Hard on the heels of Penguin Random House front organization myindependentbookshop.co.uk and its attempt to convince readers that it’s a brave little independent champion of the little people, comes another bid by a Big Five publisher to dress down and get all folksy and homely and neighborly. This time, as reported in The Bookseller, it’s HarperCollins imprint Borough Press, which according to the report, is seeking to run a campaign in June encouraging readers to share on Twitter or Instagram a picture of a book they like – working from a list drawn up by Borough – under the hashtag #bookaday. This campaign is being launched in partnership with the Booksellers Association, in part to raise awareness of Independent Booksellers Week, with printed postcards bearing the #bookaday list distributed to bookshops.
There’s just one tiny problem with this whole initiative – well, actually, two, but let’s deal with the first one first. And I could be way out of line on this, but I don’t think so. A quick Google for the hashtag #bookaday turns up the Fifth Annual Bookaday Challenge at the Nerdy Book Club, organized by Donalyn Miller, “a fourth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer and the upcoming Reading in the Wild. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday.”
Yes, it looks like #bookaday belongs to someone else. Someone who has been using it for years to build “a social event connecting readers who share book recommendations and celebrate reading.” As Donalyn Miller writes, “literacy gurus like Teri Lesesne post book titles under the #bookaday hashtag all year.”
Maybe I’m misreading this on the strength of one report. In any case, the general received wisdom is that hashtags can’t be owned, and anyone can co-opt them. And perhaps Borough Press and/or the BA has already struck a deal with the Nerdy Book Club. Perhaps this promotion is just part of a broader #bookaday push. But all I’ll say is that if so, there’s no mention of it in the original report or in Borough Press’s statements.
Which brings us to the second little problem. Borough Press’s #bookaday campaign – unlike the Nerdy Book Club’s – is absolutely not autonomous or community-generated. Because – and once again, unless I’m misreading the original report – it builds off a list put together by Borough Press which as far as I’m aware consists entirely of Borough Press titles. And Borough Press is not some longstanding and upstanding independent imprint that has at last come in to the corporate fold while maintaining its own identity and integrity. It’s a HarperCollins in-house creation, launched in January 2014 and publishing “some of HarperFiction’s biggest names including Lionel Shriver and Tracy Chevalier.” In other words, a piece of marketing segmentation for a Big Five major. Why, that original HarperCollins release is even carried in a News Corporation archive.
See, social media has this wee little issue for marketing professionals – it’s called authenticity. To quote one Huffington Post savant, “authenticity (personal truth) and sincerity (caring about and connecting with others) are required to build the kind of social media brand customers and clients are looking for these days.” Sounds like Donalyn Miller to me. But both values appear completely absent from this Borough Press initiative. To me it looks what we media professionals call: bogus.