The book industry arguably hasn’t seen a significant tech disruption since the Kindle…which Amazon rolled out in 2007.
So when a TikTok community dubbed “BookTok” started driving sales for the industry in early 2020, with major publishing companies like Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins taking notice, bookish bizzes dogeared their novels and opened the app, fingers buzzing with curiosity.
Take Book of the Month, for example. Samantha Boures, who manages media and influencer marketing there, told Marketing Brew that the company, which lets subscribers choose books from a curated selection each month, started using BookTokers as influencers in late 2020.
For the uninitiated, BookTokers are users who dedicate their TikTok posts to book-related content, whether it’s reviews, recommendations, or reenactments. In November, Mic declared that the community is “completely changing publishing.”
Boures said Book of the Month has worked with BookTubers “for a long time” and has partnered with Instagram influencers as well. “We’re knowledgeable about these book communities online. And when we saw this new one springing up, we sort of were like, ‘This makes total sense,’” she continued.
So her team slowly tested using a handful of BookTokers as influencers. After tests went well, they decided to formalize and create an influencer program around BookTok in early 2021.
Since then, she said the program has continued to grow: TikTok is now the social media channel her team (which handles organic and influencer deals, not paid advertising) spends the most time and effort on.
While it varies from month to month, she told us that anywhere from a quarter to half of the influencers Book of the Month works with across all social media platforms are considered BookTokers.
Describing BookTokers as “very powerful marketers” who do a great job curating their pages to create fun, intelligent, and relatable content, Boures said some of her favorite accounts she’s collaborated with at Book of the Month include Kevin Norman, Kelsey Munson, The Roomie’s Digest, Ayman’s Books, and Books Over Therapy.
For example, Boures shared a few videos of one specific novel—The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood—that Book of the Month paid BookTokers to post about. “That book went on to sell super well for us and get a ton of positive member reviews,” Boures said.
After being all-in on BookTok for more than a year, Boures told us about how her team measures success within the community and what content performs best.
In the influencer marketing industry, how much freedom to give creators has been widely debated: Do you let them do their own thing in their videos promoting your product, or send a brief filled with instructions?
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Boures has experimented with both approaches while working with BookTokers, ultimately finding a balance. At first, she said, Book of the Month gave its BookTokers set talking points, specifically asking them for unboxing videos (Book of the Month influencers get that month’s books as a gift and are compensated fiscally for posting, although Boures declined to provide exact figures).
“Those videos are great. They worked really well,” she told us. Book of the Month measures BookTok success primarily by conversions, or how many people sign up for Book of the Month from a particular creator’s TikTok.
She said she can usually predict roughly how many conversions a given creator will drive based on their past content (for instance, if they’ve posted about previous Book of the Month books organically, or gotten advanced-reader copies from publishers, those are good signs), as well as their video views, number of followers, etc.
But when she started to notice more “out of the box” creative (no pun intended) videos performing well—not only on BookTok, but also across TikTok—she got curious, and decided to let the BookTokers that Book of the Month worked with have a little more freedom to experiment.
“Something that creators really loved was the flexibility to make content that they thought was cool, and that their audiences would like,” she said. “Once we started doing that, we just saw more and more people becoming interested in Book of the Month.”
The biggest challenge on TikTok, according to Boures, has been making sure that the people watching these BookTokers’ content actually understand how Book of the Month’s subscription service works.
Pre-BookTok, Book of the Month’s influencer team mostly collaborated with BookTubers, so they’ve found it tougher to squeeze an explanation about the company into TikTok’s shorter length, Boures told us. Of course, 10-minute TikToks could change that.
Although BookTok is a somewhat niche corner of the internet, Bournes doesn’t think it will run out of steam anytime soon. “It’s just been growing so much, and so we have not yet found a ceiling,” she said. “There are new people every single day logging on, making really cool content, and growing followings.”