Why Gen Z are the new bookworms

Why Gen Z are the new bookworms

March is World Book Day, and whether your child is happy to dress up as their favourite book character or too cool to care, there's another way to make your kids read. #BookTok is the powerful book-loving community on TikTok that's boosting Gen Z's zeal for reading and turning them into bookworms. 


Thanks to #BookTok, book sales in the UK have boomed in the past two years, with total sales for the UK's publishing industry reaching £6.9 billion. Moreover, over 669 million books were sold last year, the highest overall level ever recorded. 


According to the Publisher's Association, #BookTok plays a significant role in this resurgence of reading, with two-thirds (60%) of 16 -25-year-olds saying #BookTok has helped them discover a passion for reading. Creators under this hashtag make videos recommending, reviewing, and generally talking about the emotional impact of the books they have read. The hashtag has now been used in over 60 billion videos, and its influence is helping Gen Z to see the benefits of reading for fun.


This is good news for Gen Z - a generation with a so-called short attention span who spend more than 6 hours a day watching online content. Data shows that not only has #BookTok amassed more than 226 billion views, but sales of child and young adult fiction are now the biggest growing area of the publishing world. 


Gen Z leads the new reading curve

As a result, UK readers aged 14-25 have become the most prominent consumers of fiction. According to Nielsen BookData, Gen Z buys an estimated 61 million books and spends £496m, representing 18% of the overall book market. The largest portion of their purchases stems from child/young adult fiction.


Author Justin Somper of Pirate Academy, whose Vampirates books have sold over a million worldwide, says, "At a time when we’re often told young people are reading less, and that attention spans have plummeted, it’s a pleasant irony, that it’s a social media platform that is actually bringing young people back to books in such a powerful way. You only have to take a quick dip into #BookTok to see the knowledge and energy they bring to their reading choices with peer-to-peer recommendations.”


Interestingly too, physical books are winning out, with the Nielsen survey showing that 80% of respondents aged 14-25 said they preferred reading a book, compared to 30% for e-books and 18% for audiobooks. 


As for what they read, sales of funny stories, crime & thrillers, classic books, and romantic ones are all booming. Some of #BookTok's bestsellers are brand new debut books, but others are a decade or more old, as seen by the best-selling young adult fiction book of 2023, Laura Nowlin's If He Had Been With Me, which was initially published in 2013.


How does #BookTok help with reading

The main reason #BookTok sells so many books is because the videos feel authentic and personal. These posts are not about selling books and making money but about creators telling you how they have been emotionally touched by the books they read.


One fear from parents is that some of the books being recommended are adult reads, so booksellers have also been trying to make clear when books contain adult content. On the Waterstones online listing of the Booktok sensation Icebreaker, the bookseller review warns the novel is a - spicy romance for readers 18+ and adds, “Not only is this romance for adult readers, it also contains themes of disordered eating. Please check the trigger warnings before reading.”


Other book choices on #BookTok have come under fire from critics for poorly written or weak ideas, but Gen Z doesn't care. A case in point is author Coleen Hoover, the current stand-out star of #BookTok. Despite criticism, four million copies of her book It Ends With Us have sold in the US, and 20 million Hoover books have sold globally. Self-published initially, It Ends With Us became a phenomenon over the pandemic directly through #BookTok, and its success means it's now being made into a film.


Even if your child is not on TikTok, they have probably bought a book made famous by the platform, as the community's favourite titles are on all the bestseller lists, and many bookshops now feature "Popular on BookTok" tables in prominent positions. Inkheart, Earthsea for the 8+ and older readers, Circe, and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig are just some of the big reads from #BookTok. Plus, on the classic front, we’re seeing the resurgence of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie's books.


#BookTok reading habits

As for #BookTok's influence on reading habits, a survey conducted on TikTok users from the United States reported an increase in Gen Z’s reading activity due to their exposure to BookTok: 48% of TikTok users say they now read more books than before the use of BookTok and 62% of TikTok users from the US have read at least one book based on a BookTok recommendation.


In the UK, 14% of UK book buyers were TikTok users in the last 12 months, rising to 37% of 13-24s and peaking at nearly half of 16-19 year-olds. Gen Z, aged 13-24, bought 65m books (17% of the overall book market) and spent £538m on those books.


When asked what genres they've read/used over the last year, for 13-24-year-old book buyers who use TikTok, both young adult fiction and fantasy/science fiction dominate. Beyond those leading genres, the two that see the strongest edge for TikTok users are romance stories and vampire/paranormal/dark romance.


The breadth of what's being recommended and read on #BookTok was shown at the TikTok Book Awards 2023, where thousands voted on TikTok for their favourite authors and books. Winners included classics like Never Let Me Go, Orwell's 1984, Noughts and Crosses and One Day, winning alongside new reads like Honey & Spice and Lies We Sing to the Sea.


If you're intrigued by the above list or looking to inspire any non-bookworms in your house, the best way to get the most out of this hashtag is to find books for every mood and feeling. Search under #BookTok, and you can find posts on Books. I haven't stopped thinking about (1.9 million views) to Books to get you out of a reading slump and the ever-popular Books that got me back into reading (2.2 million views). 


Written by Anita Naik Published Feb 22, 2024 ● 3 mins