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Opinion

BookTok: Building Advocates Within the Publishing Community

The pandemic secured TikTok’s place as a global trendsetting giant. Today, it reaches people of all ages and drives sales of everything from fashion to tech, wellness, subscription services, and more. Books are no exception: #BookTok, the hashtag created by “bookfluencers” to curate reading-related content, already has over 60 billion views. 

BookTok has driven countless sales, with bookstores including the hashtag in shop displays, and eCommerce sites creating dedicated #BookTok collections. Madeline Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles was first published in 2011, but it recently rocketed its way to the top of the New York Times Bestseller chart, thanks in part to the hype generated by BookTok. 

The Guardian suggests BookTok was partially responsible for the 5% growth in book sales in 2021, and Statista predicts the global publishing market will be worth over $124 billion by 2027. The resurgent online interest has left some BookTokkers feeling like they aren’t being credited for their contribution to the flourishing book industry. 

Retailers that have quickly identified the opportunity BookTok presents are already embracing the community – US book retailer Barnes & Noble recently announced a partnership with TikTok, aligning themselves with the #BookTokChallenge. This is a significant first step, as it gives weight to the discussion by highlighting how publishers can better engage with creators to drive sales. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to opportunities to promote new releases, reach new audiences, and harness the power of the online reading community.

Getting the basics right

The Barnes & Noble-TikTok partnership is a step in the right direction. The campaign will connect customers to a dedicated #BookTok hub designed to drive in-store and online book discoverability using QR codes. 

Publishers can take inspiration from this, and find a formula that works for them around how to engage directly with creators and their audiences. Bookfluencers already create buzz around new titles and they come with pre-built audiences. Therefore, working with them on promotional cycles is a natural fit. Authenticity is what makes creator-driven marketing special, and it’s essential the publisher-bookfluencer relationship is built on a genuine interest in the title or genre. Otherwise, a collaboration is unlikely to be effective. 

Creators understand this dynamic, with most choosing only to work with brands that match their interests or, in this context, supporting authors they admire and stories they enjoy. According to a recent Vamp survey of over 900 creators worldwide, 65% say that “love of the brand or product” is the top consideration when choosing to enter a brand partnership. 

Identity is another essential dimension of creator authenticity. 69% of the creators who took part in the survey said they use their platform to advocate for causes they believe in, such as social mobility and gender equality. Influencer marketing is a great way to reach out to underrepresented communities, including highlighting new authors from minority backgrounds or underrepresented groups. Raising up voices within these communities through creator audiences ensures visibility and adds relevance to the campaign. 

Finding the right partners can be challenging for publishers that are new to creator marketing. There are trusted platforms that offer a broad selection of vetted creators. The introduction of creator sampling tools like Vamp’s Cast.ai feature makes it much easier to filter options based on specific parameters or aesthetics.

Comparing sectors 

The fashion and beauty industries pioneered creator marketing, and as a result, content creators have radically changed the way these sectors go to market. Brands from the luxury high end to the high street have made TikTok an essential part of their marketing efforts, with effective outcomes. In 2019, it was big news when Estée Lauder announced they were allocating 75% of their advertising budget to creator marketing – but today, it’s not unusual for brands to allocate dedicated budgets to maintain an always-on creator marketing strategy. 

The latest evolution of how the fashion industry continues to pave the way with bold investments in creator marketing brings TikTok stars without a fashion background into their marketing campaigns. For instance, Gucci recently partnered with viral trainspotting TikTok creator @francis.bourgeois to promote its new North Face collab collection. 

BookTok calls to mind the early days of how fashion and beauty brands embraced a movement: there’s a passionate community, creating engaging content out of love for the product, and enthusiastically sharing it on TikTok. It’s time for publishers to follow in fashion’s footsteps and take the next bold steps to join forces with these creators. 

Creating new experiences

Beyond the more traditional creator-brand engagement model, there are also other exciting ways to leverage the BookTok movement. For example, publishers could invite creators who are illustrators and designers to compete to create book cover artwork for upcoming releases. This goes beyond the reviews and recommendations that form the core of #BookTok, involving artists (and their communities) in support of authors as an exchange of creativity. 

Another idea for publishers is to activate the reader community through livestream events such as live author readings and Q&A sessions hosted by bookfluencers. Fashion and beauty brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton have hosted live events on TikTok, and it’s easy to see how the idea could translate to BookTok. Unlike in-person versions of these events, virtual gatherings aren’t limited to people in a specific city or by venue capacity and are therefore more accessible to fans. Markets such as those in China have highly-engaged consumers who are enthusiastic about “livestream shopping”, which could open new revenue streams for direct-to-public book sales. 

It’s promising to see publishers taking their first steps towards engaging with online reading communities through creator talent. Those that invest in working with passionate fans – in the form of brand sponsorships, regular promotional features, or one of many other approaches – are opening a successful new chapter in the history of book marketing.