There is a corner of the internet reserved for every community, and this is especially the case for book lovers on TikTok. Cleverly coined as “BookTok” by users, this space for bibliophiles on the social media platform has amassed a generous following, with the videos under its hashtag accumulating over 190 billion views globally. The rapid growth BookTok has gained since its inception in 2020 has garnered attention from media outlets, a designated table in every Barnes & Noble and, most notably, immense influence in the film and television industries.
While BookTok originated as a place where fans could encourage others to read their favorite books, it has become a breeding ground for book-to-screen adaptations. In the past year alone, many of the films and television series released on streaming services were originally trending BookTok titles, such as “Lessons in Chemistry” and “Red, White & Royal Blue.”
Books like “The Song of Achilles,” “It Ends With Us” and “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” are among the numerous other BookTok books currently in the process of being adapted for the screen mainly because of their popularity on the app.
While this is the first time that TikTok has had this kind of industry pull, it’s not the first time that studios and producers have looked to fans on the internet to determine what projects they’ll invest in.
The 2010s was a decade full of book-to-screen adaptations of novels that rose to fame on social media platforms like Tumblr and YouTube. Adaptations of books like “The Hunger Games” and “The Fault in Our Stars” specifically targeted the young adults who professed their love for them in these digital spaces.
According to Asst. Media Studies Prof. Lori Morimoto, however, this trend goes back a lot farther than the 2010s. Describing it as a “new incarnation of a very old phenomenon,” Morimoto explained that the tactic dates back to the early days of Hollywood.
“The thing that kind of drives changes in [media industries] overwhelmingly is the desire to guarantee an audience for something that they put out,” Morimoto said.
She said that what the entertainment industry is doing now with BookTok is what it used to do with popular actors and genres.
“[Movie stars], genres, things that you can generalize and that you can build a critical mass around in terms of popularity — those are for the industry, the closest they can get to guaranteeing an audience for a product,” Morimoto said.
Morimoto pointed out that an entity like BookTok, which she describes as “grassroots in origin,” has completed the hardest part for any film or television production — generating interest. This leaves the studios with the simpler task of figuring out how to capitalize on it.
“When people are flocking around [something], and sort of congregating there, [the studios] are looking at it and just going, ‘Built-in audience!’” Morimoto said. “They’re already there.”
What makes this more interesting is that the majority of those flocking to Booktok are women, which is a demographic Moritmoto says the entertainment industry historically hasn’t recognized as a legitimate audience.
Morimoto said that starting in the 1970s the film and television industries shifted away from more family-centric media to instead make “intelligent” and “darker” works, which targeted male audiences specifically and were categorized as more reputable than the latter.
“Women, you know, we've always been an audience, but not a highly valued one,” Morimoto said.
To her, these more recent book-to-screen adaptations that cater to female audiences specifically are an indication that the industry is starting to see them as valuable viewers.
“I think there's more realization now [in the entertainment industry] of women's media fandoms in particular, it’s so visible online,” Morimoto said. “I think there's a growing appreciation of that audience.”
All of this considered, it is no shock that Sara Dunklee, class of 2023 alumna and graduate History student, has seen many of her favorite books go from trending on BookTok to film and television sensations. She said that this new era of page-to-streaming service adaptations is something she fully embraces.
“I honestly have enjoyed seeing new interpretations and tellings of these classics that I grew up reading,” Dunklee said.
Dunklee said that while some users on BookTok are skeptical of these screen adaptations of the books they hold so dear, she thinks they instead should celebrate them because they are avenues for new audiences to get into the literary worlds these pieces of visual media bring to life.
“We should be framing it as a way to invite in a new audience to love the same story we do,” Dunklee said. “Film and television adaptations can inspire audiences to take a chance on reading the book that inspired the production.”
For third-year College student Carson Arnold, the feeling is mutual. She said it’s “very special” when books get adapted for the screen, mentioning the television adaptation of “Daisy Jones & the Six” specifically as one she was extremely excited about.
“[The show] was just as magical,” Arnold said, explaining that the show contained all the things that fans love about the book. “I would be lying if I said that I have only watched the show once.”
Like Dunklee, Arnold sees these BookTok-influenced adaptations as giving books beloved on the app the chance to resonate with others outside of this online space.
“More people can enjoy both the message and the storyline, which is lovely,” Arnold said. “I believe BookTok has greatly aided in this process, and I see nothing wrong with that.”
As Morimoto’s words suggest, the waves that BookTok is making in the entertainment industry is an indication of a shift away from traditional avenues of media production, with studios and producers going to fans directly to get ideas for new projects.
With the screen adaptations of “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” and “Leave the World Behind” set to release on streaming before the end of this year, it’s an exciting time for fans hoping that their favorite book is next to get the BookTok-to-screen treatment.