TikTok is turning decade-old books into bestsellers for the first time as it inspires a reading renaissance

The books From Blood and Ash, They Both Die at the End, It Ends With Us, These Violent Delights, Red White and Royal Blue, the Song of Achilles, People We Meet On Vacation, and Neon Gods.
  • One of TikTok’s many niches is #BookTok, which has billions of views. It’s been a boon to the book industry.
  • Even Barnes & Noble locations now have TikTok-inspired displays featuring popular books on #BookTok.
  • “Many authors I follow say their sales have never been as high as they are now, thanks to BookTok,” user Sydney Blanchard told Insider.
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In a world full of new technology, digital media and traditional media seem to sit on competing sides of the spectrum. Audiobooks and ebooks are instantly available on our phones or tablets, while print books require a trip to the nearest store or at least a waiting period at the mailbox. TikTok, though, may be on the verge of reconciling them.

#BookTok is an online community of readers that’s carved its niche on TikTok recently. The hashtag has billions of views and climbing from users across the world sharing their favorite “enemies to lovers” arcs, BIPOC authors, and even their own writing.

Isabella Gerli, who has 50,000 followers on TikTok, posted her first #BookTok video in June. “I decided to start book videos then because I had recently discovered the world of reading,” she told Insider.

Some joined the book side of TikTok in the hopes of sharing their longtime favorites. “Why not show off all these books I have and have loved and recommend some new titles in hopes of finding some readers like me?” Sydney Blanchard, who has about 120,000 followers on the platform, told Insider.

Other readers joined #BookTok to provide a platform for underrepresented authors. Simone Siew, who has about 12,000 followers, made it a personal mission to highlight Asian writers on her account.

“I would love for more people to read Asian writers and listen to our stories,” she told Insider, noting the sparsity of Asian narratives she’d read in school.

While #BookTok began as a casual community of readers, it’s paving the way for an economic phenomenon. When BookTokkers share their recommendations, they subsequently widen the market for those books.

This has led to reading trends that have curated the #BookTok “canon,” such as users posting their sob-inducing reactions to Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles,” which recently became a #1 New York Times Bestseller – exactly a decade after it was first published in 2011.

This reading renaissance is also occurring at a time when books have become a kind of “aesthetic,” with Pinterest boards switching out the purse for the tote bag and bookstore hauls becoming all the rage. Gen Z is approaching its peak of overstimulation, with many turning to a Sunday picnic read as the highest form of self-care.

Is this movement of romanticizing reading enough to save a tottering book industry? It well might be, and a stroll through your local Barnes & Noble shows how this is already happening. Barnes & Noble locations across the country have erected #BookTok displays of the most talked-about books on TikTok, from Adam Silvera’s “They Both Die at the End” to Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us.”

Shannon DeVito, the director of books at Barnes & Noble, told Insider that the idea for the #BookTok displays first came up last summer, when they noticed a resurgence in backlist paperbacks (a publisher’s older books that are still in print). DeVito said Stephanie Pinheiro, Category Manager for YA, happened to see a lot of #BookTok videos and noticed the reading trends that were circulating, opening significant opportunities online and in-store. While the #BookTok displays initially began with only a few books, they now boast more than 80.

“The impact has been massive for us in terms of sales,” DeVito said. B&N’s Top 10 titles have been in their Top 50 for the last year, and their Top 10 have sold tens of thousands of copies – “The Song of Achilles” more than 100,000. In fact, the Victorville Barnes & Noble TikTok account shared a comedic video of restocking “The Song of Achilles” on their shelves “for the 1,000th time” because of the #BookTok demand.

Gerli, Blanchard, and Siew all cited BookTok as the reason they’ve discovered and bought more books.

“Many authors I follow have stated that their book sales have never been as high as they are now, thanks to BookTok,” Blanchard added.

#BookTok speaks to the inimitable power of social media in curating niche communities like the bookish community. “Readers want to find what’s trending, what to make a video about next, whether to be ahead of the game or just part of the conversation,” DeVito said. Books present a unique conduit of content capitalizing on content.

From a retailer’s perspective, #BookTok is also the pinnacle of organic marketing. Book sales have shot up because readers are genuinely intrigued by the books pitched to them. DeVito said monetizing #BookTok might take away the integrity of an honest recommendation, but she has noticed that paid advertising for books gets fewer views than when readers feel strongly about a book anyway.

“It’s clear there’s genuine emotion behind the videos that are working,” she said.

@balloonbreath one of the best gifts I’ve ever received from @carcaryayayee is this book embosser ???? ##bookembosser ##bookstamp ##songofachilles ##madelinemiller

♬ He is half of my soul – americab2004

What makes TikTok such an appealing app for readers? The answer lies in the accessibility and convenience of the algorithm. “The more you interact with certain video styles or genres of books, it lets the algorithm know to bring more of that to your For You Page, so you never ever run out of book recommendations,” Blanchard said.

#BookTok’s community aspect also adds an empathetic dimension for readers. “Reading can be an insular activity,” Siew said. “But once you’ve read the same book, you feel like you’re in on a collective conversation.” #BookTok has offered new and longtime readers all over the world the opportunity to build relationships at a time when we have never been more isolated.

Will #BookTok lead to an industry boom for bookstores that have long been struggling to compete with a digitizing world?

“The advent of ebooks was harbored as the death of the written word, but it leveled out, print sales have been up,” DeVito said. She’s cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry, but she’s definitely optimistic about how they’re doing on it with TikTok.

“I’m hopeful it will continue to sustain and spark interest in books,” she said.

Perhaps Shakespeare’s early odes that the written word never dies remain true, even in the age of media.