In conformity with our policy of conducting R&D on the project of a Twitter Book Club in public (see earlier posts here, here and here) and in response to the first session of Jonathan Ross’s wossybookclub, which took place yesterday, it seems appropriate to give some provisional reactions to it in the open:

  1. The session clearly worked. It ran for an hour and wossy must have been busy, since everything went through him (as a retweet or a response by him). 130 postings in an hour. The style of discourse was thus more like a chat-show on radio — with no possiblity for genuine group discussion. This does put a lot of focus on the keyman, and suggests that the specific format (a ‘star’ formation with everything going through wossy) may not be completely scaleable. Would wossy be able to cope with an Oprah-size audience? The @atwossybookclub currently has under 6,000 followers. What happens with 60K followers at a book group? Managing 130 interactions in an hour of tweeting strikes me as pretty good going, and I can’t see Jonathan Ross wanting to do this for two hours.
  2. As well as the public and official record of tweeting at @atwossybookclub, there was a parallel search stream at #wossybookclub; making this an official back-channel may be a way of broadening the audience without putting wossy in hospital with RSI
  3. The author (Jon Ronson, on holiday in Sardinia, and tweeting from his iPhone) contributed to the discussion. A book group with the author present and listening! That clearly works, and perhaps the idea needs to be adapted, shall we say Twitter-twigged, so that Twitter becomes a medium for online ‘author signing sessions’. Kind of virtual ‘author tours’?
  4. The web service at our end also worked: The Men Who Stare at Goats was open to the whole web for precisely an hour. This time the switch was flipped manually, but it could easily be automated. 30/60/90 minute sessions pre-set to be open for particularly topical books or TV shows? Usage increased, it was busy, but it certainly wasn’t overwhelming (the servers were not seen to emit clouds of white smoke and steam). Next time the publisher may wish to consider opening the book up for discussion a few hours before the discussion begins, that would encourage Tweeting participants to reference the digital edition, which in turn will encourage more people to buy the digital edition.
  5. There was one reference to a specific page in the book, and wossy RT’ed this. Since we put it up using, we know that it was activated nearly 300 times. A citation that went into the #wossybookclub was only hit 23 times. So the audience was looking at the links as well as reading wossy’s tweets. For a first time live book club session on Twitter that looks to be a pretty strong validation of the concept.

Wossy has said that he does not want to develop the vehicle for personal gain. We can understand that position, but it might be worth reconsidering. If Wossy wont, I hope that Stephen Fry will. Doing 50 books a year would be A LOT of work and for the publishing industry it could be a highly significant new sales channel. The concept of ‘celebrity-led’ book reading and online book discussion has a lot going for it, but it will work even better if there is a stronger commercial infrastructure (perhaps funded by sales of the digital editions that would be used in the Tweeting). We look forward to seeing the proposition evolve and to working with publishers who are keen to develop the digital audience — Picador and PanMacmillan have been excellent partners and promoters of this exploration, as has Jon Ronson the author.

I enjoyed the book (read the digital edition, of course) and you can still buy a subscription to the digital edition here (limited to purchasers in the UK and Eire); and in all parts of the world you can read the clever opening chapter here. Having read the book and raved about it to one of my children, I am now committed to buying a copy in print (son is out of webshot) and will certainly catch the film when it comes out later in the year with George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.