It’s easy to dismiss social media apps as idiot culture, TikTok perhaps even more so than its rivals. But the home of goofy dance clips and lip-synched videos is becoming a powerful driver of book sales, with reviews sending gangs of teenagers out of the digital cloud and back into stores.
o-One can predict what the next BookTok hit will be, but the effect of a popular recommendation on a new or long-released title is dramatic, says Maria Dickenson, managing director of Dubray Books.
“It’s been phenomenal this year, it’s really been the biggest revenue driver for us,” she says.
We meet in the coffee shop on the top floor of Dubray’s Grafton Street shop on a Wednesday morning, overlooking the groups of shoppers gathered below.
The atmosphere in the store itself is more like that of a library or church. Customers peruse the store’s offerings in respectful silence, praying the titles “Buy one, get half price” at the altar, or chatting quietly with the staff.
“[TikTok] really got the teen market rolling,” says Dickenson.
“I actually spoke to the manager here and a bunch of girls walked in – 10 of them – they all bought the same book. It’s not like they bought one to share.
“They had to read it and have the experience at the same time,” she adds.
BookTok, as it has come to be known, is an online community populated by a number of developers from around the world who review books and then discuss their favorite characters and plot twists on the app.
Something will suddenly take off out of nowhere
Because BookTok’s foundation is built on personal recommendations, it’s not just the most recently published books that quickly gain a following.
Videos shared from the BookTok hashtag in the app now have over 92 billion views. Colleen Hoover’s romance It ends with uswhich was first released in 2016 has now spent 81 weeks on it The New York Times Best-seller list after its rediscovery on TikTok during the pandemic
“But what’s interesting about it is that it’s pretty hard to predict because it’s very organic,” says Dickenson.
“There are BookTokers, but they advertise a lot what they like. There’s very little corporate or, you know, disclosure guidance in it. Something will suddenly take off out of nowhere.”
When Dubray realizes a potential BookTok favorite is emerging, it needs to act fast to get titles in stock.
In fact, the demand for books recommended on the app has become such a juggernaut in the literary world that bookstores, including Dubray, have dedicated entire sections of the store to books that caught the attention of readers on TikTok.
This frenzied appetite to snag the latest trending titles, which can range from fantasy to romance to poetry, is key to bringing reading to a younger, more tech-savvy generation, according to Dickenson, a 2022 version of the demand wave dusk or the hunger games over 10 years ago.
“I started out in libraries,” says Dickenson. She first studied in the UK before working at Trinity College and subsequently completing her Masters in UCD.
“After that I started working at Eason, actually as a sales representative for the wholesale business,” she recalls. At this time, Dickenson was selling books to her future employer, Dubray, as well as to a number of smaller independent shops.
She then moved into a purchasing role at Eason before taking the senior role at Dubray, a position she held for eight years.
“It was quite a transition because my roles were very product-oriented at the time,” she says. “It’s a lot more of a management job, so the books are a very important part of it, but there’s also all the human resources and finance and stuff like that.”
For Dickenson, 2020 was a transitional year for business — and not just because of the pandemic.
At the beginning of March this year, the company was acquired by Irish retailer Eason. Originally founded by Helen Clear in 1973, the company was then owned by Helen’s daughter, Gemma Barry.
Dubray still operates as a standalone brand and there have been no changes to its stores.
“It’s a very comfortable relationship,” says Dickenson. “I used to work for Eason, so I know the team there. They made it clear from the start that they are very different models and two very different companies.
“The intent wasn’t to change that, but to support it and let it grow.”
Since the first year of the pandemic, both the company’s sales and store space have shown clear signs of this growth.
For the year ended January 30, 2022, Dubray reported profit after tax of €1 million, compared to €0.7 million before the acquisition.
Sales for the same period were around 10 million euros, while stores were closed for the first few months of the year due to Covid restrictions.
“We’ve invested heavily in our website,” says Dickenson.
“It was more of a customer service center [in 2020].”
People are reading a lot more during lockdown
Now online sales would account for about 7 to 8 percent of total sales, according to Dickenson.
“A lot of new customers came along, too,” she adds. “People are reading a lot more during lockdown – there’s nothing like a book to take your mind off things and take your mind off the worries of the world.”
While book sales were “through the roof” during lockdown, Dickenson was aware demand could slack as pubs and cinemas welcomed pandemic bookworms.
However, since 2020 the company has opened three more stores in Dundrum and Henry Street in Dublin, as well as the company’s first in Cork.
“We’re really encouraged by the response to the stores we’ve opened so far,” says Dickenson.
Now, as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and consumers are cutting back on spending, Dickenson says she’s “fairly optimistic” book sales will remain buoyant.
“Perhaps in the past people were a bit more cautious,” she explains, referring to earlier periods of economic slowdown.
“It’s definitely having an impact, but less so than other discretionary spending areas.”
One challenge affecting book prices right now is the rising cost of paper. Right now there is not enough supply to meet demand while energy costs are skyrocketing.
“The paper has been a real challenge since the start of Covid because of environmental reasons and whatnot,” she says.
“If you look at the overall curve of book price increases over the last 15, 20 years, that’s a vanishingly small increase compared to the general cost of living.”
Dubray takes retail price as a guide to publishers who are now faced with tougher decisions such as where to buy because of these rising input costs. B. reducing the production of illustrated books or illustrated books.
Irish titles tend to rise to the top of the charts
“I suppose there’s some risk there, but it certainly hasn’t impacted our operations,” she adds, pointing to a wall lined with books.
Dickenson says she would like to see the business continue to grow to new locations in 2023, a year in which the bookseller will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“Finding the right place is a challenge,” she says.
“There are many bookstores in the country, so you always have to research there to find the right place in the right market.”
In addition, since 2019 the bookseller has been experiencing its first restriction-free Christmas season.
“We’ve never had one of those Christmases where you’re wading through customers with a stack of books to get to the checkout,” Dickenson said.
“The Irish love to buy Irish books at Christmas.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/tiktok-recommendations-are-upending-book-sales-as-army-of-young-readers-hit-shelves-42187248.html TikTok recommendations boost book sales as army of young readers hit shelves