Podculture: From BookTok to Bestseller

Hannah Cole and Kaila Nichols

For some students, quarantine allowed them to rediscover reading for pleasure. A renewed interest in books led to the rise of BookTok, a niche of TikTok focusing on book recommendations, reviews, and comedic content. Students like junior MaryKate Schoonover watch these videos and people like AymanBooks create them, helping bookstores like Bookends and Beginnings sell these trending items.

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HANNAH COLE: How often do you read?

STUDENT 1: I always try to read at least once a day. I have loved to read ever since I was little.

STUDENT 2: The last time I read a book was last night.

STUDENT 3: A couple hours, twice a week.

STUDENT 4: The last time I read a book was probably way back in fall quarter when I was taking Russian Lit.

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KAILA NICHOLS: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Kaila Nichols.

HANNAH COLE: And I’m Hannah Cole. This is Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond. Over the past year, quarantine presented people with the chance to pick up old habits, or start new ones. For some students, that meant opening a book to escape to the world within its pages. And more time to read, coupled with a need for social interaction, prompted the growth of BookTok, a side of the popular video-sharing app TikTok. In this section of the app, content creators make videos focusing on book reviews, recommendations and reading-related humor.

KAILA NICHOLS: Hey Hannah, what do you call 2000 mockingbirds?

HANNAH COLE: What?

KAILA NICHOLS: Two kilo mockingbird.

HANNAH COLE: Oh my god.

KAILA NICHOLS: All jokes aside, BookTok’s impact extends beyond the digital world. Some of the most popular books on TikTok are influencing best-seller lists and publishers. Popular BookTok reads like The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller have made it onto the New York Times bestsellers list. Some Barnes & Noble locations even added BookTok tables in stores.

HANNAH COLE: But this impact doesn’t just lend itself to big bookstores. Local stores are also keeping up with the trends. Bookends and Beginnings in downtown Evanston has noticed the increased interest in the young adult novels talked about on BookTok.

KAILA NICHOLS: We spoke to Brooke Williams, the children’s bookseller at Bookends and Beginnings, about the impact of BookTok on sales.

BROOKE WILLIAMS: Some backlist titles that have a renewed interest that I think probably come from that because they’re not newer things. Things like “They Both Die At The End” by Adam Silvera.

KAILA NICHOLS: Hannah, how often do you frequent Bookends and Beginnings?

HANNAH COLE: I’ve been twice this week, I practically live there.

KAILA NICHOLS: I’ve heard a ton of students talking about it on social media. I’m so upset that I didn’t go visit before COVID or during my freshman year. And that’s interesting because Brooke said she’s seen an increase in young adults visiting the store.

BROOKE WILLIAMS: I would say we get Northwestern students in every day. Our demographic is pretty much Northwestern students and retirees.

KAILA NICHOLS: One of the bookstore’s customers is Communication junior MaryKate Schoonover. While she’s always loved reading, BookTok introduced a number of new recommendations for her to choose from.

MARYKATE SCHOONOVER: BookTok definitely brings a lot of people in, I’m always looking at the comments to see other people’s takes on the books, or to see their similar recommendations.

HANNAH COLE: For students like MaryKate, it’s important to find time to read all of these new recommendations while balancing classes.

MARYKATE SCHOONOVER: So it’s just sort of started to become something I’ve put in my schedule more just because there’s so many books being recommended to me all the time that I want to read. It’s kind of validating when the BookTokers make a TikTok that’s like “me with all my assignments, what I’m doing instead reading” and “I’m like, ‘haha, I’m not the only one doing that.’”

HANNAH COLE: That was Ayman Chaudhary, a Chicago-based creator who began her account under the handle @Aymanbooks in August 2020 after seeing the BookTok community grow. She didn’t have any goals in mind, but enjoyed books and wanted to post on the app for fun. Since then, she’s amassed a following of 208,000 book lovers.

AYMAN CHAUDHARY: I feel like books translate well on TikTok, because it’s such a fast pace platform. People want information quickly, and with TikTok, you’re so limited, you have up to a minute to convince the audience to read this book, whether it’s showing the aesthetics of the book, or telling every bit of information of why you liked that book.

KAILA NICHOLS: MaryKate shared Ayman’s sentiments, and said she appreciated the attitude of the BookTok community as a whole.

MARYKATE SCHOONOVER: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things that are that make BookTok so exciting to people, but I would say probably the community and the positive energy around because people are not really out there bashing books, if they don’t like a book, they just don’t recommend it.

HANNAH COLE: For Ayman, BookTok has also opened doors to work with publishing companies, receiving books from them to review or promote on her page.

AYMAN CHAUDHARY: I’ve worked with a couple of big publishing companies like Penguin Teen, Maximilian and Simon and Schuster, because of the exposure I’ve got it on TikTok. It’s crazy to me because their books, I read them as I grew up and everything and I’m working with them.

KAILA NICHOLS: But ultimately, the BookTok community’s biggest focus is sharing its passion and love of reading.

AYMAN CHAUDHARY: Reading to me, is like a form of escapism. It’s just like a pause from reality, and anything that could be going on in your life. Especially if you’re reading something that’s fantasy, you can escape into something totally different. So in a way, reading to me is a form of therapy. For every high emotion that I’m feeling, whether it’s something really good, or something really bad, I can go to reading and it becomes an outlet.

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KAILA NICHOLS: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Kaila Nichols.

HANNAH COLE: And I’m Hannah Cole.

KAILA NICHOLS: Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by myself and Hannah Cole. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Madison Smith, the digital managing editor is Haley Fuller, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey.

Email: [email protected] [email protected]

Twitter: @ahh_hec , @kailanichols07

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