HarperCollins imprint tries to go all Tweety and communal – with someone else’s hashtag?

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.

4 Comments on HarperCollins imprint tries to go all Tweety and communal – with someone else’s hashtag?

  1. The #bookaday challenge began over six years ago and has been announced publicly every year on my blogs and my published works. The challenge is specifically designed for teachers and librarians and does not include specific daily requirements for readers (as the Harper Collins UK challenge does). A Google search or glance at Twitter reveals that this hashtag and accompanying challenge has been in place for years. I’m surprised that Harper Collins UK created and publicized such an event without checking to see if it was already used.

  2. I can assure you that I was never contacted about using #bookaday for the Borough Press event. My attempts to contact Borough Press on Twitter have been ignored.

  3. Paul StJohn Mackintosh // June 5, 2014 at 6:19 am //

    Thanks, Donalyn. I wasn’t sure about this, which is why I left it as an open question in the article – but I’m honestly not that surprised.

  4. Kevin Oleksy // June 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm //

    I’ve never seen this Borough Press list of titles. Can you provide a link? The only list I’ve seen from them contains general categories like “Favorite book from childhood,” “Secondhand bookshop gem,” and “I can’t believe more people haven’t read.” Maybe it is just indirect marketing, but I don’t see the authenticity problems you bemoan.

    I also fail to see where the ire is coming from at the use of this hashtag. Both initiatives promote books, reading, and sharing. Where is the drawback? I haven’t seen a single advert or other message imploring me to buy from BP or Harper-Collins.

    How then does this use differ from what the first use of #bookaday does?

    I get that it was an exclusive club for several years, but hashtags are just descriptors. You admit they can’t be owned. If one wants to exclude others, pick a non-generic tag. #bookaday2015, #bookaday6, #exclusivebookadayforteachersandlibrarians.

    I hope you’d agree nobody would try to claim ownership of #appleaday, #Iraq, #thinklikeamantoo, or #butts.

    As far as I’ve seen, Borough Press reacted quickly with the change to #bookadayUK and haven’t said a negative word about “original #bookaday.” Meanwhile I read nothing but invective directed at BP for “bullying” Donalyn.

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