No, BookTok Is Not the New Shein

Has BookTok turned literature to fast fashion? (Credit: Passionfruit)

You can always tell when a TikTok trend goes mainstream, because it starts becoming oversaturated to the point that the hashtag becomes pretty much inescapable. You can barely move in Barnes & Noble for all their “as seen on BookTok” signs, and I know more about Colleen Hoover than I ever really wanted to.

Either way, it’s no exaggeration to say that BookTok has given the publishing industry a new lease on life, driving more young people to read than English class ever did.

This year alone, book sales are already up by 50%, and TikTok has even partnered with Barnes & Noble to continue engaging readers. Thanks to BookTok, TikTokers are 48% more likely to read than they were before — but not everyone is convinced that the literary trend is a force for good.

In a TikTok now viewed over 600,000 times, BookToker and literature student Katy (@wordswithkaty) lamented how BookTok, in her opinion, has become fast fashion.


Books are fast fashion. Authors are cranking out poor quality, unedited books and publishers are lapping it up cos thousands of y’all hype this trash up on this app 💀 #unpopularopinion #booktok #publishing #poorquality

♬ original sound – Literally Donald Duck

“BookTok has destroyed the quality of the publishing market,” she explained in the clip. “I’m sick of picking up hyped, ‘sensational’ books that are unedited Wattpad fics I would’ve read at 13. Get some standards.”

She added in the video description that “authors are cranking out poor quality, unedited books and publishers are lapping it up” — but is that really a fair assessment? It’s true that the kind of books BookTok blows up are tailored towards a young adult audience, but that doesn’t automatically make them ‘lowbrow’ literature.

The truth is, these YA-type novels couldn’t be further from fast fashion because unlike that SHEIN top, they have a ridiculous staying power. In the 2010s, for instance, schmaltzy tragiromance “The Fault In Our Stars” was the centerpiece of countless Tumblr blogs. Before that, it was the Hunger Games. And then Twilight.

These types of conversations and fandoms around YA novels have always been present. The only change is that BookTube and Wattpad are being swapped out for self-published smut and a TikTok account. Looking back, erotic novels like Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t look out of place alongside current BookTok romances — so it’s not like publishers are printing more of them. They just so happen to be the genre of books that blow up on the internet, no matter what social media network accompanies it.

Maybe the rate BookTok books are consumed makes them comparable to fast fashion — but a slightly cheesy love triangle plot is a lot less concerning and problematic than child labor and vast CO2 emissions.

It’s true that BookTok novels are a little trashy sometimes, but trashy novels have existed as long as time itself. It’s okay to not be a fan of these types of novels, but why can’t we just stop there? Why does there have to be an intellectualized, noble reason for not liking something?

Just because something goes viral on TikTok, that doesn’t automatically make it bad. If you make that assumption, you’ll be judging a book by its cover. Literally.

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories