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U.S. high school students can get free digital access to the New York Times until September 1, 2021.

Has TikTok ever inspired you to read a book?

How do you decide what culture or entertainment you want to immerse yourself in next, whether it’s a new TV series, album, or video game? Who do you trust in your entourage, or on social networks, to give you the best recommendations?

In “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books”, Elizabeth A. Harris writes about the growing influence of “BookTok” videos – on readers, publishers and bestseller lists:

An app known for offering short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials, and fun skits, TikTok isn’t an obvious destination for the book buzz. But videos made mostly by teenage and 20-something women dominate a growing niche under the #BookTok hashtag, where users recommend books, record reading time intervals, or openly sob into the camera after an emotionally overwhelming ending.

These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many creators are just as surprised as everyone else.

“I want people to feel how I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and who now has nearly 200,000 subscribers. “At school, people don’t really recognize books, which is really boring.

Many Barnes & Noble sites in the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles such as “They Both Die at the End”, “The Cruel Prince”, “A Little Life” and others that have gone viral . However, there is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, as no other social media platform seems to move the copies like TikTok does.

“These creators aren’t afraid to be open and emotional about books that make them cry and sob or scream or get so angry that they throw it across the room, and that becomes this very moving video of 45 seconds that people connect with immediately, ”said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen this type of crazy sales – I mean tens of thousands of copies a month – with other social media formats.”

The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos as they were bored at home during the pandemic. Many of their posts look like tiny movie trailers, where images scroll across the screen to a moody soundtrack.

The vast majority of BookTok videos are organically produced, posted by enthusiastic young readers. For publishers, it’s been an unexpected jolt: An industry that depends on people getting lost in print reaping dividends from a digital app designed for fleeting attention span. Now publishers are starting to get the hang of it, reaching out to those with big following to offer free books or payment in exchange for advertising their titles. (The Lee sisters have received books from authors but have not yet been contacted by the publishers or paid for their publications.)

The article highlights a few qualities shared by some popular videos from BookTok:

Many popular TikTok users have strategies for maximizing views. They can use background songs that are already performing well on the app, for example, use TikTok’s analytics to see what time of day their posts are performing best, and try to put videos up on a regular schedule. But it’s still difficult to predict what will take off.

“The ideas that take me 30 seconds to come up with, these work really well, and the ones I work on for days or hours, those completely tank,” said Pauline Juan, a student who, at 25 years old , said to feel “a little older” than many on BookTok. “But the most popular videos are about books that make you cry. If you cry in front of the camera, your point of view increases! “

Most of BookTok’s favorites are books that sold well when they were first published, and some are winners, such as “The Song of Achilles,” which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, a prestigious award for The fiction. The novel tells of the Greek myth of Achilles as a romance between him and his companion Patroclus. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

“Hey, this is the first day I read ‘The Achilles Song’,” 20-year-old Chicago-based Ayman Chaudhary posted on TikTok, holding the book next to his Burberry patterned hijab and smiling face.

“And I’m the one who finishes it!” She yells into the camera, the onscreen captions helpfully describing “dramatic wailing and screaming.” The video, which has been viewed over 150,000 times, is approximately 7 seconds long.

The hashtag #songofachilles has 19 million views on TikTok.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Before reading the article, did you know BookTok? What attraction, if any, does it have in store for you to find book recommendations on TikTok? What about recommendations for other forms of culture and entertainment?

  • Did you read more books for fun during the pandemic? If not, what activities have been your favorite hobbies lately?

  • The teens behind @alifeofliterature use the slogan “convince you to read books based on their aesthetics” and avoid talking about books. The author of the article likens his publications to “small movie trailers”. Why do you think so many people love the publications and buy the books themselves? Why do you think @alifeofliterature’s approach works?

  • Do you post videos on TikTok? If so, have you ever suggested books to read or TV shows to watch, or made other recommendations? If not, is there anything in the article that makes you more likely to share things you like or don’t like with the world? To explain.

  • According to the article, the articles on the books that made the recommender cry are very popular. Why do you think it is? Are you drawn to works of art that arouse strong emotions?

  • Another recent article, “Kaia, Kendall and EmRata Take a Page from Oprah,” reports on the success of online book clubs hosted by well-known actresses and models. Does celebrity support make you want to read a particular book? Are you drawn to the books that are in fashion now? Would you like to join a virtual book club?


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Students 13 and over in the US and UK, and 16 and over elsewhere, are welcome to comment. All comments are moderated by The Learning Network staff, but remember that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.


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