New Chapter: Social Media Giant ByteDance Ventures into Publishing

ByteDance, the tech giant behind TikTok, has made its entry into the publishing industry. Following TikTok’s phenomenal impact on book sales and discovery, there is speculation as to how ByteDance’s publishing venture might shift the publishing landscape. The move has sparked debates, as some worry that the company may favor its own authors, possibly tilting the scales. 

ByteDance’s entrance into the publishing industry follows its successful transformation of how books are discovered online, according to the New York Times. The parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, has shown the potential to sell a huge quantity of books. Even under scrutiny due to possible influence from the Chinese government, ByteDance commands an expansive and continually expanding audience. TikTok users, numbering over 150 million in the U.S. alone, display significant interest in books.

The hashtag #BookTok has received over 91 billion views, a surge from nearly 60 billion views the previous year. This online exposure has skyrocketed numerous authors to best-seller status. Videos tagged with the popular author Colleen Hoover’s name have received more than 4.2 billion views, contributing to over 24 million copies sold of her books.

In 2022, book sales driven by authors with large BookTok followings amounted to $760 million, showing a 60% increase compared to 2021. This year, the sales have risen by nearly 40% compared to last year. These figures underline the enormous importance of TikTok’s impact on the book industry.

However, ByteDance’s foray into publishing, starting with a trademark filing for the publisher “8th Note Press”, has triggered concerns. There are worries that the company might exploit TikTok’s massive user data and ability to direct attention to books to prioritize its own authors. This could potentially disrupt the organic and user-driven nature of BookTok.

Traditional publishers and self-published authors might find themselves at a disadvantage, even though they heavily rely on TikTok for book promotion. There’s concern that ByteDance might favor its own publications, leaving less room for other books and posts to gain organic popularity.

While ByteDance’s advances don’t yet match those of traditional publishers, they appear to be focusing on popular genres on the platform like fantasy, romance, and mystery. The company has already started making offers to authors, promising robust online marketing for its authors. The company’s potential to direct the algorithm toward its own books could prove irresistible to many.

But, ByteDance has to overcome certain challenges. The publishing industry still primarily operates in an analog and relationship-driven way. Print sales continue to dominate, contributing more than 70% of trade publishers’ revenues. ByteDance would need substantial printing and distribution capabilities, and strong relationships with booksellers to make a significant impact in the industry.

While TikTok has redefined how books are discovered and acquired, traditional methods like recommendations from booksellers remain valuable. Publishers are learning about viral authors from booksellers, who relay reader requests. The trend has led to some self-published authors getting signed on by traditional publishers.

However, industry veterans also acknowledge that even with ByteDance’s potential to reach larger audiences, it doesn’t guarantee sales. The ultimate test will be whether the books themselves are appealing to the readers.

Therefore, as ByteDance unfolds its publishing chapter, the industry watches, with a mixture of anticipation and concern, how this new entrant will shape the future of book publishing.

This article references an original report by the New York Times.

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