How TikTok is driving book sales in Bloomington-Normal | Books

BLOOMINGTON — Social media app TikTok may be best known by non-users for its viral dances and lip-syncing videos, but some communities within the digital space are benefiting local businesses.

For avid readers, TikTok has created a home for people to review, share and meet other book lovers. A community known as “BookTok” has formed on the app, connecting people with fellow bibliophiles, along with authors who might not have otherwise hit the mainstream.

“It’s a group of people coming together to share their love of books, to connect over their love of books, as well as discover new books and authors they’ve never heard of,” said Jennifer Emberson, of Normal, owner of online boutique Literary Creations by Jenny. “I think it’s a really great community.”

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TikTok uses an algorithm to create personalized feeds for its users. That means people who have accounts and who interact with content such as book reviews or authors promoting their material are then more likely to be shown more of those types of videos. 

The potential audience is huge: Videos with the #booktok hashtag have reached over 48 billion views and counting. 

Barnes & Noble, which has a location at 1701 E. Empire St., Bloomington, is one business that has embraced the BookTok community, creating display shelves to show what’s trending. The company and individual Barnes & Noble stores also have their own TikTok accounts featuring employees and their favorite books.







Jennifer Emberson

Jennifer Emberson of Normal started her online Bookish boutique in 2019, where she sells handmade protective book sleeves and apparel. Emberson has grown her business by gaining followings on social media such as Instagram and TikTok.




“We’ve seen sizeable lifts across hundreds of titles because of the #BookTok community,” Shannon DeVito, Barnes & Noble director of books, told The Pantagraph. “Paperback books that have been on the shelves for years are now selling ten times what they normally would because of snappy, emotional reviews on the platform (and the sales increase is coming primarily from our physical stores).”

Emberson sells handmade book sleeves that protect books from getting damaged. She also makes and sells T-shirts, bookbags and other literary-related goods through her online business. The store got its start in 2019 and has cultivated fans through online spaces such as book blogs, Instagram and, most recently, TikTok. All items are handmade.

Through sharing her love for books on Bookstagram (a community of book lovers on Instagram) and BookTok, Emberson said she was able to quit her previous job to focus fully on her small business.

“All my customers come through Instagram or TikTok, (TikTok) previews and (Instagram) reels,” said Emberson. “The business has grown by almost 100% because of those communities.”

“I’ve used it as a form of advertising to increase awareness of my business.”







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Several authors on display April 6 at Bobzbay, 419 N. Main St. in downtown Bloomington, have benefited from exposure on TikTok.




While new and used bookstore Bobzbay, 419 N. Main St., Bloomington, does not use TikTok anymore, owner Elizabeth Aspbury said she has noticed a trend in older books that have gained popularity on TikTok now selling out.

Aspbury used the Uglies book series by Scott Westerfeld as an example. Bobzbay had held copies of the books for more than a year before people suddenly began asking if the store carried them. Aspbury said she later learned the books were trending on TikTok.

Other authors have also been able to garner large audiences on TikTok and social media, which has helped them break into the publishing world.

But TikTok is not the first type of social media that has allowed a community of book lovers to form. Aspbury said nearly a decade ago, people were using YouTube to share book reviews and to connect with other people over literature. People later migrated to Instagram and now TikTok.

“I’m seeing the same exact thing now as I did on BookTube,” said Aspbury. “We’ve used TikTok a little bit, but not a whole lot. It’s a lot to keep up with. I’ve seen a lot of the same sort of genres pushed on TikTok as I did on BookTube.”







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TikTok collaboration has helped booksellers like Bobzbay, 419 N. Main St. in downtown Bloomington.




Aspbury added that social media allows people to connect and hear directly from authors. Personal connection is a huge driver in book sales, she said, and if people can meet the author virtually for 10 or 15 seconds, then they are more likely to purchase that book. 

“I’ve seen an increase in sales for multiple reasons,” said Aspbury. “People want to support the author more if they really enjoyed the digital copy, or the library might not have a copy, or they just really like physical copies because they’re trying to check out from digital stuff. Bookselling has been a job for centuries; we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

“I think there’s a lot of beauty in the physical book.”

Contact Sierra Henry at 309-820-3234. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_sierrahenry.

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