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 Part of the drop-off is due to the fact that @freepressbooks no longer exists (it is no longer maintained as a separate account by S&S), but even if 2013’s total included @freepressbooks, the growth would’ve fallen steeply.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.”

Imprint 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013*
@AAKnopf 1,581 24,225 96,443 160,134 193,972
@GrandCentralPub 3,726 6,450 12,161 19,918 31,123
@Littlebrown 5,999 38,534 132,277 213,973 260,684
@ThomasNelson 678 5,101 10,889 15,973 23,944
@freepressbooks 516 2,030 6,734 13,310
@HarlequinBooks 2,187 6,075 12,318 18,566 27,089
@AtriaBooks 1,809 2,822 5,904 10,758 18,494
@Tin_House 892 3,074 8,138 14,609 25,953
@doubledaypub 1,057 3,184 9,055 17,861 34,587
@groveatlantic 268 1,087 4,736 9,611 17,161
@HarperPerennial 805 3,239 11,306 19,539 31,000
@OReillyMedia 7,340 15,951 29,426 45,838 61,841
@VintageAnchor 783 6,276 11,378 23,974 31,901
@chelseagreen 5,003 13,102 16,379 19,015 20,895
@WorkmanPub 1,485 3,494 8,312 11,661 15,725
@torbooks 3,995 8,632 84,038 140,402 193,189
Total 38,124 143,276 376,296 755,142 987,558
% Change from previous year 276% 163% 101% 31%