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The Dark Side of BookTok

Where did all the good book recommendations go?

Credit: Shutterstock / Chinnapong

Quantity over quality. Controversial writers. Twelve-year-olds read content meant for a much older audience, and authors need a million followers to get their books published.

What has BookTok done to the publishing industry?

Since the Booktok boom, there have been more people than ever reading copious amounts of books. While it is great that there are so many more readers among us, the app has caused a shift in the marketplace. The app has completely changed the publishing industry, from the type of books we consume to the people recommending books to how authors manage to get published. Change can be great, but it isn’t all good here.

The reality of BookTok recommendations

The type of books that become popular on TikTok are part of the problem. Every other video recommends Colleen Hoover and Taylor Jenkins Reid. Every fantasy recommendation is all about Sarah J. Maas. All the popular authors have mediocre writing at best, with stories that teenagers could have plotted better. It isn’t that you cannot enjoy this kind of literature, but there is no way that you can defend it as good writing.

Booktok loves these types of books. They are simple, easy to follow, and allow an escape from mundane life. With books like ‘It Ends With Us,’ it is beyond problematic because of how the Booktok girlies marketed it. What was supposed to be a story that would raise awareness about domestic violence turned into a romanticized version of abuse. Hoover tried to release a coloring book of ‘It Ends With Us’.

It was canceled for obvious reasons.

Taylor Jenkins Reid has been slated for being a white woman writing people of color when she shouldn’t have been writing at all. And Sarah J. Maas? People will defend her writing as ‘good’ as though she did not actively choose to write the sentence, ‘His growls of pleasure filled the tent, drowning out the cries of the injured and crying.’ Fourteen-year-olds publish better work on Wattpad.

TikTok user @wordswkaty shared a video with a more negative view of BookTok. She stated:

“BookTok has destroyed the quality of the publishing market. I’m sick of picking up hyped, ‘sensational’ books that are unedited Wattpad fics I would have read at 13. Get some standards.”

@wordswkaty
@wordswkaty

Books are fast fashion. Authors are cranking out poor quality, unedited books and publishers are lapping it up cos thousands of y’all hype this trash up on this app 💀 #unpopularopinion #booktok #publishing #poorquality

♬ original sound – Literally Donald Duck

The video reached one million views with 146.5K likes. Some people applauded her view in the comments, but many defended the BookTok recommendations and called her elitist. They have since been turned off.

The importance of the aesthetic of reading

Katy revealed more about how toxic the BookTok community is in another video. She mentions that she once made a video making fun of her own tabbing habits and was met with traumatizing comments.

This is especially interesting when you consider how Booktok and the rest of social media have romanticized the aesthetic of reading. Instagram accounts dedicated to book content are based around the aesthetic of reading.

The Instagram account foldedpagesdistillery is the perfect example of this. Every post is carefully arranged to demonstrate the visual feeling of the book. People enjoy things that look nice. People are more likely to try something new if it looks nice.

Despite the well-known saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ that is exactly what we do. According to an article on The Broken Spine, a well-designed book cover can increase sales by up to 50%. This often means readers end up choosing aesthetic books over quality of writing. It is easier to market a visually beautiful book on social media because social media has always been about the aesthetic of things.

TikTok is overflowing with videos of readers annotating books. They line up their rows of pretty sticky notes and matching highlighters and prepare to look for the words that stand out to them. This is a ritual that is familiar to many readers. BookTok has ruined this, too. The aesthetic of it all has become so central to reading that if you use tabs differently than everyone else, the comments section is flooded with death threats.

The aesthetic of reading is contributing to the death of good writing, critical thinking, and the ability to debate respectfully.

Fast fashion in the publishing industry

Considering how little brain power you need to read BookTok books, it is no wonder that people can read so much more. This year especially, there have been so many videos of people trying to reach their reading goals, with people posting their ‘reading wrapped’ as the year approaches.

It is all done in a good spirit; however, there does seem to be this slightly competitive edge to it. Everyone is trying to prove that they have read more books than everyone else, with no regard for the type of books they read. As more and more books are consumed, more need to be produced. The production rate is so quick that the books produced end up being of poor quality. This results in what some critics call the ‘fast fashion’ of the book industry.

@whatevanreads

Quality has taken a huge hit among the publishing industry #booktok #bookworm #bookish #news #fourthwing #ironflame #books

♬ Chill Vibes – Tollan Kim

@whatevanreads explains an article by Jessica Karl on fast fashion in the publishing industry, saying, ‘publishers are cutting corners when it comes to quality’. The video caused a debate in the comments over the issue. One user commented:

“the article sounds pompous, BookTok has helped so many people get back into reading. Publishers that are smart are taking notes on what people want. Quality across the board has gone down in every industry.”

Some people do have privileged, elitist views of BookTok. The idea that most critics are trying to convey here is that this is not literature of a high quality. It is not literature with substance. That does not mean it is not enjoyable – sometimes, that is exactly the kind of book you need. To label it as writing which is of a high quality is not only absurd, but it’s unfair on authors who really can write.

The rise of BookTok

BookTok is not going anywhere. It is supposed to be a fun and light-hearted community, but its consequences are detrimental to the publishing industry. As we continue to consume low-quality work, we must think critically and give authors who deserve it just as much hype.

It is also vital to keep an open mind. Whether you love or hate BookTok, reading should be about starting conversations and debates. Everyone will have different views of different books, so why not respectfully debate these? Why not be open to more conversations with people with conflicting views instead of just shutting them down? BookTok may be around for a while, but we can still make it a place of open discussion. We can still learn from each other, and we can still enjoy reading.

Written By

Hi there! I'm a recent English graduate from the University of York who enjoys joining conversations that are happening all over the world.

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