Leveraging Social Media for Literary Publishers

Books in shelves


The Book Fair: each publisher has its own stand, where its own authors sign their books. The reader looks for the signing stand and probably comes into contact with the names of publishers as one of the only times a year. How many readers think about the publisher on the cover when they buy a book? Isn’t it mainly the title and the author that are the deciding factors? Very interesting questions, especially in times when almost every company uses social media and hiring SMM services to create a brand and increase brand awareness. Have literary publishers in Flanders and the Netherlands also jumped on the social media train?

Social media in a changing book industry

Until now, no research has been conducted into the social media use of literary publishers in Flanders and the Netherlands. This is remarkable because social media is ubiquitous, and even more so because the book industry is subject to enormous, especially digital, changes that are often portrayed negatively. Just think of the rise of the e-book, the internet bookstore, and the so-called self-publishing. In a two-part exploratory study, a first introduction was given to the social media use of literary publishers in Flanders and the Netherlands. For this, the questions were answered: do they use social media, and if so, how?

Social media accepted?

In a first sub-study, a global picture was sketched of the social media use of Flemish and Dutch literary publishers. For this purpose, an inventory was made of 49 literary publishers. The main conclusion is that all these publishers are active on at least one social medium, namely Facebook. The vast majority have accounts on Facebook and Twitter, with relatively large numbers of followers. Other social media are used substantially less: less than half of selected publishers use YouTube and/or Instagram, and less than a third are active on Pinterest. In addition, most publishers have accounts on the latter three media, which also use very average, or even virtually not. Literary publishers in Flanders and the Netherlands seem to be convinced of the importance of social media, yet most only actively use Facebook and Twitter.


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Why use social media?

Knowing that publishers use social media is one thing, but knowing how they use it really provides new insights. In a second sub-study, twelve of the 49 selected publishers were asked how they see social media and how they use it. The research showed that publishers mainly became active on social media to inform, create visibility (of the publisher itself and of books), and most importantly: to get in direct contact with the reader. The latter is precisely the big difference from the traditional promotional channels of the publishing house such as television and newspaper interviews.

A number of publishers see social media as an additional source of free publicity, which is always welcome now that television and traditional media give less attention to books, and just want to ‘be present’. Other publishers see social media as an investment item and invest staff, time, and money in their social media. This, of course, requires an underlying strategy. An interesting question for the future is whether we will see an even bigger difference between these publishers, or whether the publishers that use social media less intensively now will put more time and money into social media and we will go to a leveling. Most publishers fall somewhere in between and invest limited in their social media channels. Finally, as far as the channels themselves are concerned, Facebook is usually used to serve the reader ‘fun’ content, while Twitter has a more informative role towards the press.

With a book in a corner?

Perhaps the most striking finding of the study is that readers are uniting on Facebook in groups, such as Iedereenleest and Boekenfans (both groups have more than 12,000 members). In those groups, readers talk to each other about books, give each other tips, and so on. Some publishers surveyed are not aware of these book groups, others deal with them passively (only following what happens in the groups) or actively (in the form of running competitions or donating review copies). Books can be made in these groups but also cracked, and it is interesting to see how these groups will develop in the future. With a book in a corner? It is doubtful because reading and everything around it becomes really social on social media.


For literary publishers, social media seems to be a positive effect of the all too often negatively assessed digitization. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media ensure direct interaction with the readers (customers) and at the same time visibility and possible customer loyalty. Both the publishers and the readers have found social media, but for publishers, it becomes a challenge to hold readers’ interest and convince them to keep following them. For this, publishers should realize that social media makes reading social and that the content offered must be adapted to it. No matter how the social media use of literary publishers evolves, social media will certainly provide new (positive) impulses in a changing book sector.