CUP's Alastair Horne wrote last week in this space about how the #dearpublisher hashtag was developing a digital conversation directed at publishers on Twitter. Over the past few days my colleague Victoria Gallagher has been asking (offline) for publisher responses to the conversation. Most agreed with Alastair that this was a unique way of getting to understand their customers, be they booksellers, librarians or readers.
One particularly dynamic response came from, Windmill Books which has set up a blog page to answer tweets. Drummond Moir, editor at Windmill's parent Cornerstone Publishing, told us: “It was great to be able to hear [readers] comments and queries, many of which were far from predictable. But it was also a wonderful chance to respond and explain elements of the trade, the market and the way we publish in a direct, honest way.”
We talked about the story briefly in our weekly news meeting today, where we discuss the length and positioning of the stories we plan to run in the weekly printed magazine. One question (in terms of the wider news agenda) was to work out the value of the conversation, in relation to everything else that takes place on Twitter but also what is happening in publishing offline. This is important: we don't want to take up costly print space with news about nothing, but neither do we want to relegate to brief status a news story with a more significant impact.
So I found this site: http://wthashtag.com, which gives stats for the past seven days.
It tells me that there have been 1,165 tweets referencing #dearpublisher, from 563 contributors, at an average of 166.4 tweets per day (though more than 700 were generated on one day alone with the number of tweets now dropping), compared with, for example, the current trending topic #weallgotthatonefriend which has generated 6,972 tweets, from 4,435 contributors today, or long-time favourite wthashtag.com/Followfriday, which over the past week has been referenced in 31,343 tweets, from 14,959 contributors.
But http://wthashtag.com only looks at the past seven days, beginning on the 15th, two days after the publishing hashtag was first used. In fact according to Google Search the peak of the activity was the day before wthashtag.com's records begin. So I'd be tempted to double (at least) the absolute tally of individual tweets.
So we are running it on page 6, a significant spot worth about 350 words in editorial space, but not one of the front news pages. Even in a quiet week for news that feels about right. But, I wonder, might we have felt differently had more than 500 people turned up to a seminar to talk about publishing? Are we underplaying the significance because it is on Twitter and appears to be worth more than the sum of its tweets? Or are we overplaying it because of all the hype that surrounds Twitter?