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Book publisher experiments with Twitter sales

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The Hachette Book Group is experimenting with selling books directly to customers on Twitter, a departure from its usual practice of selling through Amazon or brick-and-mortar book stores.

The publisher offered 100 copies of Amanda Palmer’s autobiographical book “The Art of Asking” Thursday, along with a signed copy of a manuscript page. The books could only be purchased through a buy button on Hachette’s Twitter account. They sold out in 20 minutes.

Through its various imprints, Hachette publishes about 1,000 books a year, so its Twitter experiment — with just three titles — is limited. The next two are former astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book “You Are Here,” which will go on sale Monday on Twitter, followed by The Onion’s “The Onion Magazine: The Iconic Covers That Transformed an Undeserving World” on Thursday. 

“We are always looking for ways to connect our writers with their readers,” says Heather Fain, head of marketing strategy at Hachette. “And selling people books through Twitter, where they’re already talking about books, seems like a very simple and direct way to do that.”

Hachette’s move comes after its very public spat with Amazon, which it recently settled by gaining the right to set its own prices on Amazon’s website. But, Fain insists that the Twitter campaign is a social media marketing effort, and is unrelated to Amazon.

“This really is just an example of a new way to communicate to consumers,” says Fain, “They’re just not connected.”

By contrast, Gumroad, which powers the buy button on Hachette’s Twitter page, is firmly focused on e-commerce. The start-up has been courting authors and musicians, offering them an alternative to  iTunes and Amazon.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for Gumroad and for a lot of other companies to be able to do things to empower creators to make more money, get more data for their transactions, understand their audience better,” the company’s Ryan Delk says. 

For example, Hachette will get the email addresses of those who bought books via Twitter, allowing the publisher to develop a direct connection with readers.

“It’s an interesting experiment,” NextMarket Insights analyst Michael Wolf says. “It won’t serve as a direct alternative to Amazon.”

Hachette and Gumroad are far from matching Amazon’s scale, but it makes sense for Hachette to be thinking about how to rely on Amazon less in the long term, Wolf says.

“If you’re Hachette, and you’re looking at the future of your business, you don’t want to put all your eggs certainly in one basket,” Wolf says.

Hachette started its Twitter campaign with authors who have millions of followers. The publisher says its next move may be to see if authors with fewer followers can also sell on its non-Amazon platform.

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