It’s a tricky business getting to grips with new media, especially when you’re dealing with a two thousand year old story — always assuming, of course, that Dan Brown’s new novel, The Lost Symbol, actually does take up the plot where The Da Vinci Code left off rather than lose it completely.
But this post isn’t about Dan Brown’s lost symbol: it’s about the book trade’s lost opportunity at this year’s London Book Fair — about twitter and the humble hashtag. It’s about a failure to seize the day or, more precisely, the twittersphere — the dynamic, live and interactive world of millions of prospective book buyers. Not, I hasten to add, to lay accusations or blame at anyone’s feet, but rather to help us think ahead, to help us find a way to do better next time and in other places.
“What’s a hashtag?” you ask. Easy: it’s a word with a # in front of it. Like this: #LBF; or this: #LBF09; or even this: #LIBF. Essentially it’s a key word chosen or created to link related tweets, which allows people to track a particular topic; and if everyone tweeting that topic uses it, it takes off, to become a trending topic: a topic in twitter’s top 10. Then more people join the conversation and so it grows. Used intelligently, a hashtag is one of the most powerful tools in a new media maven’s marketing toolbox. Allow Mari Smith  to explain:
Dan Brown enters the story on Monday, 20th April, the first day of the fair. Or rather, he should have entered the story. According to this week’s Bookseller (lead news story, p.3), the Random House announcement of a publication date for his Da Vinci Code sequel The Lost Symbol was Monday’s “main talking point at the first day of the London Book Fair.”
I admit that I was there with my own agenda as a Christian bookseller: but how is it possible that an announcement of what is more or less guaranteed to be the biggest publishing event of 2009 — impacting both the mainstream and Christian marketplace — could simply pass me by? My mistake, it seems: I was interested in this year’s London Book Fair, so I was tracking #LBF09 rather than the generic #LBF, and I was following @theBookseller as my source of news.
But the announcement entered the twittersphere via @PublishersLunch at 4pm under #LBF and whilst a few people RT’d (retweeted) it, the Bookseller’s twitter announcement didn’t appear until 5.26pm — and was posted with neither a hashtag nor any other mention of the Fair (also strange: the Bookseller’s news report of the announcement doesn’t mention LBF either).
To quote @andrewspong:
… and what it says, it seems to me, is that the book trade — booksellers, publishers and marketeers alike — simply doesn’t get twitter yet.
Wakey wakey @theBookseller!! And wakey wakey LBF and the wider book trade.