Inside the Penguin Random House Play to Reach Excited Readers on TikTok’s BookTok

Much has been written about how almighty algorithm shapes our tastes in everything from food and music to movies and books, but Penguin Random House is leaning toward TikTok’s main #BookTok trend to help users discover titles and interact with fellow readers.

On Tuesday, the publishing giant announced a new deal with TikTok that allows people to link to books in videos using the popular hashtag #BookTok while also working with various creators to sponsor content. The feature will direct users to a page with additional information about the book and other related videos created by many TikTok users. According to Sanyo Dillon, chief marketing officer of Penguin Random House, BookTok provides an “emotional journey” that leads to more successful videos compared to those that only provide a book summary.

“It’s so powerful that BookTok is driven by real people, and it makes real recommendations,” Dillon said. “And because the best videos capture that feeling in the book, this in turn gives viewers and users more confidence in discovering their books on their way to discovery.”

For years, curated recommendations within libraries have helped direct readers toward new titles they might be interested in. But does relying on a social platform like TikTok to deliver relevant content broaden or limit potential readers from broadening their horizons?

It’s not necessarily one or the other, Dillon said. She noted that the impact of many bookstores often limits the number of books that can be sold or how different books can be promoted on the shelves. For example, she said, the TikTok communities within BookTok might help people read more books in a particular category than before, provide a larger pool of related authors to choose from, or help someone discover more books by their favorite authors.

Much of BookTok’s adoption has been driven by organic content from regular users, but Penguin is trying to get closer to its role by co-creating content for TikTok. With creators and users. Although Penguin works with thousands of creators across its various affiliates, it has also hired three small influencers within the company, including two for TikTok and one for Instagram.

“We understand that the algorithm can be quite efficient, but you can kind of stay on your path once you get into that algorithm,” she said. “We want to kind of broaden awareness of the different categories we publish and the authors we publish each year.”

To do this, the company has recently created other technology-based initiatives. Last year, I created a tool called Today’s Top Books that aggregated data across every platform on the Internet where Penguin titles are talked about and those popular titles are shared at any given moment. Penguin has also started other, more coordinated initiatives on other social platforms such as All Ways Black, an Instagram community that highlights black authors and books.

Dillon said how Penguin’s experiences with online initiatives depends on different book titles and platforms that cater to different audiences. For example, you mentioned that Penguin is also experimenting with newer platforms like Roblox for the Who Was Young Adult series.

How Penguin creates content for different social platforms depends on how users interact with each one. Dillon said the books gaining traction on TikTok are often fiction so they might focus more on novels, but they might lean more on Twitter when it comes to non-fiction headlines on timely news topics. Penguin is also trying to keep people off social media. This summer, I created a new campaign called Slow Down Reading a Book that encouraged people to put down their phones and pick up a book.

Penguin isn’t the first company to officially partner with TikTok on BookTok: In July, the platform worked with Barnes and Noble and several other content creators on a summer reading challenge. Stephanie Frayling, vice president of commercial strategy for the bookseller, said the company had created initiatives on YouTube and Instagram in previous years, but TikTok was “more explosive.”

“For us, it’s about participating in the conversation,” Friling said. “Recommendations increase the sales of books that readers talk about.”

Since BookTok started in 2020, the trend has continued to grow, with hashtag views rising from 21 billion in November 2021 to 60 billion by July and 77 billion today. It is yet to be seen whether Penguin’s BookTok feature will gain traction, but it may depend a little on whether and how creators use the feature and how it increases viewership.

BookTok can also be confusing by creating a paradox of choice, said Grace Hoy, director of social media strategy at VMLY & R, but Penguin’s new features can help readers navigate recommendations more quickly. However, she added, longer viewing times often help creators rank higher in the rankings, but if the tool allows people to highlight books without watching everything, they may move forward.

“It starts with a lot of storytelling,” Howe said. “What’s interesting is that it makes you watch the whole road through a lot of directions. They describe the plot, or what is emotional, and often you have to wait until the end, or sometimes even the comments themselves to find the recommendation.”

Penguin wouldn’t reveal the terms of its new TikTok deal or how much it’s spending on the platform, but data from ad tracking company Pathmatics found that the publisher spent $1.4 million on TikTok this year, with monthly spending ranging from less than $50,000. in March to $450,000 in April. These ads helped get 143.2 million impressions on the platform. Penguin only spent more on two other social networks – Facebook and Instagram – spending $2.6 million from January to August. (So ​​far in 2022, Penguin has spent $8.76 million on digital advertising compared to $8.26 million in 2021 over the same period, according to Pathmatics.)

Other major publishers haven’t spent nearly as much on TikTok, according to Pathmatics. So far this year Simon & Schuster has spent $187,000 and earned 18.7 million impressions, Harper Collins has spent $200,000 on 19.8 million impressions, and Hachette has spent just $600 on 57,000 appearances. Meanwhile, other major publishing house McMillan hasn’t spent anything on the platform.

Social platforms like YouTube and Instagram had features for publishers in the past. But Thad McIlroy – an independent analyst focused on the publishing world – said BookTok’s popularity and ability to drive sales were unprecedented and that publishers “have never seen anything so dramatic in terms of social media”.

TikTok says it may extend the feature to other publishers, but the deal is now exclusive to Penguin. That may give Penguin an unfair advantage, according to McElroy, who added that many popular BookTok discussions already feature Penguin books. Instead, he believes the new features should be accessible to both major competitors and smaller publishers.

McIlroy also mentioned Penguin’s ongoing attempt to acquire another Simon & Schuster – another publishing giant – which is still stuck in a legal battle with the US Department of Justice over concerns that it might create a publishing monopoly. According to McElroy, the exclusive TikTok deal is “one more reason” for the Department of Justice to block the merger.

“All the big publishers are trying to participate aggressively [BookTok] And finding a way to turn it to their advantage,” McIlroy said. “Of course, they should try to take advantage of social media trends, so that everything makes sense. It’s really TikTok that shouldn’t be doing these kinds of exclusive deals at the expense of the rest of the ecosystem.”

Inside Penguin Random House’s play to reach avid readers on TikTok’s BookTok

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