Who 'owns' readers?
01.06.12 | James Spackman
Social media is inescapable in publishing right now.
Mediating contact between writers and readers has always been part of a publisher's role. Indeed, on a rather wafty philosophical level, that's almost a working definition of 'publisher'. But as a practical focus, bringing the two together in a manageable and mutually beneficial way is getting more important by the day.
So where is this mutual benefit? For a reader it comes in the form of thrilling closeness to a talent they admire. We shouldn't underestimate this. Caitlin Moran's social media campaign is testament to this. Everyone who tweeted their love of How to Be A Woman got a personal "LOVE YOU!! XX"-type tweet from queen of the capslock and I bet they were delighted. In fact I know they were because I share an office with some of them.
For the publisher, the benefit resides either in data capture, turnover, or both. In fact some publishers, particularly of repeating brand authors, might value the contact details of an individual reader over a single purchase.
For the author it's . . . well, it's the same. They want the sales, and these days they probably want the extra followers too. And that's going to create some interesting friction in the months to come, I suspect. The Moran campaign shows that a publisher and an author can create an almost perfect collaboration with social media. One has the
infrastructure to plan and execute a campaign, the other has authentic them-ness.
The Ebury team's side of the Moran collaboration included a remarkable online survey: Vagina Idol ("Which is your favourite? Fill the box with your vote"). They adopted the author's tone, combined it with their strategy and resources, and created an effective
data-gathering (ahem) tool. It would have compromised the no-doubt fiercely guarded integrity of Caitlin Moran's online persona to have asked her to flog the product explicitly. Actually I'm not sure anyone could compel this particular author to do anything, but the point is that she did her part and they did theirs.
A tricky question arises out of all this, though: who 'owns' the readers? Will publishers end up in conflict with authors over control of reader contacts? If an author attracts thousands of valuable followers from a media partnership arranged by their publisher, who has the legal and moral right to those contacts? If a Facebook update by an international celebrity about their forthcoming book brings a flood of sign-ups to a publisher's e-mailing list, is the celebrity entitled to access those names too?
Perhaps, in view of the dovetailed nature of these relationships, publishers and authors should start to formalise their social media collaborations and include joint ownership of reader data in their contracts? Though perhaps we should be mindful of Richard Charkin's
recent comments about the need for good old-fashioned trust between author and publisher, and avoid any such structure. I suspect that a more formal arrangement could be the way forward. Both sides are committed to serious investment, both agree the goals and the strategy, and both know what they stand to gain when it succeeds.
James will be speaking at the marketing conference at The Bookseller Creativity Day on 21st June, more details here.