TikTok fuels new surge in teen studying habits

Mattituck’s Cait Jacobs saw her followers soar on TikTok at the start of the pandemic. (Photo credit: Brianne Ledda)

When Cait Jacobs started posting book reviews on TikTok in December 2019, she didn’t think it would work out.

She’s been a book blogger since 2016, and her reviews weren’t as popular back then – her website got around 700 views per month for six to twelve posts. But then the pandemic hit. In that first week in quarantine, her TikTok account @caitsbooks jumped from around 100 followers to 10,000.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ms. Jacobs, a Mattituck resident and employee of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library. “It’s been over a year and I just can’t believe any of this is real. Those numbers just don’t make sense to me. ”

In the past year, her accounts have grown to more than 214,000 followers on TikTok and almost 70,000 on Instagram. Her videos get around 3.2 million views on TikTok and 4.7 million on Instagram each month. And as “BookToker” – a TikTok inventor who primarily publishes content through books – she has seen a dramatic change in BookTok’s impact on the publishing industry.

“I had tried to work with publishers at the beginning and I saw their reluctance towards BookTok at the beginning because it was a new platform. Nobody knew what was going on – TikTok was the Wild West, ”said Ms. Jacobs. “But as BookTok grew bigger, the creators got bigger, and videos got more and more viral … I think publishers realized the impact it could have.”

TikTok, a popular social media app known for its short videos ranging from dance routines to storytelling and tutorials, saw a huge surge in popularity during the pandemic. According to Statista statistics from February, the percentage of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 who use the app rose from 10% to 28% after the COVID-19 outbreak, a growth of 180%.

Ms. Jacobs, 23, recalled a few weeks earlier this year when it was difficult to get a copy of VE Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue because, she said, a viral video made by Ayman Chaudhary posted by @aymansbooks. A video that Ms. Chaudhury posted in late December 2020 saying she had “never read anything nicer” than this novel received 2.8 million views.

Ms. Jacobs pointed out another viral video posted by Selene Velez of @moongirlreads last August that exceeded six million views and lists “Books That Make You Sing”. Just one day later, Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles”, one of the books she listed, hit the bestseller list – 10 years after it was first published.

“It’s crazy to think about how someone who makes a video puts this book back on the bestseller list or on the bestseller list for the first time,” said Ms. Jacobs, who is sometimes paid to promote books. “It’s kind of crazy to see people blowing up these videos and then suddenly how much hype this book gets.”

Now, especially since this winter, publishers have started asking specifically about BookTok influencers, she said. Scott Raulsome of Burton’s Books of Greenport said he has seen a change in consumer habits since the advent of BookTok. While it’s “hard to tell” whether the trends on the platform have resulted in increased sales, he said there has been a “noticeable increase in teenagers in-store interested in it”. [young adult] Books ”- enough that the bookstore created an“ As Seen on TikTok ”exhibition with a rotating selection of around 10 popular books.

A section “As Seen on TikTok” in Burton’s Books in Greenport. (Courtesy photo)

“We’ve definitely noticed an impact from BookTok,” he said via email, noting that BookTok influencers often encourage viewers to buy from local independent bookstores. “This has made certain books very popular. The books are often in the YA genre, but some adult titles have also seen a surge in popularity. ”

He cited titles such as “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart, “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera, and “Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo as examples of books that have attracted renewed interest in recent months .

There was a similar trend in the Mattituck-Laurel Library. Library director Jeff Walden said the teenage librarian said there were increasing requests for several older books popular on BookTok.

“I unwittingly witnessed it myself earlier this week,” he said via email. “The other night a teenage patron came in and asked about Madeline Miller’s book ‘Song of Achilles’. I noticed that the book is in. has been published [2011] but all 28 copies in Suffolk County were checked out and there were also 10 additional supplies. “

Forty e-books of the novel were canceled in the district, 54 people on the waiting list. All 20 audiobooks were also checked out, 53 people on the waiting list. Mr. Walden found this strange and asked the patroness where she had heard of the book. She said social media but didn’t specifically name TikTok. However, the book’s sudden popularity prompted Mr. Walden to order additional copies. And that’s not the only novel in the library that saw a sudden surge in popularity years after it first hit shelves.

“One book we have is ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’. [by Sarah J. Maas] and it has been circulated four times this year, which is unusual for a six year old book, ”said Mr. Walden. “All 30 e-books in the district have been checked out, 33 people are on the waiting list.”

“We Were Liars” is another popular title with all 25 e-books in the district checked out and a waiting list for three people. The eight audiobooks have also been checked out, three of them on the waiting list.

“I don’t know if people in North Fork check out these books, but I can tell you that BookTok has definitely increased the circulation of these books in Suffolk County’s libraries, including e-books and e-audiobooks.” said Walden.

Commenting on the accessibility of TikTok, Cailin Duffy, an associate at Burton’s Books, said – “Many non-readers are exposed to the culture surrounding certain books and series and decide they want to be a part of it,” she said.

However, she pointed out that a lack of diversity can be a problem – which Ms. Jacobs also admitted.

“It’s a huge problem in the industry,” she says. While writers have discussed ways to encourage more diverse reading habits, and there has been some improvement in the publishing industry, “we’re not there yet”.

“I am [bisexual] and I also enjoy dealing with mental health issues so it’s really important for me to encourage people to diversify their reading and it’s really important for me to portray some of my own experiences, ”added Ms. Jacobs.

Mr. Raulsome also pointed out that while there are many more people “discovering the joys of reading”, only a “limited selection of books” is gaining popularity through TikTok. A 60-second BookTok clip can sell more books than “an outstanding critical review from a reputable source,” adding pressure on writers to be active on social media, he said.

“The issue of diversity can apply to both the diversity of books growing in popularity on BookTok and the authors themselves,” he added. “We often see people asking for the same thing [five to 10] Books that have gained a foothold in BookTok culture while some really wonderful books are practically ignored. ”

Ms. Duffy and her colleague Stephanie Licciardi both said that most of the trending books on BookTok are written by white writers, although there has been a recent push to encourage color writers. Burton’s Books seeks to “carry and promote a diverse selection of books,” Raulsome said, adding that ideally, people who read on TikTok will come to the market by themselves.

“I would love to see books like ‘Deacon King Kong’. [by James McBride] or ‘The Over Story’ [by Richard Powers] BookTok will be famous too, ”he said.

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