The rise of “BookTok” is driving teenagers and young adults into bookshops in numbers not seen since the Harry Potter years, according to the head of Waterstones.
Sales of new books are booming after being recommended by influencers on TikTok, the social media app – but some classics are also becoming unlikely viral sensations.
“These last three or four weeks in the United States, James Joyce’s Ulysses has been a significant seller because on TikTok the kids are getting excited about it,” said James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones and chief executive of the US chain Barnes & Noble.
The #BookTok hashtag has had 37.4 billion views and popular influencers tend to be young women, mostly recommending books by female authors.
Mr Daunt said they were helping to make bookshops popular with young people, reminding him of the decade from 1997-2007 which saw publication of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
“It is back to that kind of energy in our stores. Our challenge now is that we absolutely have to keep those customers, as we did with the Harry Potter generation. It stepped booksellers up and it stepped book sales up,” Mr Daunt told a bookselling conference in Italy, reported in The Bookseller.
Waterstones runs its own TikTok account as a marketing tool and Mr Daunt explained: “It’s about fun and enjoyment and enthusiasm and the people who do it brilliantly are of the same generation – it’s our young booksellers and we let them get on with it.”
He joked: “We have generally found that the people with blue hair do better than the people with sensible haircuts.”
Barnes & Noble has dedicated a section of its website to books recommended on TikTok. Even WH Smith groups some of its books under the tag “TikTok made me buy it!”
Books that have benefited from the TikTok effect include The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Read, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
Hoover’s book sold 21,000 copies on its release in 2016, but sales were reignited at the end of 2020 when TikTokers began posting about it. By summer 2021, according to Publishers Weekly, it had sold 450,000 copies.
Sally Rooney’s Normal People and the Hanya Yanagihara novel A Little Life are also frequently recommended. The Barnes & Noble list features classic titles The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights.