The Effects of Social Media on Consumer Trends: BookTok

How has “BookTok” Changed the Way People Consume Literature
The Effects of Social Media on Consumer Trends:  BookTok

Whether we want to admit it or not, social media has become an integral part of our society and, in turn, our lives. Like most college students, you’ve likely heard of the app TikTok that took the nation by storm during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. TikTok, formerly known as, is a video-sharing app that lets its users create, react, and share each other’s created videos. One of the beauties of social media is the ability to find niche groups within the apps to connect people with similar interests. 

On TikTok, users have created these “subgenres,” whose names are derived from the app itself. Some examples are “BikeTok,” videos featuring the motorcycle community, or “RockTok,” where geologists or rock music lovers can be found. While these little communities are not as common as in 2020 when people had nothing to do but use social media, one still stands tall. One of the most famous of these subgenres and most likely to come across your feed are videos from “BookTok.”

Photo By: Alyssa Brookshire

If you’re a book lover, you’ve most likely come across book recommendations on your feed–this would be BookTok. BookTok has become a viral hashtag on the app, with more than 31.8 million posts, even infiltrating popular bookstores like Barnes and Noble with displays based on popular books pushed by the social media app. While the occasional recommendation from the site doesn’t harm much, the constant promotion of “smut” literature and glorifying controversial themes harm the platform’s credibility in curating its content. Barnes and Noble and bookstores have begun incorporating BookTok into their marketing strategies, taking the most famous authors and trending books on the platform and creating tables surrounding the themes. 

If you’ve ever walked into a Barnes and Noble, the first thing customers are greeted with are these tables featuring hot topics and trending books. The themed tables can range from banned books to books by authors trending on TikTok to tables measuring how much “smut” is in a book. 

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“I’m not the biggest fan of an entire table dedicated to ‘smut,’ that’s a big thing on Booktok now,” says a Barnes and Noble customer who mentioned she frequents the romance section from time to time, “I think it’s important to separate fiction from reality, it’s hard to do that when these books make you feel like you have to live a certain way or your partner needs to live up to a certain ideal.” 

Photo By: Alyssa Brookshire

While what people read is nobody else’s business, BookTok pushes the “aesthetic” of being a reader and often promotes books with little to no substance that tend to fall on the shallow side due to authors trying to fill their books with popular eye-catching tropes. Book influencers often focus on how the book looks and the common, well-loved tropes that run rampant instead of the actual themes the book features. Feminism has also  become a sort of commodification for BookTok as most of the books that are recommended are filled with toxic and frequently abusive relationship ideals towards women that are promoted as “feminist stories” or “independent women.” 

This is not to say all the books that the site recommends are shallow or harmful to women. Literature major and aspiring writer Danna Crespo says, “It’s really exposed people to more literature, sometimes very good quality literature, and it gets people reading that normally don’t.”  Crespo says she found many books that tackle difficult subjects in a meaningful and respectful manner. “Once you get past your Colleen Hoovers, Ana Huangs, and Penelope Douglas’ a lot of the books aren’t as trope-heavy,” she says.

Photo By: Alyssa Brookshire

This is not to say you can’t like what these authors put out. It’s always important to note trigger warnings and the fact that these authors may not be the right source for respectful handling of heavier topics like abuse, sexual scenarios, and characters dealing with trauma.

  BookTok has undeniably reshaped the landscape of literature consumption, marking an era of major digital influence on reading habits. BookTok was first marketed as a way to empower women through reading and shed shame for reading what they like. While this remains the case in some ways, it’s not without controversy. As consumers navigate this new age of social media-driven trends, it’s important to know your limits and understand that not all media is for everyone and that it’s okay to take a step back.

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