Most people would agree that book burning is a bad thing, invoking as it does a legacy of intolerance, oppression, and irreplaceable loss. And yet, they can generate some spectacular publicity—just ask Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who sparked an international firestorm when he proposed burning the Quran last September. Or you could ask the owners of The Book Tavern in Augusta, Ga., who enjoyed their biggest revenue-generating day ever thanks to their plan—ultimately unrealized—to burn books in front of the store this past Saturday, in what owner David Hutchison called “David’s Inferno.”

The books in danger of being burned, it should be noted, weren’t chosen for any other offense than being “radically out of date” or “seriously overstocked;”examples include a 1995 copy of HTML for Dummies and an investment guide from the 1980s. And, despite having already carried through with a book burning event last year, Hutchinson wasn’t exactly hoping to burn anything. In an an e-mail sent January 3, The Book Tavern offered its customers a way to stop the book burning: if they could reach 1,000 Facebook fans by Saturday, the Tavern would cancel the burning and instead hold a one-day, 50% sale on everything in the store. At the time, they had some 700 fans; they topped 1,000 around 6:30 p.m. on Friday (currently, that number has topped out at 1,084).

Inspired by a used bookstore in Texas that burned excess inventory several years back “to draw attention to the great number of books that perish due to lack of demand,” Hutchinson considers the stunt a thought-provoking bit of “tongue-in-cheek satire” meant to call attention to the fate of books that have “reached the end of their life cycle.” But the real goal is something far more valuable: capturing the attention of hard-to-pin-down book buyers who have more options than ever before—Augusta boasts not just a Barnes & Noble and a Borders, but a used books test store recently opened by Books-a-Million.

“What we gained by doing this is not just the one day of revenue,” Hutchinson told PW, “but some long-term loyalty. More people are following us via social media than ever before, and that really does translate into more consistent return, more top-of-mind awareness,” a difficult feat for “any small independent bookstore, because we can’t typically afford to run top-of-mind awareness ad campaigns in, say, newspapers or television. Social media seems our best bet to stay in a consumer’s mind, especially since they opt into that—it’s not just that they happen to see it, it’s that they choose to follow us on Twitter or Facebook.”

The revenue doesn’t hurt, though: Saturday'sd sales topped by 10% the Tavern’s next-largest day—which was, not incidentally, the first time they held a book burning. Held the first weekend of 2010, that event (called “Fahrenheit 1026,” after the store’s address) was the culmination of a two-week-long progressive sale that made enough money to offset the costs and revenue loss of their subsequent two-week renovation.

Naturally, the burning hasn’t been without its critics. “I actually had a customer who was very vocally upset about being manipulated,” Hutchinson said, adding that last year the primary objection was environmental. At last year’s event, they welcomed friends and protestors, and read a “Manifesto of Book Rights” (“Every day across America, thousands of books are printed with nefarious destruction awaiting them…”) before committing the “brave, heroic pages to the sacrificial flames.”

The event jibes with the store’s prankish spirit, but Hutchinson also has less controversial methods of attention-getting like book giveaways and collecting books to send to troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He believes that this is the last time they will use this particular attention-getter, but says they’re always looking for a way to tap the zeitgeist: “We may stockpile copies of Mark Twain that aren’t anesthetized,” Hutchinson said, referring to the expurgated edition of Huckleberry Finn publishing in February. “Maybe we’ll hand those out.”