Amazon, Barnes and Noble, are you paying attention to #booksthatchangedmyworld?

The first "changed my life" book I read. I think I was 12.

I missed it when if first appeared, but #booksthatchangedmyworld, a hashtag created by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean has been getting a fair amount of buzz on Twitter and on blogs over the last week.  The rather long hashtag started as a way for Orlean to catalog her own favorite reads, but as happens on Twitter, the community joins in when it wants, deciding whether or not a topic or subject deserves attention and buzz.

One one hand, there’s not much more to this than the fact that lots of people (anyone who reads, for that matter) have been influenced by books and that in an age of social media people like to share.

What’s a little amusing is that it with all the attention that The Shallows, Nicholas Carr’s new book, is getting, the New York Times actually referred to the hashtag in a post suggesting that perhaps Internet addicts aren’t getting stupid as quickly as Nicholas Carr suggests. They actually read books. Or at least they can remember the titles of books they should have read.

Within a day, someone paying attention scoffed up the URL booksthatchangedmyworld.com, recognizing, if not a monetizable idea, at least a subject worth developing further.

But the only folks who should be jumping on this bandwagon – booksellers Barnes and Noble and Amazon – seem conspicuously absent.  Search for their Twitter handles and the hashtag, and as you can see, nothing,  At least when this was written.

Are they completely unaware of the greatest book and publisher marketing program of all time? Courtesy of Edward L. Bernays. (They sell his books, so you’d think they’d know something about him.)

For the uninitiated, in 1930 Bernays was retained by a consortium of book publishers. His charge was simple: sell more books. Bernays solution: build more bookshelves. Knowing that man hates a void, he figured if he could get architects and builders to include more bookshelves in homes and apartments, they’d fill up with books.

How did he do it? Bernays asked respectable public figures – CEOs, senators, lawyers, doctors —  to name the books that influenced and inspired them. He released the findings to the press with a spin: “accomplished people have all been influenced by books.” He then marketed the significant press coverage to home builders with the recommendation that if they wanted to sell to a more desirable clientele, they needed to install built-in bookcases. Ever notice how all homes built in the late 30s, 40s and beyond have built-ins? Needless to say, the sale of books increased significantly.

Barnes and Noble and Amazon were just handed a similar opportunity. The chance to get behind a social media initiative that celebrates books, their impact on people’s lives and the fact that even the Twitterati, those allegedly least inclined to read (according to Carr), willingly share the books that mattered to them is an easy marketing idea waiting to happen.

From the looks of it neither Barnes and Noble nor Amazon bought the URL inspired by Orlean. But they should have.

It’s  not too late for them to get more active on Twitter, pick up on discussions like this and turn them into ideas that help sell more books. Whether it’s simply to engage with the community already commenting or to take the idea and turn it into something even bigger.

What do you think? Don’t you wish your brand were handed opportunities like this?

7 comments
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Tommy McInnis
Tommy McInnis

Do you really want to know which book changed my world? The one I decided to write. See the above website for more information.

Mat
Mat

So true. I find this to be a very common reality with many large enterprises. Often there is a PR group, Sales group, Marketing dept., and sometimes even a .com group all managing different aspects of their digital marketing efforts. There is usually no clear ownership of the digital, let alone social media strategy. The result is that with no clear ownership there is no clear strategy and great opportunities like you outlined so well are lost rarely to be recovered.

Rich
Rich

The reality is that the major bookstore chains are, by and large, interested only in marketing efforts that can directly demonstrate a sales lift, ie. an email coupon, a weekend sale, a category promotion. Driving buzz? Driving online engagement without clear-as-day ROI? Being at the front end of an emerging reader movement? These are all too "soft", too slow, too wishy-washy. There are pockets of passion and vision in these companies, but without leaders that can see it and feel it, those voices are shushed into submitting to the usual, the safe, the boring. Sigh.

edward boches
edward boches

Well that's a mistake. On a related note here's B&N recent earnings http://bit.ly/bQl2T2. Not looking so good. Need a little long term thinking.Any opportunity to build advocates, community and conversation is good. And by the way, not all that expensive. Doesn't replace the other stuff, just needs to be added to the quiver.

Gabriella O'Rourke
Gabriella O'Rourke

Loved your commentary on this! Great observation.

I agree, many organisations miss the opportunities staring them in the face because they are too stuck doing what they've always done. As an avid consumer of books who wouldn't be without the tactile version, I would pay extra for bundled packages of hard copy with supplementary e-books and extra features for your e-reader to read on the go or take on vacation. The modern day version of built in shelves perhaps??

Howie G
Howie G

Another perfect example of the disconnect between the marketing departments and compensation structure of our clients. Sales are compensated on sales. Because Marketing often has a hard time proving ROI their compensation is handled differently. While you might say work with an Amazon and ask them why aren't they going after an opportunity, if its their marketing group they might not care. They are paid the same no matter how much they work. And damn if they are going to help the sales head make more money. Then of course plenty of people have egos and if it the opportunities doesn't get them credit they sabotage things.

So in my view this is all Comp Plan and Business Structure driven. The best performing companies don't have walls within they have common goals without and ways of ensuring everyone is rewarded for success.

edward boches
edward boches

Howie:
Interesting thought. Mike Troiano, with whom I plan to do a panel at FutureM, argues the very same thing. It's less about knowing what to do anymore, rather we need to restructure everything from compensation to work models to achieve inter vs multi disciplinary ways of working that emphasize results rather than tasks and disciplines.

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