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Barnes & Noble Loves What BookTok Has Done for Sales, but Not the People Behind It

BookTok without the community.

BookTok Festival Barnes & Noble is hosting 2/4/2023 flyer. Image: Barnes & Noble

If you’ve walked into a Barnes & Noble (BN) the last few years, you’ve likely seen tables and endcaps with over two dozen books labeledBookTok.” On the BN website, there are pages dedicated to selling these favorite books in the BookTok community. Some authors, like Colleen Hoover, whose books were released without publishing-backed fanfare (because they’re indie authors) now have their own table because TikTok has shared these books over and over.

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This is almost exclusively thanks to a community of readers on TikTok known as BookTok, so explain why BN is having a BookTok Festival in February, and inviting none of the popular, most innovative creators to the event.

Kick off the day at our BookTok Con with quizzes, games, photobooth opportunities, and mingle with major publishers who will distribute exclusive merchandise, highly coveted advance reading copies, and other fun and memorable items.

Then immerse yourself in great discussion with bestselling authors who are defining the BookTok game at our That Thing Called Love panel featuring Tessa Bailey, Melissa Blair, Ana Huang, Kennedy Ryan, and moderated by Ryan La Sala and our Living in a Fantasy World panel featuring Olivie Blake, TJ Klune, R.F. Kuang, Hannah Whitten, and moderated by Tracy Deonn.

Barnes & Noble

Since 2020, publishing and booksellers have mostly praised what BookTok has done for books. The reading community (including BookTok) has resulted in reprinting/shortages, book adaption announcements referencing the popularity of the novel on TikTok, and more. The slight dip in book sales as the U.S. started to open up again after COVID-19 lockdowns probably would’ve been a lot worse if not for TikTok and the challenges/trends created by people on BookTok. There’s a whole trend of “BookTok made me buy it” and counter-trends to break the hegemony of the algorithm, like “books I’ve never seen mentioned on this app.” The algorithm hand a had, but these creators and readers made the community possible, and are not happy about being left out.

BookTokkers speak out

The criticism spanned far and wide, from smaller creators to people on the app who make book-related content for a living. (Sadly, TikTok pays pennies per 1,000 views.) Even the person who is credited with coining the word “BookTok” in 2020, Cait Jacobs a.k.a. @caitsbooks, chimed in to say that not crediting her for helping form the community was bad enough but that “what really bothers [her] is when they don’t include any creators at all.”

@kevintnorman I was so excited when I heard that Barnes & Noble was hosting a BookTok event. However, after looking at all the details I was shocked to see that none of our communities wonderful creators are featured or a part of it. We as readers and creators built BookTok, and it hurts to watch a company I love take our name, profit from it, and exclude the hardworking creators who helped build this community. #books #booktok #barnesandnoble #bookshopping #booknews #bookishnews ♬ original sound – KTN
@tomesandtextiles Replying to @booksdogsandcoffee I literally have nothing to add except @Barnes & Noble will not get one more mention on this page until they do right by us . Check out these 2 videos: @booksdogsandcoffee @kevintnorman . #booktokpsa #booktok #booktokker #booktokisntstupid #barnesandnoble #booktokfestival ♬ original sound – TomesAndTextiles | Booktokker

No matter who they invited, I’m sure there would have been an issue. My money’s on a disparity in representation on the community side, if not also the author side, and probably uplifting someone who’s embroiled in controversy (deserved or underserved). However, what I didn’t expect was for BN to just ignore everyone altogether. On TikTok, BookTok was the biggest community in the world in 2021 (third in the U.S.) and continued to grow in 2022, becoming the biggest U.S. community. There are lots of people in the community, and a handful who have a lot of influence that directly impacts what others read and, therefore, sales for BN.

Publishers (like other entertainment industries) are pushing authors to be and engage on the platform (like Twitter before this) as a way of cutting labor costs in the marketing department, and BN corporate looks like it’s sort of doing the same with BookTok. Individual stores make the accounts and run them, but some employees (standard associates) stated they don’t get a raise for now being a videographer/editor/creative director for the store. While some don’t have a problem and see this as doing skill-building creative labor on the job, BN is relying on underpaid employees and unpaid people on BookTok to make these videos.

Now, the event is a few weeks away, so BN has the time to invite creators in the NYC area and fairly compensate them, but I’m not sure they will unless a bigger stink is made about this. Regardless of how this is fixed, this could dwell in the back of creators’ minds, resulting in less content filmed in stores and an active promotion of alternatives to BN

@lauraslibraryy but they can totally buy tickets! ? #barnesandnoble #booktokfestival #lol #booktok #readers ♬ original sound – Laura

(via Tomes and Textiles (Carmen), featured image: Barnes and Noble)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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