BookTok: How TikTok Helped Record Book Sales in the US

Reproduction / Forbes

#BookTok warning signs are used in US bookstores

Readers bought 825 million copies of printed books in the US in 2021 — the year with the most print book sales since the survey began in 2004, says NPD Bookscan. Analysts believe young people posting about books on social media played a major role in the outcome.

Main points

  • O US print book market grew 9% compared to 2020, according to NPD Bookscan, with 67 million more copies than in 2020 and 125 million more than in 2019.
  • Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst at NPD Bookscan, said that social media — particularly TikTok users who post about books, known as BookTok – “definitely were a factor” in the rise in book sales along with the pandemic in general, with many of the sales gains in the first and second quarters before Covid-19 vaccines were widely available.
  • AN TikTok influence began particularly in 2020 and primarily boosted sales in the young adult category, McLean said, noting that the trend “started in the teen book segment” before spreading to adult fiction and adult non-fiction.
  • Adult fiction led sales growth in 2021, up 25% year-on-year, driving more than half of 2021’s overall market earnings, according to NPD Bookscan. The young adult segment had its best year in NPD Bookscan history, with sales quadrupling compared to 2004 data.
  • The romance “This is how it ends”by Colleen Hoover, was the second best-selling adult fiction book and the sixth best-selling book of 2021 in the US – selling over 770,000 copies last year – despite being a title originally published in 2016. McLean believes the work is there “almost exclusively because of BookTok”, where it was a favorite.
  • Other books that have emerged as popular on TikTok, according to McLean, include “The Two Die in the End”by Adam Silvera (published in 2017, selling 685,000 copies in 2021), and “The Song of Achilles”by Madeline Miller (published in 2012, selling 650,000 copies in 2021 and ranking as the fourth best-selling adult fiction book).


BookTok can often be the first stop for popular titles on bestseller lists, according to McLean. Retailers like Barnes & Noble track popular titles in the app and advertise them as BookTok favorites. “The BookTok community gets excited, retailers pay attention, they trade, other people find them, other retailers start finding them because the numbers start to go up and take off,” McLean said. “It starts with BookTok and then spreads from there.”

BookTokers that have enough views are eligible to be part of the TikTok Creators Fund – a funding distributed based on a creator’s share of the platform’s overall views – or they can get sponsorships to talk about companies or products in their videos. Some BookTokers also add link lists to their accounts, where they can include partner links for their followers to buy the books they review, discount codes for bookstores, and their own Amazon wish lists.

McLean first noticed the TikTok trend during Fall 2020. “liars” (We Were Liars, original title), a young adult novel by E. Lockhart published in 2014, has begun to climb the teen bestseller list. McLean investigated and found that Lockhart hadn’t run an event or promotion, so she started researching social media. She found a tweet from Lockhart thanking a TikToker for posting a video about her book and made the connection (TikToks tagged with #wewereliares now have over 82 million views)

Lockhart told Forbes that he first found out about the renewed success of “Liars” by teenagers he knew and discovered several videos on the app of people’s reactions to the book, which often included a lot of crying. “It wasn’t like they were sharing the plot, or the premise or anything like that, they were just sharing a real, vulnerable reaction,” Lockhart said.

Crucial mention

Lockhart’s prequel, “Family of Liars” (Family of Liars) is out May 3 in the US, and she credits BookTok’s interest in the book, in part, for making her think about the world of “Liars” again. “People have been asking me for a prequel for a long time,” Lockhart said. “But I don’t think I would have kept trying if there wasn’t a demand for it.”


35.8 billion. That’s how many views TikToks tagged with #booktok have received — and several individual TikToks tagged have over 10 million views each.

The demand for book recommendations doesn’t end on TikTok – it crosses over on YouTube as well. Jack EdwardsA 23-year-old YouTuber, said interest in his book videos exploded in 2021 — despite initially hesitating to post content about reading. “It’s always been what I kept out of my videos, because I thought no one would care,” Edwards said. “It was always something that was very niche and very specific to me and what I was reading – it felt weird to share.”

Edwards has been on YouTube for more than four years, but switched to publishing exclusively book content in 2021, posting videos that link reading to other important Gen Z interests like Harry Styles or Taylor Swift, and has found a community and audience entirely new. “My canal has quadrupled in size in the last year since I started,” Edwards said. “It took me five years on YouTube to get to 200,000 subscribers, which I hit in early 2021. And I just hit 800,000.”

Ava JulesA 21-year-old lifestyle vlogger with 1.5 million YouTube subscribers and 450,000 TikTok followers, has also decided to include book content on her YouTube channel in 2021 — after some concerns about how the public would react. “I was so nervous because I was like, ‘Hey, this video is going to flop,’ but whatever,” Jules said. “I posted it and it was one of my best videos of the year.” One of Jules’ videos, “Books You MUST Read in 2022,” already has 444,393 views and thousands of comments – one of her favorite parts of posting book videos on her channel. “I never get as many comments as I do on book videos,” she said. Like TikTokers, YouTubers are eligible for the YouTube Partner Program to earn money from their videos and can also get sponsorships and include affiliate links in their video descriptions.

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