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piles and piles of books with the words booktube, bookstagram and booktok
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksMay 28, 2024

BookTube, Bookstagram and BookTok: How to find social media’s best books content

piles and piles of books with the words booktube, bookstagram and booktok
Image: Tina Tiller

Lifelong reader turned bookseller Melissa Oliver on the online book communities she loves and recommends.

I’ve been reading all my life. But I’m also a yapper, so as long as I’ve been reading I’ve also been telling people about what I’ve been reading. My family, librarians and friends are all people I have spent a lot of time talking to about books I love.

Nowadays, I get to yap professionally about books. Working in bookselling and also in social media for bookselling, I get to talk about and share on social media books that me and my co-workers love the most. In the shop, I get to hear how our customers find books. When they tell me they are buying a book from an online recommendation, I instantly have a connection, because more often than not, I know well the social media platforms and influencers they are talking about. 

Ever since I was a teenager, I have engaged with social media platforms and the book communities that formed within them. There have been three major platforms that I have embraced: YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

BookTube

For me, BookTube was my first online book community. BookTube is the name of the community of online readers creating, responding and watching book content on YouTube. I started watching around 2013, right at the time some creators on the platform were beginning to make a living from YouTube content creation. BookTube took a little longer – it wasn’t until around 2018 that BookTubers found the same success.

BookTubers I watch do reviews, reading vlogs (video blogs), hauls (latest books purchased/received), tags, unhauls (giving away books), TBR’s, video essays and more. Some of my favourite creators now regularly read the Women’s or Booker Prize longlists and make predictions for the winner; others are scholars and discuss their academic reading as much as their reading for pleasure. 

BookTube was the first place that I had access to so many other kinds of readers. And because they were sharing their reading I could engage with them and their communities about books I’d read and new books I’d discovered outside of my own social circles.

BookTuber recommendations

Bookstagram

It was natural for me to find the book community on Instagram as I began following all my favourite BookTubers on Bookstagram. It was the first platform I started sharing my own content and creating posts about what I was reading to share with my friends and family.

The main appeal for me is the visual nature of Bookstagram. In the beginning there was a dominant aesthetic of books in soft lighting, usually with a cup of tea or fairy lights. 

Bookstagram brings back the aesthetics of 2010’s blogging culture in an updated format: all your favourite bloggers in one easy-to-read feed. The Instagram caption has a character limit of 2,200, but it allows space for creators to post reviews, meditations, life and reading updates, and more. Unique to Bookstagram is the focus on the perfect-looking profile grid that flows together and links to your stories. This is a lot of pressure to maintain, and something I think about a lot on my small, occasionally active Bookstagram account. 

In August 2020, in response to the popularity of Tik Tok, Instagram introduced its Reels feature, which are still prioritised today for audience reach on the platform. Now, most Bookstagramers are often creators on TikTok as well, sharing their video content on both platforms to grow their audiences.  

Bookstagram recommendations:

A photo of two young women reading, with book covers and the hashtag #booktok overlaid.
Image: Tina Tiller

BookTok

Right now it seems that you can’t work in bookselling without talking about BookTok. BookTok really took off around the lockdown period in Aotearoa. Lockdown created the perfect environment to develop and grow faster than either the BookTube and Bookstagram communities did. 

When I came to BookTok it was from a much different place than with any other online book community because I was now a bookseller. Now, I will be asked by my colleagues if a book is on TikTok if our sales suddenly increase (this recently happened with The Bell Jar and the fig tree trend). 

BookTok is not as caught up in the new release cycle as Bookstagram and BookTube communities have been. Backlist titles and books that are still in print but have been out for at least a year tend to dominate BookTok. For example, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was originally published in 2017, but in 2021 spent 37 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list

If Bookstagram began building on the foundations of BookTube then BookTok has constructed a mansion. The platform has grown and developed at a rapid rate and moves fast, possibly too fast for readers to keep up. By the time you’ve read “the book everyone is talking about” they’ve moved onto the next. But unlike BookTube, the videos are snappy and short, meant to be consumed fast and presented to you on a scrollable feed. TikTok has taken the feed style of Instagram and the video content of YouTube and made one app the perfect platform for convenient consumption. 

The thing that sets Book Tok part from Bookstagram and BookTube is TikTok’s “shockingly good” algorithm, that predicts user behaviour based on three pieces of data: likes, comments and playtime. It’s sophisticated and curates the content, even in the communities within Tik Tok. 

Book toker recommendations

The criticisms

There has been criticism that BookTok just flogs the same 20 books over and over again. But this is reductive and without nuance. There are many other books being discussed and read. So many people are creating and sharing content that it’s not difficult to find other books being discussed. There are some incredibly popular books like It Ends With Us by Colleen Hover or Bunny by Mona Awad that sell well in the bookstore. I know these are selling because people have found them through online book creators and found themselves caught in the hype. The same criticism has been said about BookTube and Bookstagram, and I’m sure will be repeated when a new platform emerges.

Another criticism I often hear about all three platforms is that people are “performing reading” – that what might once have been considered a solo act is now shared online to an audience. Balls to that. As long as people have been reading, there have been ways to perform it publicly. Think writers festivals, libraries, universities, book clubs, bookshops and more. People have always want to be seen as reading and reading “the right books.” These online platforms are just new spaces to do that. 

The thing that has remained consistent across all three platforms and communities is the relationship that develops between the creator and the people in the audience. I think it is quite easy to claim this relationship is parasocial between creator and audience. For me, it has never been one-sided but a place for connection and community. I’ve made friends, connected with people who love books as much as me across the world and in Aotearoa, and it has made me a better bookseller. I’m more aware of books but also of how people are discovering new and exciting reads. For me, the joy in being a part of BookTube, Bookstagram and BookTok, is the people. 

Keep going!