Question: Is Twitter a great tool to engage directly with readers, or is it just an echo chamber?
It’s a trick question, of course, but if response to Electric Literature’s experiment with Rick Moody is an indicator, the answer might not be one social marketing evangelists want to hear.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog picked up on the negative reactions to the initiative yesterday, noting “Rick Moody’s Twitter Short Story Draws Long List of Complaints“:
Titled “Some Contemporary Characters,” the story revolves around a man and a woman who meet through an on-line dating site. The criticisms of the piece are less with content than distribution. In addition to Electric Literature’s Twitter feed, several partners agreed to co-publish the story, like Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. As the L.A. Times’ Jacket Copy blog points out, these feeds tend to share followers, so some Twitter users have been inundated with repeat tweets of Moody’s story. One bookseller wrote “Please, please stop the madness.”
The decision of some co-publishers to publish Moody’s story while continuing their normal tweet flow also means the narrative is continually being disrupted by unrelated tweets – the Web equivalent of an audience standing up during a speech and carrying on cross-conversations while the speaker continues to talk. Michael Cader wrote a piece for Publishers Marketplace outlining these issues with the subtitle “Moody’s Twitter Story Backfires.” He said the criticism “underscores how extremely sensitive audiences are — especially on social networking sites, where communication feels very personal and is always immediate.”
One of the story’s co-publishers was the California independent bookseller, Vroman’s, who abruptly ended the tweets mid-story, shortly after the Speakeasy post. Today, Vroman’s webmaster Patrick Brown had an insightful post asking, “The Rick Moody Twitter Saga: What Are We All Doing Here?”
The Moody Twitter experiment (and Moody wasn’t to blame for its failure, though I’m sure the first couple comments will be “ZOMG!1! Rick Moody is teh suck!1!!1″) depressed me for a number of reasons. First, it made me wonder what we’re all doing on Twitter. If so many of my followers are book industry people, am I wasting my time with it? All this time, I’d hoped I was reaching customers. To be sure, Twitter is useful for talking to colleagues in the book industry, and I’ll continue to use it for that purpose, but if it doesn’t have a reach beyond that, I’m not sure what the point is. So much of the dialog that happens on Twitter and on the literary blogs feels masturbatory to me. It’s the same couple hundred people talking about the same issues to the same audience. Is that what I’ve been doing these past few years? Is that what the book business is at this point? If it is, then to quote the modern day philosopher Bunk Moreland “We ain’t about much.”
The book business is in major decline, and while we can all howl about the reasons why, the main one, it seems to me, is that not enough people read (and those who do, read less than they used to). There are more ways than ever to get your entertainment and information, and books are having a lot of trouble keeping up. Those of us who rely on selling books for a living need to devote a lot of time to finding people who are not readers. We have to grow our market, or we are in for a very dark future indeed. The reaction to this Twitter experiment seems to indicate to me that we’re not all that interested in doing it. Or maybe we are, as long as it doesn’t interrupt our conversations about ebook formatting and the National Book Awards.
The comments to the post (as of 5:30pm EST) make for interesting reading and together raise a number of interesting questions for publishers and booksellers alike:
- Is Twitter a great tool to engage directly with readers, or is it just an echo chamber?
- Was Electric Literature’s experiment an epic failure; an innovative idea lacking on execution; or a successful publicity stunt?
- How can publishers and booksellers engage casual and non-readers effectively in an age where response comes in real-time and criticism flows more freely than praise?
That last question is one we’ll address next week in Indie Booksellers and the Digital Transition: Opportunity Knocks?, a FREE webinar that will discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for independent booksellers, and what a digital future means for them.
Debbie Stier, SVP/Associate Publisher for HarperStudio and Director of Digital Marketing for HarperCollins will moderate a lively conversation with our panel of veteran independent booksellers: Stephanie Anderson, WORD (Brooklyn), Patrick Brown, Vromans (Pasadena, CA), and Bridget Warren, Vertigo Books (College Park, MD).