Paperbacks Writing Fire Tweets: A Case Study in Social Media Marketing

Twitter is probably the last place to expect two book publishers to get into an argument. And you would be forgiven for wondering if there even were prominent book publishers anymore with the advent of the Amazon Kindle and its online store threatening to remove publishers from the author-to-reader equation. So, how does the rest of the book publishing industry survive Amazon’s onslaught? If you are Brooklyn-based independent publisher Melville House, you subtly allude to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in a tweet with the slogan “Make Publishing Great Again” this past Friday and hope for someone to get the joke. Thankfully someone did, none other than Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade publisher owning 25% of the market with $4 billion in revenues. The Twitter exchange between the two publishers was delightfully dorky, and indicated how a struggling industry can still stand strong within the constantly changing dynamics of its field.

What separated the exchange from the usual chaotic conversation of Twitter were the parties involved. The idea of two NYC-based book publishers responsible for billions of dollars of revenue acting like high school students from Mean Girls was beyond surreal, and since the authors of the posts were using their company handles it was impossible to separate the person from the company. So this resulted in Melville House tweeting lines such as “omg are you out of books… do you need some books” to Penguin Random House, who responded with “NO god, go away,” all for the world to see. The winning line went to Melville House who, after Penguin Random House joked that they always throw all of Melville House’s books into the trash compactor, fired back with the line “We hate books – Penguin Random House,” a wonderfully bizarre statement that referred to recent national politics where baseless lies are the norm.

While the interaction was of course harmless fun, it was a marketing win for both publishers, with book lovers everywhere retweeting the conversation, carrying the story to more conventional media outlets for increased coverage. It also underscored the value of the book industry beyond just putting pieces of paper together, as it is truly a necessary arbiter for what is factual and fit to be published for public consumption. And while Amazon remains a constant threat—its product names Kindle and Fire seeming predatory from a book publisher’s perspective—it is comforting to know that there remains enough confidence and swagger from the publishers that they are playfully duking it out online to everyone’s benefit.

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