Over the last two decades, the internet has had an incredibly influential role in the writing and literary community. From the days of Tumblr blogging and Wattpad fanfiction, to the current popularity of BookTok, the literary landscape is constantly evolving as a result of social media.
The 2000s saw a rise in the popularity of blogging. However, according to the Daily Dot, most blogging sites were difficult to use and had high barriers to entry. This all changed with Tumblr’s rise to popularity. Tumblr brought blogging to the masses, and “allowed users to register their own Tumblr URL, customise their blog, and easily share videos, text, and GIFs”. Techcrunch also reported that Tumblr’s success was a result of the site making it possible for users to find an audience – something that had been extremely difficult to do on traditional blogging platforms – while also maintaining users’ anonymity. Most users on Tumblr did not want to be discoverable by the people in their lives, which Tumblr made possible with “the oldest privacy-control strategy on the Internet: security through obscurity and multiple pseudonymity”. This made Tumblr different from the other popular social media platforms of the time. People, especially teenagers, were able to express their true thoughts and feelings, and find a community with whom they could really connect.
During the early to mid-2010s, Wattpad took the internet and the literary community by storm. Digital reported that, by 2011, Wattpad had one million users, and, by 2012, the company reported that users were spending a billion minutes each month on the site. Wattpad has only continued to grow in popularity since. Wattpad, with its social media-like design, allowed people to write, share and read others’ books easily and for free.
In an interview with The Lit Platform, Allen Lau, the cofounder and CEO of Wattpad, said that “[m]ore and more people are going to access content through the screen and the internet has opened up the floodgates for a lot more people to become content creators”. According to a survey done by the New York Times, 81% of Americans want to write a book, but for a long time this goal was virtually impossible for most people. Wattpad introduced the platform that finally made writing a book, and sharing one’s written work with the world, attainable. Lau also went on to say that for “a lot of writers their motivation may not be making money. For most people the motivation is having someone to appreciate their creation. They care more about people showing appreciation of their work”. Wattpad also popularised fanfiction to an entirely new level. Wired reported that, in 2014, “Anna Todd’s series After – a One Direction fanfic – was picked up by Simon & Schuster and became a New York Times bestseller”. Many other Wattpad books, fanfiction or otherwise, have also seen incredible commercial success due to the platform’s enormous influence.
In 2021, TikTok is one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, hosting short videos on every topic – from dancing and cooking tutorials, to comedy skits and fashion-related content. The New York Times reported that “videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending”. BookTok has also become a massive commercial influence. According to the New York Times, some bookstores even have shelves dedicated specifically to BookTok, because “no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does”.
Shannon DeVito, the director of books at Barnes & Noble, said, “[we] haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats”. In a few short years, the BookTok community has breathed new life into the literary community, instilled a passion for reading into countless young TikTok users and has allowed many literary enthusiasts to share their passions with the rest of the world. The full power of BookTok on the literary world, however, still remains to be seen.
Image: Cletus Mulaudi