Having read my fair share of “BookTok” books, I will never trust book recommendations from TikTok again.
TikTok was launched in 2016, but “BookTok” as a subsection only started to gain attention around 2020. Now, a large section of the TikTok platform is a group of like-minded individuals who express their love for books through the short video format. Typically in these videos, people discuss their opinions on upcoming books and show off the new books they have recently purchased. The rapid growth of the community has given it a substantial influence on the literary industry by increasing sales and introducing a younger audience to books.
The stereotypical demographic for BookTok is young women, many of whom may have not read regularly since creative writing and fanfiction app Wattpad went downhill. Even for those outside the assumed criteria, many bookshops are now sharing the concept with a wider audience, highlighting books that have become popular online. Most people, whether they realise it or not, will be close with someone affiliated with the culture of BookTok.
A typical BookTok video involves someone holding up multiple books as they discuss their thoughts and opinions. Often the sole purpose of these videos is to show off the number of books that the creator has bought, with minimal dialogue and analysis. Though it may not necessarily be the problem, the BookTok trend is a symptom of capitalism due to the focus on consumerism. Although the trend of haul videos may be helping the publishing industry by promoting sales, the availability of libraries has been completely forgotten and ignored. Furthermore, it is ironic that reading and book culture, traditionally an offline activity and a form of escapism from everyday life, is now heavily focused online, with social media quickly becoming the best and most common way to learn about books.
And what exactly is the audience learning about? With ample research, the people offering their opinions on BookTok can be well-rounded in discussing a wide spectrum of books, but that is only if you know how to look for them. Otherwise, you’ll end up in an inescapable trap of romance, with no way out. The majority of best sellers on BookTok are heart-warming romances, often depicting straight vanilla relationships that fall into one or multiple of the popular tropes. These include friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, fake dating, and so on. With such an emphasis on tropes, the potential long-term impact on literature could be a noticeable decline in the quality or variety of new books.
Due to the increase in revenue as a result of BookTok and the typical type of books that do well, it is a worry that the industry will strongly prioritise romance books, forcibly diminishing the chances for new authors that are not writing upmarket fiction specifically catered to BookTok. Additionally, it is apparent in BookTok books that the authors often follow unoriginal and lazy formulas they believe will lead to instant success. While these books are appealing because they’re fun and light-hearted, there are many great romance books that are easy to read and aren’t mediocre. Give award winners Everything I Know About Love and The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo a try. Of course, we must acknowledge that over time there have always been below-the-mark books, but with the rapid rate of books being released, the standard surely must be suffering as a result.
Whilst BookTok has its fair share of problems, reading anything is still better than nothing. And for people more comfortable with short-form content and bite-sized information, BookTok is an effective method of introducing books, a long-form medium, in an approachable way.
Even if the books that circulate on BookTok aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s still a great way to get into reading. It’s an open community, the books are widely accessible, and it’s fun to compare notes. It’s also likely that many of the people using BookTok will later go on to read a wider range of literature – perhaps it should be seen as the literary equivalent of a gateway drug.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their guilty pleasures and to enjoy romance books. However, it’s important to be open to expanding your horizons and reading a wider variety. Limiting yourself to a tiny subsection of literature because it happens to be popular online is a disservice to yourself and to a reading community that is a lot more than just formulaic romance books.