How Barnes & Noble capitalizes on the #BookTok phenomenon (and vice versa)


Before there was ICT Tac to entertain us, there were books (and radio, theatre, TV, music… but that’s not the subject here). Now the “rising platform of the decade” encourages its users to “take a break from watching” and instead indulge in the age-old pastime of reading. And Barnes & Nobles comes along for the ride.

TikTok has teamed up with Barnes & Noble to launch a summer reading campaign – #BookTokChallenge — to encourage people to discover new books and authors, then share their reactions on TikTok. It’s something thousands users are already doing every day on the growing #BookTok forum, which has nearly 11 million videos and more than 65 billion seen to date. (For comparison, the popular hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt is close in on 7 billions views.)

The summer reading challenge, which is led by a list of TikTok’s top #BookTok influencers, will run until August 31 and has already timed 117 million views and counting. But what is most remarkable is that it has also launched a formal partnership with Barnes & Noble.

“It’s interesting that TikTok allowed the involvement of a ‘capital C’ company, but I think it stems from the fact that Barnes & Noble was the very first retailer to identify #BookTok as a driving factor in book salessaid Jessica Brigman, senior account manager at The Walt Disney Co.of the publishing division in an interview with Retail Touch Points. “B&N was the very first retailer to market #BookTok on a sign in a store, and it legitimized #BookTok as a platform for publishers to pay attention to.”

The #BookTok table is in the foreground of a Barnes & Noble in New Jersey.
The #BookTok table is in the foreground of a Barnes & Noble in New Jersey.

The partners launched a new standalone #BookTub Hub online – featuring videos from TikTok creators and B&N business associates – aimed at boosting book discovery, whether on TikTok or at Barnes & Noble. The hub links to Barnes & Noble’s #BookTok section, now a dedicated category on B&N’s homepage nestled alongside more familiar genres such as sci-fi, romance, thrillers and picture books . The retailer’s #BookTok page features the best #BookTokChallenge reads as well as book picks that fit popular #BookTok themes such as ‘enemies of lovers’ and ‘fake dates’.

“We look forward to exploring these new avenues within TikTok,” Michele Laikowski, social media manager at Barnes & Noble said in a statement. “The #BookTok community has been a driving force in discovering paperback favorites and bringing newsworthy titles back to the fore in the minds of customers. Helping more readers enjoy great books is key to Barnes & Noble’s goal, and when you combine our local bookseller recommendations with #BookTok recommended reading, any reader can consider their summer projects booked.

The story of #BookTok

Let’s step back for a second and see how #BookTok revolutionized book sales. It’s one of the most active communities on TikTok, all centered around the #BookTok hashtag – but don’t confuse it with social commerce. Like viral hashtags on any platform, this movement is user-created and user-driven, and focused on content. But even if no sales occur via TikTok posts, #BookTok has had a huge business impact on publishing. In 2021, #BookTok helped sell 20 millions books, according to The NDP group.

#BookTok has dramatically changed the book industry over the past year and a half“, Brigman said. “It allowed readers to essentially create large-format book clubs and entirely organic sharing communities. And in the process, it took all the marketing out of a book’s success. still books that will have marketing campaigns and there are now ways for marketing teams to try and adapt to #BookTok, but the best part of #BookTok is that it stays organic. It’s someone holding a book and saying, “This book destroyed me.” You have to read it, here’s why’ and we [publishers] can’t recreate that.

#BookTok has had a huge business impact on the publishing industry.
In 2021, #BookTok helped sell 20 millions books, according to The NDP group.

The ultimate example of this is romance and thriller author Colleen Hoover, or “CoHo” as her huge flock of fans calls her. She is now also known as “Queen of BookTok” because his fan-driven success on the platform has led to huge commercial success in the real world – not only for his recent books but also for his backlist. Hoover’s books occupy four from the top ten spots on The New York Times bestseller list in the Combined Print and E-Book Fiction category. The #2 classification, “It ends with us”, has been there since 58 weeks — the book was originally published in 2016.

“What TikTokers do is they will find an author’s book and that book will go viral, but the best part is they search the rest of the author’s catalog,” Brigman explained. “In our industry, you might publish someone for a very long time and you’re still hoping for that bestselling novel, but it might be the only one people have ever read. They don’t go back to other books and we don’t sell these backlist books — we don’t have the money. But now all those books that were published 5, 10, 15 years ago that didn’t see the light of day are being reprinted because they suddenly hit The New York Times list of bestsellers.

“It’s amazing to see #BookTok becoming a truly global phenomenon, having a profound impact on the literary world,” James Stafford, Head of Partnerships and Community at TikTok said in a statement. “From spotlighting little-known authors and genres to introducing classics to a new generation, #BookTok helped rekindle a passion for literature.”

While TikTok doesn’t appear to have immediate plans to commercialize #BookTok, it is formalizing the community that has sprung up on its platform with initiatives like the #BookTokChallenge with Barnes & Noble and the launch of a Tik Tok book clubin which top #BookTok influencers will present a new book for the community to read and share together each month.

TikTok users by generation.

The fact that social commerce in itself hasn’t reached the #BookTok universe yet is probably for the best given of them very important momentum: first, as #BookTok now expands to other genres and age groups, it all started with young adults; and second, there are still major concerns about how the platform’s Chinese parent company ByteDance uses data from TikTokers, with the FCC renews its appeals to have the app removed from Apple and Google’s app stores in June, citing national security concerns. As of today, TikTok is still available to teens in the US and consumers from 10 to 19 years old still counts largest segment of its user base.

Merchandising the #BookTok movement

From the start, B&N has taken the attitude of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and in fact, that’s exactly the wording used by Laikowski to announce the #BookTok challenge on B&N’s blog. But B&N’s adoption of #BookTok dates back well before this summer, all the way back to 2020 when the retailer noticed a unexpected lift in selling trade paperbacks which he eventually realized were driven by TikTok fans.

A Barnes & Noble's #BookTok table mixes genres and age groups.
Barnes & Noble’s #BookTok table mixes genres and age groups and changes frequently as new titles and authors take off on TikTok.

Barnes & Noble has taken the bold step of merchandising around the movement. “They didn’t try to Craft TikTok books, but they paid attention to #BookTok and they would change the table a lot,” Brigman said. “Most retailers put a book on the shelf, and that book stays there for a predetermined period of time. In the fast-paced world of #BookTok success, that’s a waste – books can become stale in days because the fervor has shifted to the next book.

“What [B&N] so they said, we will change this table almost every day and any book can be on this table“, Brigman added. “We’re going to mix genres, we’re going to mix age categories. That’s something that retailers don’t usually do.

There’s no denying the influence #BookTok has had on the publishing and bookstore world over the past few years, but unlike other disruptive movements, it has seemingly boosted rather than buried retailers – those who support it. at least adopt. Barnes & Noble sales are soaring, with 2022 on track to be stronger than 2021 and 2019, the company’s director of books, Sharon DeVito, said. Bloomberg.

“I don’t think the exposure of being on a table in front of a store in a major national chain store was usurped [by #BookTok]”, said Brigman. “There is no formula for success on TikTok, but when we consider acquiring a book, we can say, “This is a good book to buy because this type of romance is very popular on TikTok, it could take off. Still, there’s no good way to make something go viral, it happens, but that’s what makes #BookTok such a happy place for people.”


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