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How TikTok helped burn the best-selling year for printed books


Readers bought 825 million copies of printed books in the United States in 2021 – the best-selling year for printed books, says NPD Bookscan, since it began tracking data in 2004 – and analysts believe that young people who wrote about books on social media played a serious role in the large numbers.

Key Facts

The U.S. print book market grew 9% compared to 2020, according to NPD Bookscan, closing 67 million copies before 2020 and selling 125 million more copies than in 2019.

Kristen McLean, CEO and industry analyst at NPD Bookscan, said that social media – especially TikTok users posting about books, known collectively as BookTok – has “certainly been a factor” in the rising book sales, along with the pandemic in general, with many of the sales gains coming in the 1st and 2nd quarters before the Covid-19 vaccines were widely available.

TikTok’s influence began especially in 2020 and primarily increased sales in the young adult category, McLean said, noting that the trend “started in the teen book area, but it’s not just the teen book area”, before eventually spreading to adult fiction and adult literature. .

Adult Fiction led sales growth in 2021, a 25% increase over the previous year, driving more than half of 2021’s total market profits, according to NPD Bookscan, and Young Adult had its best year in NPD Bookscan’s history, where sales were quadrupled compared to 2004 data.

The romantic novel It ends with us by Colleen Hoover was the second-best-selling adult fiction and sixth-best-selling book collected in 2021 – selling more than 770,000 copies last year – despite being a backdrop title originally released in 2016, and McLean believes that it “almost exclusively is there because of BookTok,” where it was advocated.

Other books that emerged as popular on TikTok, according to McLean, include They both die at the end by Adam Silvera (published in 2017, sold 685,000 copies in 2021) and Song about Achilles by Madeline Miller (published in 2012 and sold 650,000 copies in 2021 – and ranked as the fourth best-selling adult fiction).

Key background

BookTok can often be the first stop for popular titles on bestseller lists, according to McLean. Retailers like Barnes & Noble keep track of popular titles on the app and advertise them as BookTok favorites. “BookTok is getting excited about it, retailers are paying attention, selling it, other people are finding it, other retailers are starting to find it because numbers are starting to rise, and it’s picking up speed,” McLean said. “It starts with BookTok, and then it just waves out from there.” BookTokers who get enough views are eligible to be part of the TikToks Creator Fund – a pool of money distributed based on a creator’s share of the platform’s total views – or can get sponsorships to discuss companies or products in their videos. Some BookTokers also add link lists to their accounts, where they can include affiliate links so their viewers can buy books they discuss, discount codes for bookstores, and their own Amazon wishlists.


McLean first noticed the TikTok trend in the fall of 2020. We were liars, a young adult novel by E. Lockhart, published in 2014, began to rise on the teenage bestseller list. McLean investigated it and found out that Lockhart had not made an event or promotion, so she started investigating it on social media. She found a tweet from Lockhart thanking a TikToker for posting a video about her book, and she made the connection (TikToks tagged with #wewereliars now has more than 82 million views). Lockhart told Forbes she first found out We were liars‘renewed success from the teens in her life and discovered a series of videos on the app with people’s reaction to the book, which often contained a lot of crying. “It was not like they were sharing the plot, or the premise or anything like that, they were just sharing a real gut, vulnerable reaction,” Lockhart said.

Crucial quote

Lockharts prequel, The family of liars, will be published on May 3, and she attributes BookTok’s interest in the book in part for making her think about We were liars the world again. “People have been asking me for a prequel for a long time,” Lockhart said. “But I do not think I would have kept trying if there had not been demand for it.”

large number

35.8 billion This is how many views TikToks tagged with #booktok has received – and several individual TikToks with the tag have more than 10 million views each.


The demand for book recommendations does not end with TikTok – it has also been crossed over to YouTube. Jack Edwards, a 23-year-old YouTuber, said interest in his videos about books exploded in 2021 – despite initially hesitating to post reading content. “That was always what I kept out of my videos because I thought no one would care,” Edwards said. “It was always like what’s too niche and was too specific for me and what I read – it felt weird to share it.” Edwards has been on YouTube for over four years, but switched to publishing book content exclusively in 2021, posting videos that link reading to other major interests of Gen Z, such as Harry Styles or Taylor Swift, and found a whole new community and a new audience. “My channel has quadrupled in size within the last year since I started doing it,” Edwards said. “It took me five years on YouTube to reach 200,000 subscribers, which I reached in early 2021. And I just reached 800,000.” Ava Jules, a 21-year-old lifestyle vlogger with 1.5 million YouTube subscribers and 450,000 TikTok followers, also decided to include book content on her YouTube channel in 2021 – after some concerns about how viewers would react. “I was so nervous because I was thinking, ‘Uh, this video is going to flop,’ but no matter what,” Jules said. “I posted it and it was one of my best videos this year.” “Books You MUST Read in 2022,” one of Jules’ videos, received nearly 400,000 views and has thousands of comments – one of her favorite parts of posting book videos on her channel. “I never get more comments than on my book videos,” she said. “I think a lot of people want to get into it these days – it’s just getting a lot more popular.” Like TikTokers, YouTubers are eligible for the YouTube Partner Program to monetize their videos and may also obtain sponsorships and include affiliate links in their video descriptions.

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