The Internet, social media, and the digital transformation have essentially transformed every possible sector in a very short time. We now stream digital music despite sometimes longing for the nostalgia of vinyl or CDs. Few people attend actual cinemas any longer, preferring instead to sign up for a variety of different video streaming sites. And paper maps and film-loaded cameras are certainly things of the past. But interestingly, one of the more stubborn industries during this transition has been the publishing sector. Believe it or not, print book sales still comprise 70% of all book publishing revenues. Digital books and e-books are readily available, but they haven’t made paper options obsolete. This is evident by the challenges digital media companies face. However, based on recent events, the print publishing (and traditional publishers as well) may be finally losing their foothold. And they may have TikTok book publishing to thank for it.
In recent months, ByteDance, which is the parent company of TikTok, appears to be moving into the book publishing business. While the company has been relatively quiet about it, the social media giant is raising serious concerns. The reason for these concerns relates to the power that BookTok on TikTok has enjoyed in recent years. Billions visit this site annually in an effort to see what’s hot among books read by other TikTok users. And as a result, book sales resulting from these visits have been tremendous. Therefore, should ByteDance pursue a TikTok book publishing endeavor, it might be the end to traditional book publishing as we know it. This is what have many in traditional publishing buzzing about these recent developments.
“To say it’s hugely important is an understatement at this point.” – Bess Braswell, Senior Publishing Director at Harlequin
ByteDance’s Move Toward TikTok Book Publishing
There hasn’t been a great deal of hype surrounding a potential ByteDance or TikTok book publishing move. However, a number of popular self-publishing authors on TikTok has received some interesting invitations in recent weeks. Specifically, the company has offered to provide significant advances as well as royalties for published books to a select few. In addition, the offers routinely include other perks like comprehensive online marketing packages and audience access. Why is this worth noting? Because BookTok on TikTok has increasingly become one of the most popular go-to sources for book rankings. And such an audience, into which ByteDance could certainly tap, could prove highly lucrative to new and tenured authors.
To put this into perspective, BookTok on TikTok last year had about 91 billion visits. This figure increased from 60 billion the preceding year. At the same time, these views provided sales conversions for millions of books. Year-on-year increases in book sales resulting from these visits is estimated to advance about 40%. Understanding this, it’s evident TikTok has a very captive audience that could make a TikTok book publishing effort quite successful. Thus, it’s not surprising that ByteDance filed for a trademark in April as a book publisher. The company name was filed as 8th Note Publishing, which is stated to operate separately from TikTok. However, many expect this separation to be more in theory than in actuality. The benefits that both BookTok and TikTok could offer are simply too significant to ignore.
“I’m less concerned about TikTok becoming a publisher tomorrow because building a publishing infrastructure that works — that’s hard.” – Dominique Raccah, Publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks
The Leverage of a TikTok Book Publishing
The decision for ByteDance to get involved in a type of TikTok book publishing endeavor does make sense. As noted, BookTok on TikTok already has a tremendous ability to sell books on a digital social media platform. Therefore, being able to market, promote, and sell its own published books on TikTok offers quite an opportunity. In addition, ByteDance has a significant amount of user data, which could also be used to its advantage. For example, the most popular books on BookTok appear to be fantasy, romance, and mystery. This so happens to be the types of authors that ByteDance has begun to market.
Of course, there’s some additional benefits for ByteDance to explore TikTok book publishing. If it becomes successful in attracting popular authors, it could then promote them on their platform ahead of others. Instead of organic and user-driven rankings on BookTok on TikTok, ByteDance might rank its own near the top. ByteDance will also see trending authors new to the publishing world earlier on TikTok than its competition. As a result, they could begin recruiting them to its book publishing services first. Notably, this places other self-publishing authors as well as traditional book publishers at a disadvantage.
“They can get more eyeballs, but is that going to translate into sales? It’s not just about getting the hits, it’s about getting readers to buy the book.” – Cindy Hwang, Vice President and Editorial Director of Berkley
The Fate of the Book Publishing Industry
When Kindle first appeared alongside other e-readers, many prophesized the end of traditional book publishing was near. However, print and distribution persisted and continues to dominate revenues. Even book stores are making a comeback. The same was true of self-publishing platforms on various Internet sites. But while this has opened up opportunities for many new authors, traditional publishing warehouses still sign the biggest authors. This is because they can accommodate mass printing and distribution that brick-and-mortar booksellers require. For these reasons, many in the industry are skeptical of ByteDance and TikTok book publishing enterprise. They see it as simply as another idle threat that lacks the inherent physical infrastructure that success in the industry requires.
While this may indeed be true, it seems unwise to count ByteDance out given the success of BookTok on TikTok. In recent years, traditional publishers have been caught off guard by new emerging authors who attracted the public’s attention. Social media platforms in particular have been the locales where these new “stars” are being discovered. The sheer magnitude of data and insights regarding author trends that ByteDance has could create a more organic publishing funnel. And leveraging this to achieve massive sales could enable ByteDance to develop a required infrastructure faster than imagined. Time will tell, but the fate of traditional publishing hangs in the balance. It might just be TikTok book publishing that finally forces this industry into a fully digitized arena.