Does Book Twitter Actually Reflect the Reading Community?

Every year in free speech week, I try to exercise my freedom and talk about aspects of this (apparently contentious) topic. Yet this year I want to do something different. Not because we have reached the zenith of free speech- far from it. Despite the job losses, tragedies and general morose of 2020, the Twitterati have nothing better to do and have been busy cancelling, well, anything and everything. Which is why I wanted to talk about this tweet:

Maybe (most likely) it’s just my confirmation bias talking, but I think it’s such an excellent point. Disclaimer for book twitter: there are some nice little bubbles where you can play around with likeminded people (/primates)… Buuuut it’s not all fun and games. Twitter is kinda known for how toxic it can get. While it’s not the only place cancel culture thrives, it’s certainly one of the hotspots. I can’t tell you how often I go on twitter, see people congregating round an issue and think “oh no, who’s getting cancelled today?” Even if it’s a case of valid criticism, the platform doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuanced conversation and this leads to things getting heated pretty fast. And too often publishers get a whiff of the smoke and are scared off- but this needn’t be the case.

You see, (and forgive me if this is obvious) twitter is not reflective of the public at large. This is hardly a revelation. Looking at just some of the research (focusing on the States, given that 70% of users are from there… which you should bear in mind if you’re from outside the US like me), most twitter users in the US are more likely to have a college degree and have a higher income than the national average. Just 20% of US can be classed as active users (ie go on the platform once a month)- and of that number 80% of tweets come from the most active 10%. Meaning we’re only hearing from about 2% of the population. It probably isn’t any wonder then that (and many people will hate me for saying this) twitter often strikes me as an elitist club. As much as people claim that twitter is designed to give a voice to the voiceless, that it’s a great way for the powerless to have some power for themselves, that the gangs running rampant on there are noble “working class” vigilantes… I can’t see any evidence it’s representative of this. Observationally, I’d say the vast majority of big users are marketing/PR people, the so-called faces for faceless corporations, journos, professional activists and politicians. Ordinary people (ie consumers) aren’t represented on there for the most part… making me question, why is it taken so seriously?  

Time and again, it’s proven to not be a good source for elections for instance (which makes sense, given that even if a politician gets 100,000 likes, this isn’t a huge number considering… especially considering this can come from a global audience). Likewise, buzz on twitter doesn’t mean much- as excitable as twitter can seem about a reboot, this may not translate to actual fans buying tickets.

Similar logic can be applied to book twitter. A lot of readers don’t hang out on twitter. As the above tweet shows, it’s not necessarily going to reflect how well a book performs (especially since big names are so often targeted). It’s always been pretty debatable whether this particular platform even sell books. Anecdotally, I can also say that a lot of readers see the fires burning and run away. And even if they do stick around, a lot of people don’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation (giving the false impression that the debates are one-sided).

Which is why I wish publishers would take twitter with a pinch of salt. Instead of going off how angry someone can get in 140 characters or how many clapping emojis a person can use in one go, maybe just maybe, they can hold their nerve and wait for the general reading public to vote with their wallets. Maybe it’s time we ignored the drama flaming on twitter.

Ooh err, hope I don’t get burned at the stake for this one! 😉 But given I do actually like free speech- I’m open to hearing your thoughts! What do you think about book twitter? Do you think it’s representative of the reading public? Let me know in the comments!

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