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Booksellers celebrate TikTok for driving a reading revival with young customers

The most popular app in the world is motivating young people to put down their phones and pick up a good book.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — They speak their own language. 

"There's a lot of acronyms for books," Barnes and Noble Bookseller Kathryn Clare, who works at the store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, told 2 On Your Side. "For example, Song of Achilles, we'll say like TSOA for the song of achilles. Obviously TBR," which stands for "To Be Read." 

They're trend setters. 

"The only other time that I can remember a push like this towards books, is when Oprah had her TV show," the store's Lead Bookseller, Tracy Czwojdak, said. "When she would announce her pick, people would come in before the show was over, looking for it."   

You could say they're obsessed. 

"Every day. All I want to do is sit down and read," another Barnes and Noble Bookseller, AJ Petrillo, said. "I listen to audiobooks in the car. I listened to my book on the way here. It's an everyday thing for me now, because of Booktok." 

Because of what? 

#Booktok - it's the hashtag people use when they go on TikTok to talk about books they love. 

Czwojdak has one word for it. 

"Amazing. I've been the book industry for the better part of 16 years," she said. "I started at my first bookstore in 2006. I've never seen anything like this."   

She's talking about sales that are through the roof. 

Barnes and Noble has seen a spike since the pandemic, and Director of Books Shannon DeVito says with strong sales to start off the year, 2022 is on track to outperform the previous three years. 

Which is why, when you walk into a bookstore these days, you might see some staff members performing skits, dances, or creating other videos on their phones. 

"Our manager said once our Instagram reached a certain number of followers, we could have a TikTok," Senior Bookseller Sam Schnell said. "We hit that almost immediately, and now our TikTok is doing significantly better than our Instagram." 

Schell oversees the @BNAmherstNY account, which has more than 100,000 likes. 

@bnamherstny

Reply to @scarletdragsen #barnesandnoble #bestbninbuffalo #booktok #bookrecommendations #it #stephenking #weallfloatdownhere #fyp #foryou #monday

♬ Blade Runner 2049 - Synthwave Goose

"I take everyone's ideas, occasionally my own when I think I'm funny, and kind of direct the videos and edit them into the final product," she explained.  

"It's fun," Clare said. "We'll come to work, and a new end cap will show up our displays, and we'll be like, we have to, we want to promote it. So we'll do some sort of audio and film a video based on that display to promote that book, and people will come in asking for it."  

 As you can imagine, it's usually people from a specific demographic. 

It's usually around like college kids," Bookseller Elizabeth Cotton said. "I'd say like middle school to college is the stereotypical age range."

"A lot of younger people are getting the physical books," Bookseller Peter-Mark Raphael said. "A lot of older people will be like, I'm looking for this magazine, or can you help me with me nook, and younger people are like, I would rather have this book, I want to have it with me."

"It's just that normalization of reading, for especially like the younger generation," Petrillo summed up. 

Independent booksellers are seeing the same trend.

"The store was kind of always the older demographic, and younger families with children that are buying children's books," said Bob Lingle, owner of Good Neighbor Books in Lakewood. "It's really nice now that we're finally able to close the gap there and we're getting younger readers." 

Lingle took over Good Neighbor Bookstore, which used to be called Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, in 2018. As the store's sole proprietor and employee, he's also the face of its TikTok account. 

"I went from just kind of casually watching videos on TikTok, to like, oh I need to start utilizing this myself," he said. 

The platform has helped him connect with readers far beyond his small Chautauqua County village, especially through his popular curated book box sales, which he promotes on TikTok and has sold to readers across the country. 

@goodneighborbooks

50 State Curated Book Box Update #booktok

♬ original sound - Good Neighbor Bookstore

"We have regular customers now that don't live anywhere near us," he said. "We recently rebranded our bookstore as Good Neighborhood Bookstore, so it's very much on brand for us as a place that are trying to be good neighbors and connect with the community, be it our local community or more of a national audience through TikTok."