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Concerns Arise as TikTok's Parent Company Ventures into Publishing, Raising Questions about Fairness

By: Haven Bombay Oravec

In a bold move that has caught the attention of the publishing industry, ByteDance, the parent company of the popular social media platform TikTok, has recently entered the world of book publishing. This development has raised concerns among industry professionals, as the company's vast influence and success in promoting best-selling books through TikTok may potentially give books published by its own publishing arm unfair advantages in terms of marketing.

Known for its short-form videos and algorithmic recommendations, TikTok has gained immense popularity over the past few years, amassing a vast user base and capturing the attention of content creators, influencers, and marketers. The platform's ability to influence trends and shape popular culture has not gone unnoticed, making it a powerful marketing tool for various industries.

ByteDance's publishing venture has already had a significant impact on the book discovery process, revolutionizing how readers find new titles online. While details about ByteDance's publishing plans are still scarce, the company's potential to sell a substantial quantity of books cannot be ignored. Despite facing increased regulatory scrutiny and concerns about its relationship with the Chinese government, ByteDance possesses an enormous and rapidly growing user base, with over 150 million TikTok users in the United States alone.

A significant portion of TikTok's user base exhibits a keen interest in books. Videos featuring the #BookTok hashtag have experienced exponential growth, accumulating over 91 billion views in the past year, up from nearly 60 billion views the previous year according to the New York Times. This book-related content has been instrumental in propelling numerous authors, such as Colleen Hoover, to the best-seller lists. The #ColleenHoover hashtag alone has garnered more than 4.2 billion views, and her books have sold over 24 million copies (New York Times). The sales figures driven by over 100 authors with large BookTok followings reached a staggering $760 million in 2022, reflecting a 60 percent rise compared to 2021, according to Circana BookScan, a company that tracks print sales.

The foray into publishing by ByteDance has ignited concerns that books published under the parent company's banner might receive preferential treatment when it comes to TikTok's marketing strategies, potentially diminishing the organic and user-driven nature of BookTok. Traditional publishers and self-published authors, who have come to rely on TikTok for book promotion, fear that ByteDance's involvement could result in biased promotion, crowding out other books and preventing them from gaining viral traction.

The potential synergy between ByteDance's publishing arm and TikTok could result in an uneven playing field for other publishers and authors. With TikTok's algorithm prioritizing content based on engagement and popularity, books published by the parent company's subsidiary might gain an unfair advantage over competing titles in terms of exposure, reach, and sales. This could lead to a situation where the book market becomes dominated by a select few books, limiting diversity and innovation.

Only time will tell how TikTok's parent company's venture into publishing will unfold and if the fears surrounding unfair advantages will materialize. As the industry keeps a close watch on these developments, stakeholders will undoubtedly be vigilant in ensuring that the book market remains an open and competitive arena, fostering innovation, diversity, and equal opportunities for all involved.

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