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German literature finds unlikely social media partner in TikTok

Best-selling German author Sarah Sprinz's series of young adult books has received a boost from an unlikely quarter: a community of literary enthusiasts on social media platform TikTok.

German Author Sarah Sprinz poses for a picture with her book at the TikTok Stands during the 23rd Frankfurt Book Fair
German Author Sarah Sprinz poses for a picture with her book at the TikTok Stands during the 23rd Frankfurt Book Fair on October 21, 2022. (Photo by ANDRE PAIN / AFP)

The #BookTok trend has exploded in recent times, with a growing number of readers posting reviews and engaging with writers, while authors use it to promote their works.

To some, it seems counter-intuitive — a platform known for short and often light-hearted videos is not the obvious place to encourage an activity like reading that requires deep concentration.

But videos with the hashtag have racked up billions of views, and helped to propel the popularity of some works, while bookshops are rushing to set up stands where creators can film videos.

The trend “is super important for me”, Sprinz — author of the hit “Dunbridge Academy” series, set in a boarding school in Scotland — told AFP in an interview at the Frankfurt book fair.

“Personally for me, I believe it played a role (in my success), because I have seen a lot of videos recommending my books.”

The trend, which often sees creators post emotionally charged reviews of books, has been particularly effective in attracting a new audience of younger readers, said Sprinz.

“I think it is nice that through TikTok, a completely new, younger target audience is becoming aware of reading,” said the 26-year-old.

‘Impact on book sales’

According to TikTok — which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance — #BookTok has received more than 84 billion video views to date on the platform, and successful genres include romance and fantasy.

“#BookTok has become the place for book recommendations and discovery as well as for sharing reviews and tapping into fan culture,” said Tobias Henning, general manager, TikTok Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.

It is also “having a real world impact on book sales globally”, he added.

One success credited to #BookTok is that of US author Colleen Hoover’s novel “It Ends With Us”, which saw sales soar after it gained traction in the community.

A typical review shows a woman sobbing as she reads the novel, with music playing and a voiceover reading, “I’ve never cried for so long after a book.”

With the clout of #BookTok growing, the annual Frankfurt fair, the world’s biggest publishing event, has made TikTok a partner for the first time.

Several creators and enthusiasts are also in attendance.

“I mostly do (Tiktok) content about books, mostly about novels, and I try to upload two videos a week,” TikTok user Sofia Reinbold, who came to the fair after reading about it on the platform, told AFP.

The 17-year-old added she had received “feedback from people who have bought books after watching my videos”.

‘Multiplier’ effect

For Sprinz, the #BookTok phenomenon is driven by the fact that TikTok is a visual platform, allowing people to show how they feel about a book.

And people being stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated the trend. 

“A lot of people perhaps felt a bit lonely and isolated,” she said, adding it was a good platform “to network again and find common hobbies like reading”.

She also downplayed the suggestion there was somehow a contradiction between spending more time on social media and trying to promote literature, noting that people read in different ways nowadays, including on e-books and smartphones.

But social media alone “cannot make a successful book”, she said.

“TikTok and #BookTok are a kind of multiplier, and a good opportunity to pass on recommendations for books.”

But “there must be more to it,” she said. “The book must of course be good.”

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CULTURE

Beckmann self-portrait breaks German auction record

A self-portrait by expressionist artist Max Beckmann smashed the record price for a painting sold at auction in Germany, when it was put before buyers in Berlin on Thursday.

Beckmann self-portrait breaks German auction record

As the hammer came down, the highest bid for Beckmann’s “Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa” (Self-Portrait Yellow-Pink) stood at 20 million euros ($21 million).

Beckmann’s work, which features the artist during his Dutch exile from Nazi Germany, is widely considered a masterpiece.

The sum was “the highest price that has ever been offered for a painting”, auctioneer Markus Krause told the room to applause.

Including fees, the price of the self-portrait will come to €23.2 million, according to the auction house Grisebach.

The previous German record was set in 2018 by another of Beckmann’s works, “Die Ägypterin” (The Egyptian Woman), which fetched €4.7 million.

READ ALSO: Art in Germany: 10 critically acclaimed galleries you can’t miss

The record price for a painting by the artist was set in 2017 when his work “Hölle der Vögel” (Bird’s Hell) — among Beckmann’s most important anti-Nazi statements  – sold at Christie’s in London in 2017 for £36 million.

Beckmann’s self-portrait was initially a gift to his wife Mathilde, known as Quappi, who kept it until her death in 1986. The picture had been in a private Swiss collection for decades, and not shown in public since the mid-1990s.

The painting was displayed behind glass at a public preview ahead of the auction to guard against vandalism by climate activists who have recently been targeting artworks.

Beckmann (1884-1950) enjoyed massive acclaim in Germany during his lifetime, with top dealers placing his work with private collectors and major institutions.

That was until the Nazi regime labelled his daring, politically charged art “degenerate” and removed his paintings from German museums in 1937.

READ ALSO: Germany returns final Nazi-looted artwork from pensioner’s trove

Professionally thwarted and increasingly under threat, Beckmann left for Amsterdam, where he lived in self-exile for a decade before moving to the United States.

Beckmann would ultimately die in New York at the age of 66, of a heart attack on a sidewalk on his way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paintings by Beckmann, now considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, have exploded in value in recent decades.

The most paid for an artwork this year was $195 million, for an iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe by American pop art visionary Andy Warhol.

The bumper price tag is the second largest all-time behind Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, which sold in 2017 for $450.3 million.

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