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The Booktok Scandal : My Insights

Hello Readers & Friends,

I thought I'd do a more serious, educational post today with my own personal insights on the 'booktok NYT scandal.' A lot of book bloggers are upset at the moment, after the NY Times posted an article about Booktokers shifting mountains of books and being paid for collaborations, with more traditional book reviewers on platforms such as Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram feeling really disheartened as a result of not being paid for their own work.

But there are also a lot of things which have not been taken into account, or flagged in the article, which I do want to quickly let you guys know about. For background, I work in publishing as a marketer and used to work in influencer marketing for fashion brands. So I worked with influencers a lot, and now I'm one of the people who send out books to bloggers (although PR handle a lot of this, too).

I just want to clarify as well - I do NOT speak on behalf of my workplace, or publishing as a whole. Each team, each company, and even each marketer works differently. In fact, at my office I think I'm one of the only marketers who includes influencer strategy in my campaigns and it's only because of my previous work experience that I do so. 

So, here are some things to cover.

How I personally choose influencers to work with:

 - The most important thing I look at, is country. I know that this upsets many people who are based outside of the UK/US, but the fact is that I need whoever posts about my book to have a majority audience in the UK, where the book is selling. If a page doesn't have the country clearly displayed, I will find someone else because we don't have the time to contact everyone who may or may not be in the UK to find out. 

Other factors to note for why country is so important are:

- Increased cost of shipping books internationally

- Where we have rights to sell a book. The majority of books I work on are UK only, with a few being US and Canada also. This means that another publisher handles the book abroad, so I shouldn't be marketing in that country. For example, a book published in the UK by Penguin may be published in the US by Harper Collins, so the UK publisher wouldn't be approaching US bloggers.

- I will also take into account the type of book that the blogger usually posts about, quality of content, and followers (though I don't focus too much on followers, I'd rather have a nice review from someone with 800 followers than nothing from someone with 20,000). 

How budgets work:

Okay, this is where things get a bit tricky and lines blur but the key thing for everyone to know is:

- Marketers do not just get a big pot of money to work with, that can be used where they want, when they want. Sadly for me!

This means that for every decision we make, we have to work out the return on investment. For this reason, most marketers will always prioritise digital advertising, because it's proven to work, rather than working with influencers. This is because for every person who sees an influencer talking about something (which, by the way, is always substantially less than the number of followers that blogger has), the average click-through to that item is about 2%. Of those 2%, maybe half of them will actually make a purchase if you're lucky.

- Where I work, every book is allocated a different budget. So when the publisher tells you they don't have budget for their book, they really probably don't. Even if they have paid in the past for another title for a sponsored post, it doesn't mean that they have that budget for every single book. I WISH I did! But sadly, I do not. 

Why it's not bookstagram vs booktok

The communities and audiences on Booktok are totally different to Bookstagram, so I hope that creators don't feel they are being unfairly shunned and that Booktokers are getting paid 'instead of' them.

In general, I personally only really collab with bookstagrammers. This is because my main book genres are commercial women's fiction and thrillers, and I know that Instagram is the best channel for that audience. 

I think Booktok is probably much better suited for YA audiences and fantasy, sci-fi readers, but I don't do many of those books so I can't speak for those marketers. But I don't think bloggers should be competing with each other based on what channels they use.

For example, a business book I'm marketing will be advertised on Linkedin. This doesn't mean that Linkedin is 'stealing business' from book bloggers on Tiktok, it just means it's the best channel for that particular title and I've had to make a prioritisation based on what will generate the most sales. So I hope bloggers don't feel disheartened or like they've been taken for a ride by publishers! 

Legalities to know

I do think it's really important that bloggers know the legal rules and ASA Guidelines, and aren't taken advantage of. The key things to know are:

- If a publisher sends you something for free, it's UP TO YOU whether you post about it or not. Just because they send you something, doesn't mean you have to review it. So when I send out books without payment, of course I am hoping that they will like it and therefore share it with their followers, but I'm aware that I am not entitled to a post without payment. This is why I'll usually reach out to bloggers who have read similar titles or genres, so I know the chances of them enjoying my book and sharing a good review are higher. 

- If a publisher does have budget to pay you for a post, make sure you have agreed on what type of post and a posting date if required so everyone is on the same page.

As a book blogger and Bookstagrammer myself, I understand both sides of the coin, truly I do. And I WISH I was paid for my content, but knowing what I do from my job, I know it's just not realistically possible. I wish that as a marketer I had money to pay all the bloggers for their amazing content, but sadly it's not a case of publishers refusing to pay bloggers rather than really just not being able to.

 So don't feel disheartened if a publisher tells you they can't pay - because next time maybe they will be able to! 

Keep doing what you do because you love it, and don't compare your work or results to anybody else's. I think those are the two key things to remember to stay happy while you blog. It's what I try to remember for my own channels! 


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