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Authors Guild Opposes Proposed Ban on TikTok, Citing Concerns for Authors

Black phone with TikTok logo in front of background featuring repeating TikTok logos

Updated March 18, 2024: The Authors Guild opposes HR 7521, the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.” This bill effectively seeks to ban TikTok in the United States by making it unlawful for app stores to carry the TikTok app and for internet hosting providers to host the TikTok website unless the TikTok app is divested from Chinese ownership, which is unlikely. If enacted, the law would violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans, including many authors, who rely on the platform to share their work, build their audiences, and earn income. Moreover, HR 7521 would grant the President broad power to designate other social media platforms “foreign adversary controlled applications” with the barest of safeguards or process (the bill only requires the President to publicly inform Congress about the national security issues 30 days prior to the designation).

TikTok has become an invaluable tool for authors to connect with readers, promote their books, and generate significant income streams, especially at a time when book advances have been shrinking and record numbers of media and publishing companies have slashed their workforce due to economic and technological uncertainty. According to data collected by the Authors Guild last year, the median annual income for full-time writers in 2022 was just over $20,000, putting most full-time writers at or below the poverty line.

Kristen McLean, a BookScan analyst, emphasizes the importance of BookTok for book discovery, stating in Publishers Weekly, “BookTok is really, really important for book discovery.” She notes that in today’s social media-driven world, BookTok is especially crucial for finding books for younger readers. The platform has also been instrumental in launching new stars, such as Rebecca Yarros and Carley Fortune, whose books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies since their release.  

McLean further highlights the significance of BookTok in an article written by Constance Grady for Vox magazine: “It’s one of the strongest drivers that we’ve seen in the US market in the last couple of years. It is the only area of the market right now with very strong growth. When I look at the data, there’s no other area of the US publishing market that we can pin that’s seeing that level of year-over-year growth right now. That’s the third year of growth for these authors.” 

According to Publishers Weekly, adult fiction has been the steadiest-selling category in publishing for the past 18 months, with unit sales of print adult fiction books up 8.5 percent in 2022 and 4.2 percent in the first six months of 2023. The biggest driver of these gains has been books backed by BookTok. 

The success of BookTok can be attributed to its personal nature. According to Grady, “TikTok’s native format of short, punchy videos and culture of casual chattiness combine to create an atmosphere of intense intimacy between content creators and their audience. In the book world, that kind of intimacy and emotional connection is rare.” 

The bill takes a heavy-handed approach to valid concerns about national security and the safety of Americans’ data, setting a dangerous precedent for government overreach and control over online speech. The First Amendment protects Americans’ rights to use the media and forms of communication they use. Banning TikTok would not only violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans but also deprive some authors of a powerful tool they use to build their careers, connect with readers, and generate significant income. The Authors Guild urges the Senate to reject the bill. Protecting Americans’ data is important, but can be achieved through other means—such as comprehensive privacy legislation—without unduly burdening Americans’ speech and creative expression.