BookTok is white-centered as Hell

For many people, BookTok has re-awakened a love and need for reading that they’ve lost over the years. For others, BookTok has given new opportunities and experiences that couldn’t be found on Bookstagram, BookTube or other social media channels.

For me, I love the idea of BookTok. It’s addictive, for one. Once you join, it’s hard to let go. And it does boost book sales and help push for younger people to read more. It’s also difficult to learn, difficult to tap into via the TikTok app algorithm. It’s hard to be discovered. But something about BookTok is inherently obvious and noticeable upon first joining.

When it comes to BookTok, it is inherently obvious that the younger generation of readers that are among us are just now discovering books that some of us grew up with, books that have already hit and lived on the New York Times  Bestsellers List several times over; and other generations of book lovers are catering to this resurgence of backlist, bestselling titles. While this isn’t a necessarily bad thing, the problem with these books gaining traction over and over again is that it makes it difficult for new books or lesser known backlist titles to break out and gain higher readership.

Within the first day of joining BookTok, I noticed that the same seven to ten books were being continuously posted about or referenced in videos. This isn’t to say these are the only  books I saw under the #BookTok hashtag (which features 22.5 billion videos), but they were the main titles that were continuously repeated across multiple different creator accounts. Those titles include: Shadow & Bone and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, From Blood & Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout, It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas, Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.

Do you see the pattern here? Out of all of those books, there is only a single one that is not written by a white author. One  book out of ten.

BookTok, whether it wants to admit it or not, is white-centered as hell.

This is a problem that has been talked about on and off again online, mainly Book Twitter. BookTok has a running, monthly pout that “it’s not only  white books” or “we don’t recommend the same books over and over again.” There’s even a popular sound BookTokers will use that says BookTok “doesn’t only recommend the same five books over and over” that pops up on the tag at least twice a day.

So, I decided to do some research.

Screen Shot 2021-10-04 at 6.37.53 PM
#BookTok tag on TikTok

At first, I did some exploring on my own. In one afternoon, I watched 15 videos on the #BookTok tag. While watching, I kept tally of how many BIPOC-authored books were mentioned in comparison to white-authored books. Out of those 15 videos, 36 books by white authors were mentioned, and only five books by BIPOC authors were mentioned. Five to 36. This is an obvious imbalance, and it should be proof alone that there’s a problem.

But I wanted to go further with this, so I took to Book Twitter, Bookstagram, and BookTok, and I announced that I would be doing an anonymous survey based on if BookTok was white-centered or not. As I have been talking with multiple creators in all of the book communities across social media, I thought I’d already had my answer and was just looking for the numbers to back it up. But what I found was extremely interesting.

The Survey Results

I consulted quite a few people before putting out my survey, as I wanted to include questions not only I wanted to know the answer to, but others people thought necessary to see and hear on a survey of this nature. I made sure to include those who are mainly on TikTok–meaning those who post and  take the time to watch videos–for the best results. I even went out of my way to comment on other’s videos asking for their participation.

Screen Shot 2021-10-06 at 6.47.06 PMThese are the results I’ve received from 26 respondents.

In response to my question, “Do you think that BookTok is white-centered,” 88.5% of respondents answered ‘YES.’ 7.7% responded ‘PREFER NOT TO ANSWER,’ and 3.8% answered ‘NO.’

88.5% of respondents answered yes to BookTok being white-centered.

As a follow up to that question, I asked respondents why or why not.

One respondent answered this: “I’ve noticed more white-authored bestsellers being “sold” via TikTok as the epitome of Fantasy, Romance and Sci-Fi under the Underrated Books section of booktok. Not much BIPOC or queer books of the same genre being held in the same regard.”

Another respondent answered: “I’m white too and I still have A LOT to learn, but the thing with most white creators is that they’re doing the bare minimum, or even less. They applaud themselves for including perhaps one or two BIPOC books, while those are actually some of the most mainstream BIPOC books and they use those over and over again. I do notice that if you join the diverse side of booktok, most people really give their everything and there are many BIPOC creators! It’s just stupid that their videos don’t get the attention they deserve.”

A third respondent said: “I get my recs from booktok and I’ve never seen a BIPOC book recommended there. Every book I’ve seen is white people. The fancasts too. The edits as well.”

Now, what does this tell us? This tells us that the expectation and noticed average of books seen on TikTok are by white-authors and the main BookTokers they see are white.

Disagree, despite the testimonials? Let’s take a look at the other results.

In response to my question, “How many creators on BookTok do you follow,” 34.6% of respondents answered more than 50 BookTokers. 23.1% answered 20-30.

To follow up with that question, I asked, “Out of the BookTok creators you follow, what percentage are BIPOC.” Respondents tied in their answers for 10-20% and less than 5%, both results equaling 30.8%. That’s over 60% that said there was over less than that they saw. That is an enormous disparity in contrast to the results of the previous question, with the highest chosen answer being 50+ BookTokers followed.

So, let’s do the math.

We’ll start with a base of 50 BookTokers. 10% of 50 creators is 5, and 20% is 10. 5% is less than 3 (two and a half to be exact). Can you see it now? Over 60% of respondents have confirmed that out of the 50 or so people they follow, they don’t even follow HALF of the amount of white creators.

But that isn’t all.

In response to my question, “How many BookTok videos do you watch per day,” 42.3% of respondents answered 10 or less, with 30.8% answering 15-30 and 26.9% answering more than 40. This doesn’t seem like a huge number, right? Before we go making judgements, let’s take a look at the follow-up question.

Screen Shot 2021-10-06 at 6.52.43 PMIn response to my question, “Out of the [BookTok videos] you watch, how many of them feature 3 OR MORE BIPOC-authored books,” 46.2% of respondents answered 10-20%, with 34.6% answering less than 5%.

With this in mind, let’s take the base of 10 and multiply it by 10%. It equals one. One video on BookTok, out of 10, features 3 OR MORE BIPOC-authored books. 10 times 20% is two. Think about that for a moment. Again, we are seeing a number that is drastically less than the halfway mark, but that isn’t so surprising, is it?

My final question pertaining strictly to BookTok alone was, “On average, how often do you see the following books on BookTok: “Shadow & Bone” by Leigh Bardugo, “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas, “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, “From Blood & Ash” by Jennifer L. Armentrout, “It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V. E. Schwab, “Punk 57″  by Penelope Douglas.”

57.7% of respondents answered more than 50% of the time.

Over half of the respondents that participated in this survey are saying they see these books, books that are all white-authored, more than 56% of the time while watching videos on BookTok.

Let’s pull back to the earlier ‘why or why not’ question. One answer ties very well into the previous question’s results. The respondent answered: “Booktok tends to rediscover bestsellers from a few years ago imo and the industry was even more white dominated then than it is now. It’s a closed feedback loop where everyone reads the same kind of content and continues to discover the same kind of content.”

Another respondent said: “BookTok seems to be stuck on books that were popular years ago and is slower to catch up with newer releases.”

Now let’s take a look at my final question, pertaining to the book community as a whole. I asked, “Out of the following social media, which are you more likely to turn to for BIPOC book recommendations?” 34.6% of respondents answered Book Twitter, with 19.2% answering Bookstagram and 15.4% answering Book Blogs. BookTok wasn’t even in the top three, meaning readers are untrustworthy of it providing BIPOC book suggestions.

So, What’s Your Point?

The point of this post is to make people think more about how BookTok is severely lacking in comparison to other bookish communities. Don’t get me wrong, all book communities center whites, but BookTok most of all. Whereas other communities have made efforts to uplift BIPOC creators, authors and books, BookTok struggles to do the same.

I want people, specifically BookTokers to think about these results instead of defending a mainly white space and claiming that they don’t do what has been clearly proven above. We’ve seen people time and time again go after BIPOC authors for the littlest things, but when it comes to their white favorites, they’ll turn the other cheek and put on sunglasses.

What Can We Do To Change These Results?

This is fairly simple, and it mainly goes to white people.

  • Uplift BIPOC creators. Share their accounts, promote their content, do what you can—be it through commenting, following or other things—to be sure that they will get the same attention and opportunities as highly popular, white BookTok creators.
    • And if you have the means, send them Ko-Fi’s, Venmo’s, or Paypal’s. Send them something off of their book wishlists. Do what you would for a white creator, but double it.
  • Promote more BIPOC-authored books. Instead of promoting Sarah J. Maas or Jennifer L. Armentrout of all people, who are known to be racist and problematic, find a BIPOC-authored high fantasy series that you love and share it the same amount you would those white authors. Do the same for contemporary BIPOC-authored books, and not just ones that focus on their pain or suffering. Uplift those that celebrate their joy. Spam the shit out of the BookTok tag with all of those books.
  • BUY/PRE-ORDER BIPOC-authored books. The main issue with BookTok is that readers are turning to white-authored books that have already been out for years and already have large-scale fandoms. By driving up sales in BIPOC-authored books, you’re telling publishers that that is what you want to see and read more of. By getting those books on the BookTok table, you’re then pushing for the same advantages and opportunities that white-authored books never had to struggle for.

There’s so much more than just these three bullet points too.

By not doing anything, you’ll be allowing this problem to continue. You can’t rely on someone to do the work for you. Do your part and step into a role that actively supports marginalized and under-appreciated authors and books so that they can have the same and bigger opportunities white authors and books have been spoon-fed for decades.


Liked this post? Please consider supporting me on Ko-Fi!

giphy

2 thoughts on “BookTok is white-centered as Hell

  1. They applaud themselves for including perhaps one or two BIPOC books, while those are actually some of the most mainstream BIPOC books and they use those over and over again. I do notice that if you join the diverse side of booktok, most people really give their everything and there are many BIPOC creators! It’s just stupid that their videos don’t get the attention they deserve.

    Whoever this respondent was, they hit the nail on the head.

    I love love love LOOOOVE when people do studies on bookish platforms like these! Love this post soooo much!

    Like

    1. I agree entirely and couldn’t have said it better myself. A lot of the respondents had such amazing answers, and it was hard having to pick only a few. 😭

      And thank you so much!! It means a lot to me. ❤

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s