Is Book Publishing Turning into Fast Fashion? The Influence of BookTok on Publishing

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Laura Molloy discusses the influence of BookTok on the publishing industry and the reading community.

Over the past few months, many content creators have been sharing their views on whether the book publishing industry is beginning to mirror Fast Fashion’s shortcomings. Oxford defines Fast Fashion as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” It has been argued that book publishers have begun to concentrate on publishing books that feature specific tropes and themes that are trending, rather than books that are of high quality. But can books not be both? If a book trends on social media, is it not assumed it is of good quality? It is undeniable that Booktok has had a significant impact on the reading community, but is this influence negative? 

There is a misconception that popular books on social media are automatically poorly written. Books such as It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, Icebreaker by Hannah Grace, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood are often labelled as poor writing. Due to these titles appearing on the BookTok shelf in bookshops, they tend to be taken less seriously. 

The target audience of BookTok tends to primarily be teenage girls and women in their early twenties. They often feature romantic storylines and brightly coloured covers, making them visually appealing. Although the covers of these books may be less serious than the standard black of a Penguin Classic, their content sells just as well. (If not better!)

Defining the quality of a book is highly subjective. It comes down to why you read. Is it for pleasure? To be educated? To escape? Arguably, trendy books can achieve all. Any reading is a great way of expanding your vocabulary and improving critical thinking. But, reading romance books can achieve more than this. Regardless of the dramatised settings and circumstances, they depict the most common human experience of all - falling in love. Whether it is for the right or wrong person, love always teaches lessons. 

Whether it is for the right or wrong person, love always teaches lessons.

That is not to say all books trending on TikTok are romance stories. For example, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of the original books to become popular on social media, yet it is a murder mystery book. Dolly Aldteron, author and columnist for The Sunday Times, has benefited from the marketing of BookTok. Her book Everything I know About Love has made frequent appearances across social media platforms. In fact, a self-narrated snippet of the memoir has made the rounds on social media to celebrate the beauty of female friendships

BookTok books are also nearly always set in a contemporary setting, bridging the gap between reader and protagonist. This means readers may more comfortably recognise settings and cultural contexts they are familiar with as opposed to Shakespearean text for example. The stories are accessible from a language perspective, in settings readers are familiar with, and include characters they usually can relate to in some way. The stronger the connection between the reader and the story, the more pleasurable the reading experience can be.

Everything I Know About Love is not a romance story, but a celebration of female friendships and a guide to navigating your twenties. Such themes cannot be deemed as unserious or useless. Interestingly, this book never appears on the BookTok shelf. Is this because of its more serious content? The author’s reputation? Or is it that the definition of a BookTok book is completely ambiguous? 

Is it that the definition of a BookTok book is completely ambiguous?

BookTok books are not simply books discussed by content creators. If that were the case, then esteemed author and Booker Prize winner Paul Lynch should be placed next to Red, White & Royal Blue. His Booker Prize winner Prophet Song was frequently discussed by Youtube’s ‘Resident Librarian' Jack Edwards on his social platforms. Although, we would never even consider categorising such a prestigious book in such a way, despite Jack Edwards being one of the most popular book influencers. 

On the subject of Jack Edwards, it is a good time to remind ourselves that he was the host of the Booker Prize awards in 2023. This highlights one of the cultural shifts social media has created in society. In the previous year, the awards were hosted by Sophie Duker, a British writer and comedian, perhaps a more obvious choice for a host. Albeit, Jack is a writer himself, as he authored the guide to university, The Uni-Verse. Yet, it is assumed he was chosen to present due to his formidable reputation as a book influencer. 

With content creators such as Jack Edwards, Steph Bohrer and WithCindy gaining immense popularity, it is no surprise that reading itself has become a trend. Long gone are the days of reading being considered uncool. With the ever-expanding world of BookTok, more and more young people are taking up reading as a hobby. Undoubtedly, this is an incredibly positive influence of social media. As mentioned earlier, all reading has its benefits. 

Nevertheless, the exposure of young readers to explicit sexual content - which often features in BookTok titles - has raised some concerns. The most recent example of this is the book Icebreaker by Hannah Grace. Icebreaker is a romance between an ice hockey player and an ice skater in college. Part of the book’s popularity and fame is due its extensive sexual content. Naturally, the book is printed with a warning for adult content on its back cover, but this is evidently being missed or ignored by parents. From speaking to retail assistants in bookshops, it is clear it is common for a child as young as 12 to purchase the book with the company of a parent. 

Are these children just stumbling across the aesthetically pleasing colours? Or do they want to read the ‘cool books’ appearing on their for you page? With the increase of children using social media, it is expected that their interests are influenced by content creators. But is BookTok solely to blame for such exposure? Arguably, social media as a whole is to blame for influencing children. If children are granted access to online platforms, the risk of consuming inappropriate content is always present though it can be managed. 

It could be argued that when it comes to BookTok, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. While greater caution should be taken with regards to what children are reading, it is still refreshing to see so many young people showing interest in books at all. The rise of book influencers have brought forth discussions on a large range of books from various epochs and genres. While bookshops may still only advertise a limited number of titles as BookTok features, an extensive list of books have benefited from the free marketing of social media. 

While bookshops may still only advertise a limited number of titles as BookTok features, an extensive list of books have benefited from the free marketing of social media.

Although BookTok may have created mass trends about books, industry trends long predate social media. Think back to the golden age of young adult, fantasy and dystopian books that dominated book shelves. Series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Maze Runner, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games were all strong competitors in the book market throughout the 2000s. Why were they so successful? Because they matched the popular tropes of their time. If Twilight could become popular without the assistance of social media or a pastel cover, today’s romance writers were always guaranteed to thrive!