As the owner of Village Well, a bookstore that opened during the height of the pandemic, Jennifer Caspar knew that TikTok was becoming a major influence in online book communities. But Caspar wasn’t convinced to use the platform until a woman applied to work at the Culver City-based bookstore with a TikTok video describing her reading taste.
Since then, Village Well’s account has gained over 1,000 followers.
“I am always asking—and we don't fully know the answer to this—how much does TikTok engagement correlate to more business in the shop?” Caspar says.
The content created by the Village Well for TikTok includes everything from controversial videos like “YA books I hated” to highlighting an employee’s favorite books. Or as Kevin Milton, Village Well’s social media manager, says, “We've been tapping into conversations to navigate the BookTok space.”
To make sure its videos are reaching local readers, the store hosts giveaways through TikTok—with the catch that the winner has to pick up their prize in person. Milton says this tactic aims to “convert them to regular visitors.”
Also in Culver City, The Ripped Bodice has seen a direct correlation between the business' 28,000 TikTok followers and in-store shopping.
“There is an incredibly high actual conversion of TikTok to in-person visitors,” says store owner Leah Koch. “Every weekend, we have at least five to 10 people who say ‘I saw you on TikTok.’”
Koch regularly makes videos documenting how she makes different decorations for the shop. Last winter, Koch featured the store’s Hannukah window display, in hopes of highlighting the store’s vibe.
Other videos show the behind-the-scenes of events like in-store proposals and curating a book bar for a wedding—in theme with the store’s romance angle—have gone viral. But even more casual videos, like a day in the life of a bookstore owner or one using a trending Taylor Swift audio, are filled with commenters proclaiming their love for the store.
Local BookTokers are taking cues from the store’s account and have taken to filming their visits to The Ripped Bodice. Creators show off the store’s crafty decor and film book hauls afterward. The store’s interior, with books plastered to the walls and hanging from the ceiling, lends itself well to aesthetic TikToks.
That said, BookTok’s influence extends beyond virality, as trending titles influence how The Ripped Bodice manages inventory. When someone like Colleen Hoover, who exploded in popularity in part due to BookTok, has a new release, Koch says the store orders an increased amount of copies. They will also stock new authors if employees see them trending on TikTok, as was the case with Lauren Asher and Ana Huang, two indie authors whose books went viral last year.
“Book clubs reinvent themselves in new ways all the time,” Koch says. “This is the newest version.”
Still, Caspar says BookTok has been more of a driving force than other online book spaces. Even within Village Well, she often hears shoppers specifically reference TikTok as they peruse the shelves. Part of this, she says, is due to TikTok’s age demographic, which skews towards teens and young adults—people who will share their passion online. TikTok’s algorithm heightens this enthusiasm, as it promotes videos with intensely positive or negative thoughts that stir up comments and response videos. Compared to other platforms, Caspar says it’s much easier to get completely absorbed into watching content on TikTok in a way that encourages fervent fandom.
“It seems so much more intense,” Caspar says. “I never saw anything that was this buzzy on YouTube or Bookstagram.”
Milton says TikTok helps Village Well engage with fans, recreating the communal feel of the store in an online space. Series like the Village Well Choice Awards allow viewers to vote for topics ranging from Best New Release to Best Cover Art.
Caspar says TikTok helps the store reach online readers. But the end goal is channeling that sense of community back toward the physical store.
“It's funny that we're talking about social media because the point of Village Well is to be an in-person gathering place where people can find connection,” Caspar says. “It's like an antidote to people spending time online.”
- New Yonder App Aims To ‘Harness' the Power of BookTok ›
- After Inspiring Musicals, TikTok Is Funding a Theater Production of Its Own ›
- The LA Public Library Takes on TikTok ›