Booktok | the Gen Z Readers Taking Their Book Recommendations to TikTok

Izzy Hall

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This may come as a surprise, but Gen Z is a generation of readers. Whether it’s fact or fiction, these young people are willing to learn and entertain themselves using by reading like never before – in fact, according to a recent Voxburner survey, 56% consider themselves to be regular readers. And whilst one likely reason for this high number will be all of the free time Gen Z have experienced over the past few years (thanks, pandemic), there’s another surprising element at play: BookTok. 

What is BookTok?

BookTok is a hugely popular genre of TikTok (45% of Gen Z say they’re aware of it), with the hashtag alone amassing 49.5B views. On BookTok, creators discuss their favourite reads and share recommendations, all of which largely centre around Young Adult fiction. BookTokers have thousands of followers and likes, and their videos provide a safe space and escape from the real world for young social media users (and often aligns itself with the dark academia aesthetic that is so popular on the social media app at the moment (we’re talking Gothic literature, the arts and glasses)). Speaking to The Guardian, 22-year-old Faith Young (@hellyeahbooks), said: “I thought TikTok was ridiculous…before the first lockdown. I really did think it was just for 14-year-olds, but BookTok is such a lovely community. There are people who like the same books as me, and I can talk about the books that I like. It just seems a little bit magical.”  

Thanks to TikTok’s short and snappy format, BookTokers tend to categorise their recommendations in easy and recognisable ways. Some of the most popular genres include: ‘Books I think everyone should read at least once in their life’, ‘Books that made me forget I was reading’, ‘Books where the boy fell first’ and ‘Books that had me sobbing at 3am’. Whether it’s an in-depth (and by in-depth, we mean 60 seconds) review, a simple selection of book covers or a number of 10-word book summaries, Gen Zers have played into TikTok’s format and encouraged thousands of their peers to get back into reading. Gone are book reviews in newspapers and websites – succinct, cinema-style reviews are the future. A huge 75% of Gen Z say they’d read a book if they’d seen it recommended online. 

Thanks to Gen Z’s want to educate themselves on diversity and equality issues, a lot of BookTok’s recommendations also centre around issues such as race and gender. One creator said that “BookTok has acted as a platform to call for progress in the literary world, a place where they are able to push for the inclusion and development of young queer characters.” Gen Z aren’t just reading for pleasure – they’re reading to educate, inform and spread the word on issues that are close to their hearts. 

So how is this impacting physical book stores?

40% of Gen Z prefer to read physical books over ebooks, and thanks to their adaptability and reactiveness, bookshops across the world are massively benefitting from BookTok. By jumping on trends, bookstores are creating BookTok stands in their stores and sections on their websites, thus encouraging young people across the globe to be drawn towards the selected novel either due to recognition or relatability. In an interview, Shannon Deviro, director of books at Barnes & Noble, said: “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales – I mean tens of thousands of copies a month – with other social media formats”.

So whether you’re a large chain bookshop or a little independent, take note – the online world is by no means your enemy. And for others – take your sector, however niche, to the platforms that Gen Z know and love, don’t expect them to come to you… they’ll thank you for it.

What does this teach us about Gen Z?

We already know that this generation of young consumers can surprise us each and every day, but this really takes it above and beyond. A group of TikTokers started posting about the things they love, and by finding their people and using trending audios and formats, they’ve managed to inspire a whole new community of young readers. With saw it with Francis Bourgeois’ trainspotting, and now we’re seeing it with reading. Kat McKenna, a marketing and brand consultant specialising in children’s and young adult books, said: “The pool of people who are guaranteed to buy young adult books is limited to a few thousand dedicated loves of the genre, but BookTok is exciting, with its short, entertaining videos bringing a new, powerful opportunity to reach and engage non-readers, to create more book lovers.” 

Never underestimate Gen Z – they have the tools and creativity to spread the word and inspire thousands at just the click of a button (and the turn of a page).

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