A surprising number was revealed in PW’s annual Twitter snapshot: 31%. That represents the annual percentage increase of Twitter followers for the 16 publishers surveyed, a good measure of how publishers are doing in attracting followers in Twitterland. What is surprising is not that numbers continue to grow, but that the rate of growth, reflected in the figure of 31%, is now in considerable decline.
PW started tracking the 16 publishers—a mix of small and large—in 2009, and every year until this one, the rate of growth at least doubled. Part of the drop-off is due to the fact that @freepressbooks no longer exists (it is no longer maintained as a separate account by S&S), but even if 2013’s total included @freepressbooks, the growth would’ve fallen steeply.
While Twitter continues to be indispensable as a publishing outreach tool, the sharp decline in growth reflects in part a change in the way publishers are using Twitter, as well as the natural slowdown after the huge gains following Twitter’s launch.
This doesn’t mean publishers and Twitter have reached their limit. All 15 remaining accounts tracked by PW added followers in 2013 (some substantially), and the number will likely keep growing. However, the exponential growth publishers enjoyed in the last few years—@torbooks went from 8,600 followers to 84,000 followers between 2010 and 2011—is probably a thing of the past.
Publishers have now figured out what works and what doesn’t. In a broad sense, they seem to be migrating away from strictly pushing titles with tweets in favor of doing more informal outreach, such as links to author appearances on TV and engaging with followers and the Twitter community at large. Tony Perez, an editor at Tin House and its main tweeter, said that, “Over the last year or so, as more of our individual staff members have joined Twitter, I’ve tried to use the Tin House account as a clearing house to RT [retweet] their thoughts and opinions. I think sometimes people would rather hear what @michellewildgen, or @RobSpill, or @ElissaSchappell have to say about something; same goes for our authors. I think the more we can help authors and editors build followings, the better off they, and we, are.”
One of the largest publishers on Twitter, Little, Brown, has more than 260,000 followers for @littlebrown. Although the account is mainly handled by Little, Brown’s marketing department, publicists are encouraged to live tweet from events and author tours, while editors have their own home with @LBeditors. Asked about specific strategy, Miriam Parker, Little, Brown’s digital marketing director, said: “The main thing we’ve started doing a lot more of is devoting our Twitter feed to specific books on specific days—be it publication dates or important dates in the life of the book.”
|% Change from previous year||276%||163%||101%||31%|