Do Twitter, Facebook and blogs drive (Australian) book sales?

I’m working on an article for the Australian Society of Authors’ Australian Author magazine about online reader communities, and I’m looking for writers, publishers and booksellers who use Twitter, blogs or other social networking technologies to successfully promote their books.

There was a recent Twitter conversation about this topic and a really interesting post at Publishing / new media analyst Charlotte Abbot mentions a couple of examples of Twitter / blog driven books in her analysis. But those are mostly US examples, and I’m really looking for locals.

Specifically, I’m looking for examples where people have been able to track the correlation between online activity and book sales. It’s one thing to drive traffic to a website or blog (tools like Google analytics can track this), but I’m looking for evidence from people who have been able to convert these readers / followers / subscribers into paying customers.

I know that reliable, traceable promotional activities are the pot of gold at the end of the marketing rainbow, but ideally, that’s what we’re after!

Speaking to various people in the Australian book industry, it’s interesting that there isn’t yet much hard data, so I thought it might be interesting to open the discussion up to the Twitterverse to see what happened. If you have experiences you’d like to share, please post a comment or send me an email and we’ll have a chat. I’m happy to keep responses confidential if you prefer. If you’d prefer to talk offline, that’s fine too. Let me know and I’ll phone you.

So, here are a few questions:

If you’re a reader:

  1. Have you ever bought a book based on a blog or Twitter post?
  2. Do you have a preference for reading online or offline reviews? Is there any difference?
  3. Do you follow publishers, authors or bookshops via Facebook, MySpace (or anything else)?
  4. Do you shop online, or prefer the face-to-face experience of a bookshop?

If you’re a writer:

  1. Do you have a blog or use Twitter to promote your work? If so, how effective have you found it?
  2. Have you tried other things - like Facebook or MySpace?
  3. Which came first, the blog or the book? It seems that it’s much easier to leverage an existing online activity into a book (like Stuff White People Like or Ask Sam or 4-Hour Work Week or even Don Watson’s Weasel Words) rather than try to develop online buzz to promote a book from scratch, but I’d like to know whether it’s been done - and whether it’s sustainable.
  4. Is there any point in blogging or tweeting a book for its own sake? Or does such a website just become an expensive electronic flyer?

If you’re a publisher:

  1. Is there evidence yet that online promotion is an effective way to attract (buying) readers?
  2. Do mentions and reviews on the popular Australian litblogs make a difference to sales?
  3. Have you been able to differentiate between sales bumps caused by online versus offline promotion?

If you’re a bookseller:

  1. Have you used Twitter, Facebook or anything else for promoting books or events at your store?
  2. Do you also use tools like these to help with your own purchasing choices? Or to keep up with industry news and trends?
  3. Have customers come to you for books they have heard about online?
  4. How do you compare these new tools to the old ways of promoting the shop? Is it quicker / faster / more effective / anything else?

Obviously there’s much more to cover, and it’s a massive, massive topic. The point of the article will be to help writers, publishers and booksellers better get their work into the hands of readers, and to let people know about the best of what’s being done here in Australia. And while there may not be any definitive answers, I think these are questions worth asking, and I’d like to include a few local examples.

Thanks in advance for any and all contributions. I’ll post all comments below, and the results will be in the next issue of Australian Author.

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