Social media platform Tik Tok has emerged as a surprise growth driver for new book purchases, as well as backlist purchases. In 2021, book sales in the UK reached a record high of GBP 6.7 billion, an increase of 5% from the corresponding period in 2020. Observers say that this figure was attained despite, or even because of, the pandemic.
Even as the demand for reading soared, traditional book shops were forced to close during the pandemic, with supply chain problems causing delays for publishers. However, both print and digital book sales were up by 5 percent from the previous year, and audiobooks saw an amazing rise of 14 percent in sales compared to the previous year, according to a Publishers Association report.
Tik Tok emerged to help younger readers discover books through a method that CEO of Publishers Association, Stephen Lotinga named organic interactions, instead of promotions by publishers.
Lotinga further said that Tik Tok is driving print sales, and a large number of young adults are rediscovering the joy of reading, sharing books with friends, and driving sales and interest in books.
BookTokkers, a name coined for this generation of readers, seem to be shunning new releases, and turning to books which are in some cases decades-old. Citing an example, Cain’s Jawbone, a murder mystery puzzle written in 1934, became hugely popular when Tik Tok user Sarah Schannell posted a sequence of videos portraying her effort to solve the puzzle.
A more recent book published in 2014, named We Were Liars by E Lockhart, gained a fresh lease of life after being rediscovered on the social media app, clocking more than four times the sales it had in 2020.
Tik Tok driving traditional book sales
Lotinga mentioned how Tik Tok users are replicating the traditional sales method employed by bookstore staff – suggesting books that shoppers may like. The pandemic hit this area very hard, allowing online retailers, particularly Amazon, to capitalize.
Almost two-thirds of book sales in traditional bookshops are unplanned purchases, bought mainly because the buyer was attracted by the book. Conversely, the same proportion of online book sales are planned, with the buyer knowing exactly what they want and buying it, without browsing for additional purchases.
Out of the GBP 6.7 million sales of all books in 2021, domestic UK sales accounted for GBP 2.7 billion, and GBP 3.8 billion from export sales. This showed a rise of 7 percent and 2 percent respectively.
Print and digital sales were both up by 5 percent, while consumer book sales were up by 4 percent. Fiction and children’s fiction accounted for a 7 percent, or GBP 733 million, rise in sales.
While many in the industry feared that audiobook sales would take a hit during the pandemic (with less people driving and using public transport), but this category saw a rise in sales of 14 percent, amounting to GBP 151 million.
Lotinga said that an interesting trend was that audio sales do not cannibalize other parts of the industry, it doesn’t mean a book less being sold. He additionally said that audio is bringing people into reading, and a lot of that is because it’s so easy to consume audiobooks now, especially with smart speakers.
The Publishers Association has requested the government to scrap the tax on audio books, the same way it scrapped tax on ebooks in 2020. Lotinga said that it had long been the claimed policy of political parties not to tax reading. He added that over 300,000 people in the UK are registered as visually impaired, and that access to audiobooks, far from being a luxury, is the only way that people fundamentally get to consume literature.