TikTok Sells A Lot of Books. Now, Its Owner Wants to Publish Them, Too.

The new publisher began recruiting self-published romance authors earlier this year. The suggestions delivered by generic email were impersonal and formulaic. The terms were far from generous, and sometimes the book rights were worth only a few thousand dollars.

Then came the clinchers. It is published by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. TikTok is a short-video trafficking social media company that has helped create some of the biggest bestsellers in the market over the past few years. In addition to upfront payments and royalties, the company offered comprehensive online marketing services, according to several authors and publishing experts familiar with ByteDance’s offer.

“This could be the next big thing,” said Mariah Dietz, a self-published romance author, of ByteDance’s publishing arm.

The company is already fundamentally changing the way people find books online. ByteDance has said very little publicly about its early-stage publishing plans, but it’s clear that the company has the potential to sell a huge amount of books.

Despite heightened regulatory scrutiny over concerns about possible influence by the Chinese government, ByteDance has amassed a huge audience and continues to grow. Many TikTok users (more than 150 million of him in the US alone) are interested in books. Last year, he had more than 91 billion views on videos with the #BookTok hashtag, up from his nearly 60 billion views the year before, according to the company.

Exposure on this platform has led many authors to reach bestseller lists. Among them is Colleen Hoover. Posts tagged with #ColleenHoover have been viewed over 4.2 billion times and her books have sold over 24 million copies of hers.

According to Circana BookScan, which tracks print sales, BookTok’s more than 100 authors with huge followings will reach $760 million in sales in 2022, up 60% from 2021. So far this year, sales have increased by nearly 40 percent compared to last year.

“It’s safe to say that this is very important at this point,” said Beth Braswell, senior publishing director at Harlequin.

byte dance applied for a trademark In late April, publisher 8th Note Press described the company as offering a range of book publishing products and services. The description says it will create an ecosystem where people can find, buy, read, review and discuss books.

The company also hired romance industry veteran Katherine Peltz as an acquisition editor.

ByteDance declined to confirm details about its publishing and retail operations, including the genres it plans to publish, when the first titles will be released, and whether the books will be sold in traditional stores.

Despite little known about their intentions, ByteDance’s presence in the field has already caused concern.

By leveraging TikTok’s ability to draw attention to books and their vast user data, ByteDance could endorse its own authors at the expense of others, diluting BookTok’s organicity and user-drivenness. But it’s a prospect that worries many TikTok users and authors.

The company could also put traditional publishers and self-published authors at a disadvantage. Even as they become more dependent on platforms to promote their books, publishers find it difficult to produce viral book videos because users tend to reject anything that feels corporate or inauthentic. I am aware of that.

Their concern is that ByteDance may prioritize its own projects, leaving less room for other books and posts that spread organically. Responding to questions about its promotional plans, the company said 8th Note Press is a separate entity from TikTok.

So far, ByteDance’s advances have not competed with those of traditional companies. Independent printers pay only a few thousand or tens of thousands of dollars, while for large publishers, upfront payments can range from around $50,000 to millions. ByteDance said it could not disclose any financial arrangements with the authors, but added that it believes its offers match industry standards.

For now, ByteDance appears to be focusing on the platform’s popular genres of fantasy, romance, and mystery.

Best-selling romance author Tricia O’Malley, who has self-published about 40 novels, received an offer from ByteDance in April to buy the rights to two of her books. O’Malley said the deal includes a social media marketing campaign, royalties and an upfront payment of $3,500 per book, which is less than the title could earn each month.

She said the company was interested in fantasy and romance, old and new books, stories that were “wholesome, fun and sexy, but not too steamy or too dark.”

She declined the offer, but said she was tempted, “The reality is BookTok sells books.”

For others, it may be difficult to resist the company’s promise of providing authors with strong online marketing.

Ella Fox, a self-published romance author and advertising consultant who runs ad campaigns for other authors on TikTok, said ByteDance could probably algorithmically prioritize its own books. “People would grind their teeth to get in front of that audience and be pushed like that,” she said.

Some industry insiders are skeptical that ByteDance can carve out a sizable portion of the market, in part because the publishing industry is a stubbornly analog, relationship-oriented business. According to the Publishers Association of America, print sales still make up more than 70% of his revenue for industry publishers. New major publishers need print and distribution capabilities and bookstore relationships.

“I’m not too worried about TikTok becoming a publisher tomorrow because it’s hard to build a functioning publishing infrastructure,” said the publisher and CEO of publisher Sourcebooks. Dominic Lakka said.

It’s unclear what the company’s plans for print distribution are, or if it intends to sell the books in brick-and-mortar stores. In an email seen by The New York Times, ByteDance told authors it plans to focus on digital books with limited print-on-demand publishing until TikTok launches. online retail store.

TikTok is already changing how people get books. Traditionally, readers learned about new authors from booksellers. Publishers now learn about topical authors from booksellers who come to them at the request of readers.

Bloom Books, a publisher of romance and women’s fiction within Sourcebooks, has partnered with several previously self-published authors, including Scarlett St. Clair, Piper CJ and L.J. The book was in demand by buyers at Walmart and Barnes & Noble, so they signed the deal.

“I started hearing from accounts saying, ‘This author is trending on TikTok, but we can’t get the books,'” said Molly Waxman, executive director of marketing for adult fiction publications at Sourcebooks. said.

Berkley acquired books by Ruby Dixon, author of the “Ice Planet Barbarians” series, which began as a self-published and became one of the first TikTok phenomena, and self-published twin sisters Christa and Becca Richie. bottom. Addicted series. Avon has signed self-published author Mariana Zapata, who has over 280 million views on TikTok.

Some editors and publishers have wondered if ByteDance can detect self-published viral authors that have started to make headlines and swoop in to sign them before they become obvious targets for other publishers. Some people are.

Some industry veterans are comforted by the fact that ByteDance will likely face the same challenges as traditional publishers. Readers are fickle, and after all, a viral video won’t automatically make a blockbuster if the book itself isn’t compelling.

“We can get more attention, but will that translate into sales?” asked Cindy Huang, Berkeley’s vice president and editorial director. “It’s not just about making a hit, it’s about getting readers to buy the book.”

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