Who would have thought that the most effective influencers of recent years would be the ones on TikTok who talks about books? Instead, the presence of people talking and showing books on social video, in the United States and in the rest of the world, including Italy, has gone viral, turning a niche hobby into a mainstream phenomenon capable of guided crowd of readers. Which are not very many at all, so relatively small numbers are enough to make a difference for publishers.
The BookTok phenomenon
In fact, if one considers that in Italy, for example, a novel is considered successful when it exceeds five thousand and when ten thousand copies are sold, it is clear how an influencer who is able to get news of a new book for three or four hundred thousand people is. worth as much as if not more than one appearance on television, so far considered the forbidden dream of writers and publishers.
The production of a book is actually a long and complex job with high industrial costs (the product has to be packed and handled along a somewhat baroque distribution logistics chain and increasingly decay also due to Amazon), but also significant human costs. : apart from the book’s author’s work, there are editors, reviewers, people specializing in the management and planning of publishing work in the publishing house, agents and retailers.
A long supply chain that often consists of people with remarkable qualifications who have formed over years, if not decades of study and experience. All this for a book that in 90% of cases sells a few hundred copies, which generates very low revenue. There is a small percentage that produces significant sales volumes and ultimately only a handful of books (often foreign) that sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
The market in 2021
During 2021, according to the IEA, the Italian Publishers Association, 85 thousand books were published in our country. Italian release is the sixth in the world and the fourth in Europe. In first place USA, China, Germany, Great Britain and France (rapidly declining). After Italy follows Spain.
The publishing sector in the old continent of cuba 33 billion euros, 60% of the global market. Six of the 10 largest publishing groups in the world are European (though no Italian).
In Italy, the value of the trade channel in 2021 was 1.7 billion euros (an increase of 16% compared to 2020), 115.6 million copies were purchased (+ 18%), and the average cover price has stopped at 14.72 €. New e-books published in 2021 are down, only 49,313. 43.5% of the books are sold in online bookstores, 51.5% in physical and 5% in large distribution centers (ie supermarkets).
In light of all this, what is the weight of BookTok? Huge.
Social networks are coming
The cavalcade of social media has become topical all over the world, including Italy. There are various channels where books are discussed: Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Telegram channels, newsletters. But what is emerging now, very strongly (and even more strongly during the pandemic), is TikTok, the Chinese social network that has created a communication model based on very short vertical videos, which is very popular when it comes to books. So much so that the term BookTok has been invented as a pun between book and TikTok to indicate a way of talking about books.
And the posts from the influencers (the so-called BookTokers) in the sector are aimed above all at young and very young people. Strong readers and readers who devour books indicated by influencers. The version that we usually see told in the newspapers is the discovery of readings at the middle and high school level: literary classics and other “well-known” novels. Like Sciascia, Calvino and Umberto Eco, to understand each other.
Instead, that’s what we talk about on BookTok, fantasy, pink and the declensions of neo-magic, neo-gothic and so on. Not to mention the comics. But what is usually perceived is a small number of more conventional writers.
“Booktok is honestly where I get 99% of my recommendations and reviews are often about the feel of the book, not the details. I honestly do not intend to follow a 10+ minute video on a book that I know nothing about, but I want to watch a 60 second video, ”says a Reddit user.
“Besides – he continues – it’s great when you meet users who have the same taste as yours. I can not talk about all genres, but the most popular science fiction, horror and queer literature books have really been guessed right.
The only problem is when authors who have not yet published books use BookTok to promote them. So far, it has gone wrong twice: The books got a lot of hype, and then they revealed themselves. not exceptional, with problematic content. Fortunately, none of the ones I have are like this ”.
It is true that TikTok, like all social media, is a catalyst for emotional stress, depression, fat shaming and other disgusting behavior. The genres that are carried forward are those that are emotionally relevant and staged. For this reason, according to some, there are no deep stories, or at least stories that do not generate emotional dramas that can be staged for better or worse.
How BookTok works
Endless series of fantasy books or endless sentimental mallopponi, told in video, which pose real indicative challenges. We read to be part of a group, to overcome an obstacle, not to feel alone, to find something that others have seen and read.
All we can imagine is part of the desire to organize in virtual groups and communities, where geographical boundaries clearly jump thanks to the Internet, and instead create optional affinity chains. Fans of Japanese novels find themselves, they create a hangout around one or two small influencers on TikTok with a few tens of thousands of views and generate a close knot of recommendations that quickly create the effect of a small community of emotions and affinities.
Many people buy the book (others exchange more or less illegal e-books, because there is also this one) and in general a movement is created that reorganizes and reorientes tastes around other sensitivities than the traditional ones that are instead generated within publishers, in newspaper editorials , on television, in school classrooms.
The book club of the future
In the United States, the trend towards the phenomenon has become so important that even the prestigious New York Times took care of it. Of course, it has also caused a relapse in our local newspapers, which has largely taken up what is written in the United States. But the phenomenon has instead been analyzed and studied in the university’s classrooms for some time, it is known in France and Spain, it makes German literary critics discuss. If we want to be generous, as the cultural industry is precisely an industry, it makes us think about what cultural priorities have become of ever wider groups of the public.
Who, in short, is responsible for building the collective dominant narrative we call mainstream? A handful of large and, above all, small influencers who disintermediate the relationship between those who produce the books and those who consume them, and skip both critics and journalists. Creating a different flavor that publishers are quick to follow (publishing more and more fantasy and romantic series or a mix of the two) to satisfy a market where very long books filled with baroque plots are a favorite.