Fourth Industrial Revolution

This is how TikTok helped propel book sales to a bestselling year

A phone showing TikTok.

#BookTok is helping drive up sales of print books, according to an industry analyst. Image: Unsplash/ Solen Feyissa

Kayleigh Bateman
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • #BookTok is helping drive up sales of print books, according to an industry analyst.
  • Readers bought over 825 million print books in the US in 2021, more than in any year since records began in 2004.
  • Retailers are creating “BookTok Made Me Buy It” sections to include popular titles from the app.
  • TikTok is also helping to revive sales of older titles.

Print and digital media are often seen as competing forces, but social media platform TikTok helped push physical book sales to a new record in the US last year, according to industry analysis.

Annual print book sales in the US rose by 9% in 2021 to reach 825.7 million, NPD BookScan told Forbes. That’s the most since the research company began tracking the data in 2004.

While a range of factors was behind the increase – including COVID-linked recommendations to stay at home and an expansion in the US child tax credit that added to household incomes, according to NPD BookScan – some of the boost can be attributed to TikTok users who post about books using the hashtag #BookTok.

Readers in the US bought 821 million books last year
Readers in the US bought 821 million books last year. Image: TikTok/ Worldeconomicforum

Watch the original clip here.

#BookTok has “definitely been a factor” in surging sales, NPD BookScan Industry Analyst Kristen McLean told Forbes. The hashtag has more than 42 billion views and posts from celebrity users, including actor Will Smith and singer George Ezra.

Time for a little light reading.
Time for a little light reading. Image: TikTok: Willsmith

Watch the original clip here.

It’s not just the US that has seen a rise in the popularity of print books. UK publishers recorded a 2% increase in sales in 2020, compared with a year earlier.

From book clubs to BookTok

While TikTok is one of the latest drivers, our tastes have long been influenced by recommendations, be it from social media, book clubs or bestseller lists. The World Economic Forum launched its Book Club in 2018 to connect its global audience with writers of fiction and non-fiction.

Here are 5 books to engage young people in discussions about race
Here are 5 books to engage young people in discussions about race Image: Twitter/ WEFBookClub

See here.

Have you read?

The majority of TikTok users are under 35, and that’s helped boost sales of books in the young adult category, including They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.

The majority of TikTok users are under 35, and that’s helped boost sales of books.
The majority of TikTok users are under 35, and that’s helped boost sales of books. Image: TikTok/ abbysbooks

Watch the original clip here:

The rise in sales of Silvera’s book also illustrates how promotion on social media can revive older titles, as the novel was released in December 2018. This trend seems to be continuing in 2022, with books that weren’t new releases among the top sellers in the US in January, according to NPD BookScan.

The three top-selling books in the US in January 2022 were not new releases, according to NPD BookScan.
The three top-selling books in the US in January 2022 were not new releases, according to NPD BookScan. Image: NPD BookScan

And while young adult fiction and fantasy are top categories in the BookTok community, NPD BookScan’s McLean says the platform’s influence goes much further and has spread to adult fiction and adult literature.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum's Book Club?

“BookTok Made Me Buy It”

Bookshop floor plans and online book retailers are also drawing inspiration from the success of BookTok. Some retailers have a dedicated “BookTok Made Me Buy It” or “BookTok Recommendations” section, highlighting the platform’s latest favourites.

Bookshop floor plans and online book retailers are also drawing inspiration from the success of BookTok.
Bookshop floor plans and online book retailers are also drawing inspiration from the success of BookTok. Image: Twitter/ Waterstones Merry Hill

See here.

2021 are likely to fade, others can be maintained, McLean says.

“After nearly two years of pandemic experimentation and implementation, physical book retailers are institutionalizing the best of what’s been working,” she wrote in a blog post. “From rebranding and re-merchandizing efforts, to community-building strategies, live-selling and aggressive promotional campaigns, some retailers are really going to nail it and physical bookselling will grow share overall in 2022.”

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Fourth Industrial RevolutionArts and CultureEmerging TechnologiesIndustries in Depth
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