Since TikTok launched in 2016, the video sharing app has given rise to countless viral dances, revived the haunting art of the sea shanty and incited a national feta shortage in Finland due to an insanely popular pasta recipe. Currently, against all sound medical advice, it's encouraging blocked-up users to stuff cloves of garlic up their nostrils.
But it's also selling thousands and thousands of books each week.
As Goodreads, Instagram and YouTube once fundamentally altered the way people read, review and recommend books, TikTok is the latest social media phenomenon to exert a seriously powerful influence on the bestseller lists.
THE BASICS OF TIKTOK: TREND-DRIVEN POWER
TikTok’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past year and a half. There were 1.6 million Australian monthly users in pre-lockdown 2020. Now, there are 6.8 million monthly users. Almost 95 per cent of people logging on to TikTok are Millennials and Gen Zs, and women between the ages of 12 and 25 are the most enthusiastic users.
On average, TikTokkers spend an hour and twenty minutes each day on the app.
TikTok hosts user-generated videos that are generally under a minute long. While other social media platforms such as Instagram only show users content posted by accounts that they follow, most TikTokkers scroll the feed on their ‘For You’ page, where what they watch is dictated by TikTok’s all-powerful algorithm.
The algorithm curates the For You page based on what users view, like, share and comment on, creating a feed tailored to a user’s interests. For this reason, no two TikTok feeds are ever the same.
It’s an incredibly trend-driven platform. Features encourage users to create their own videos, whether they’re filming a video from scratch or replying, remixing or ‘duetting’ an existing TikTok. About a third of users actively contribute their own content to the platform, so once TikTokkers pick up a trend, thousands of videos can be created and posted in response within hours.
#BOOKTOK: WHERE TEARS FALL AND BESTSELLERS CLIMB
It’s this trend-driven virality that sends books soaring to the top of the bestseller lists.
As millions of mystically inclined TikTokkers unite under #WitchTok, readers of the world create and post content using the extremely popular #BookTok hashtag. Videos posted with the hashtag have close to 14 billion views all up.
When a recommendation or reader reaction to a book goes viral on #BookTok, other users are prompted to post their own content about the book, leading to more views and reactions, and the title in question starts flying. In many cases books published years ago are getting swept up by the #BookTok machine and promptly cleared off shelves.
“It become[s] a trend that other users want to jump on and start creating their own content,” Simon & Schuster US marketing and publicity manager Olivia Horrox told The Guardian. “Like the ice-bucket challenge that used to be around on Facebook, these TikTok trends become a challenge in the same way, and you don’t want to miss out on the zeitgeist, so you get the book that everyone’s talking about.”
Users say that between five and 10 titles tend to be discussed by the thriving #BookTok community at any one time. They’re usually YA, fantasy and romance books, but the influence of #BookTok is expanding into other genres, like crime, contemporary fiction and the classics.
A trend that has proved especially impactful involves readers filming themselves as they finish a particularly heartbreaking read. This often involves violent sobbing.
There’s something about watching the raw reaction of a red-eyed reader wailing into the final pages of their latest book that hits a little more powerfully than a star rating on Goodreads.