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Meet the rare bookseller successfully using TikTok to promote his prestigious Henley shop

By Steve Charnock
6 May 2022

A business' approach to social media will be dependent on a number of factors: industry, size, target audience, budget, all sorts. For many, there's little need for them to invest too much in digital marketing at all, let alone pay for Facebook ads or learn how to schedule tweets on Hootsuite.

To other companies, however, social media is central to how they not only market themselves to the world, but how they communicate with it too. That's why so much time and money is often invested in it. To varying degrees of success.

Imagine you hire a full-time social media executive, manager or both and/or take on the services of an SM consultant. A healthy budget is assigned and time is afforded to the growth of the project. A year later, the analytics are churned and numbers are way up, right? Not just the number of likes and followers, but clickthroughs too. And, vitally, sales. Perfect.

It doesn't always go like that, though. Social media is alchemy. Sure, there are SM professionals that will make you promises, but it's an inexact science. To make an impact on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or LinkedIn, you often need time and money. But you always need a hook.

Jonkers Rare Books have Tom Ayling. And Tom Ayling has a hook.


Not a book I get to see everyday, but it’s a privilege when I do #rarebooks #booktok #frankenstein #romantic #gothic

♬ Ambient-style emotional piano - MoppySound

The video-sharing content platform TikTok is huge. While its primary users are people sharing silly 20 second clips of them dancing or taking part in the latest social media fad, it can have quite a significant place in business too. How could it not? The app has over a billion active users.

Of that rather large number, Henley-on-Thames-based antiquarian bookseller Tom may only have just shy of 70,000 of them follow his fun and fascinating rare book videos. But with almost a million views and counting, it's a sizeable audience for a book shop, even if they are a well-regarded specialist dealer.


The publisher’s personal copies of the Lord of the Rings #tolkientok #lotr #rarebooks #booktok #lordoftherings

♬ original sound - Tom Ayling

Tom told us how it all started: "With lockdown in March 2020, we were unable to meet clients and show them books face to face. People stated asking for videos of them, so I began posting initially for that reason. Then as they got more views I started producing better quality videos for their own sake, rather than just incidentally. It became fun."

"All of the videos I make are about books we have for sale in the shop. I'm a bookseller and TikTok is one of the ways that we, as a business, talk about books and present our stock to the world. TikTok is a bit of a different from traditional methods of bookselling. Bookselling by video is an extension of normal bookselling, though. I'm still talking to people about books and - hopefully - getting them excited about them."


The story of D H Lawrence’s great novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover #rarebooks #booktok


What's particularly noteworthy - and pleasing for Tom - is how his videos reach new audiences, switching people onto not just the idea of purchasing rare books (from him or anyone else), but the joy of antique books in general.

"It's wonderful if my enthusiasm comes across because it really is genuine. I'm just putting these things out into the world and what's really gratifying is when people who didn't know they were interested in rare books - or books in general - learn about them and engage with them. We have had people contact us who have got the bug from the videos. Which is really wonderful."

"That's part of what we want to do. We want to introduce people to the world of reading, collecting and appreciating antique books. To get them excited about them. There's a certain joy in sharing how these books feel and how they're produced to a wider audience who may not have been engaged with it all before."

Jonkers Rare Books, Henley-on-Thames

Can other businesses take a leaf out of Tom's and Jonkers' book? Perhaps. To try and cynically replicate content like this would be a mistake, however. Your voice needs to be truly authentic. Genuine enthusiasm and a deep knowledge and understanding has to come across to those who click their mouse and tap their screens. Modern audiences are astute and particularly able to pick up on artifice from marketers.

That's not hugely encouraging for anyone out there seeking to up their social media game, admittedly. Organically charming marketing that chimes with an audience - and, of course, potential customers - can never be the result of a few meetings or a hastily-put-together campaign. In fact, it could be as rare as some of Tom and Jonkers' first editions.

You can follow Tom's videos as he posts them on TikTok. And see some of Jonkers' extensive rare book collection here on their website. Or, if you're in the area, you can pop into the shop on Hart Street in Henley.

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