highlighting the convenience of the trending section while still encouraging readers to explore the store. They also mentioned that the trending section “does not represent a massive percentage of our store sales” indicating there is room for sales beyond the popular titles.


Books rising in popularity is a positive outcome of social media but the huge success of a book can also drive people away. When a book trends on TikTok millions of people can see clips of creators boasting about how good it is.


This can cause a book to be overhyped with Amy saying “if a book is too over hyped I don’t want to read it.” When a book is spoken about so highly it can set unreasonably high expectations with a reader being disappointed if it does not live up to them.

Madeline Miller's book, The Song of Achilles, being taken off a crowded bookshelf.
Books like Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles have enjoyed popularity on #booktok. Photo: Anna Solome.

Social media has the ability to popularise backlisted books that were published years prior. An example of this is The Song of Achilles with author Lili Wilkinson saying that having a book “talked about on social media makes a massive difference in sales” and is “incredibly important.”


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was a successful book at its release in 2011 with an initial print run of 20,000 copies. Just over a decade later it has sold over 2 million copies with a large influx of the sales being due to it trending on TikTok. This backlist shift means that otherwise forgotten about books can have a resurgence on the platform.


Wilkinson mentioned that “the books that are rising on TikTok have become massive not because they were written by a celebrity, or because they threw a billion dollars in marketing towards it, but because people love those books” displaying how the popularity of a book is determined by readers themselves instead of publishing houses making it more “grass roots driven.”


The impact of social media towards the book community is being seen in the number of books sold, 2021 saw a 15 year high in book sales with over 843 million books sold. BookTok has “made the biggest difference in the 16-30 age bracket” with a bookstore manager saying there has been “a trend towards romance fiction.” This trend can be supported by NPD BookScan as Adult Ficition sales were up 25% in 2021 from the previous year.


The rise of BookTok and people reading more can be partially accredited due to the pandemic as many people turned towards books as source of entertainment and escapism. During lockdown studies found that some people read up to double the amount they did previously.


Amy stated that the pandemic influenced her reading habits as she “had a lot of free time to occupy and reading was a good way to pass it.” With this she said she also spent more time on social media as she could “connect with others.”


The concept of connecting with others has gone beyond just social media with both online and in person book clubs rising in popularity again. A popular Facebook group that Amy is a part of is Melbourne Bookish Friends where she can meet likeminded people.


The shift in readers turning to social media to discuss and gain recommendations from other users evident with Lili Wilkinson highlighting that it has been positive as books have “moved back into popular culture.”



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