Content begets content.
Two of the US’s biggest books this year, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, were made possible by your social media likes and shares.
Kaur got her start as a massively popular Instagram poet of sentimental aphorisms. Now she’s a bonafide book celebrity, pushing more than 1 million print copies of her two books, Milk and Honey and The Sun and her Flowers, just in 2017. Together they’ve spent a combined 95 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list. Kaur’s meme-machine has spawned even more content: A parody book quoting Vine videos has spent four weeks on Amazon’s weekly bestseller list.
Snyder has sold at least 200,000 print copies of his book, which isn’t a lot by Insta-epigram standards, but is pretty good for a pocket political manifesto. The historian’s book started as a Facebook status he posted the week after Donald Trump was elected US president. It was shared 18,000 times. His book, which came out in February, has spent 28 weeks on the New York Times’ paperback nonfiction list. By contrast, Snyder’s previous book, Black Earth, spent two weeks on the hardcover nonfiction list.
YouTube has helped at least one author this year find his bookish fans. William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at University of Texas at Austin has been viewed 5 million times, and became a book in time for graduation this year. Make Your Bed has spent 31 weeks on the New York Times how-to bestsellers list and has sold at least 350,000 print copies.
On the longer end of the content spectrum, quality TV seems like it might be yet another distraction for potential readers, but in fact, increased demand for streaming TV is helping drive book sales and rights deals. This year Jay Asher’s 2007 novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, hit the Times’s young adult list again after the TV adaptation came out on Netflix in March.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s 1986 dystopian novel, had a big comeback in 2017, thanks to an adaptation that premiered in April on Hulu. This year, Atwood sold at least half a million print copies of the book, which spent at least 40 weeks on the Times’ paperback trade fiction list. It’s the number two book on Amazon’s overall bestsellers list for the year. Off the success of the show and book, Amazon offered digital copies free with an Audible trial and as part of its Kindle Unlimited subscription service this year, making the Handmaid’s Tale the site’s “most read” fiction book this year.