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Tidy ‘Sum’: Actor’s tweet boosts his favorite book 6,000 percent

September 14, 2009

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry

It is axiomatic that social networking is not just for keeping in touch with friends but also an essential marketing tool. But does, say, Twitter actually sell, say, books? Turns out it does– but only if someone more famous than you tweets about how great your book is.

Just ask David Eagleman, whose well-regarded literary novel Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives jumped 6,000 percent on Amazon’s U.K. bestseller list last Wednesday after British actor Stephen Fry posted this recommendation on Twitter: “You will not read a more dazzling book this year than David Eagleman’s “Sum”. If you read it and aren’t enchanted I will eat 40 hats.”

Mind you, Eagleman has been tweeting on his own Twitter account since Sum first came out in February. He has 199 followers. Fry, a prominent British actor, comedian and novelist, has 753,299 people following his frequent tweets.

That was enough to send Sum to the No. 2 spot on Amazon U.K.’s best seller list after Fry praised it. By Sunday, the Fry-ian glow had waned some, with the book slipping to No. 21. But for a literary novel by a first time fiction writer that imagines a variety of possible destinations after we die, that’s still impressive.

David Eagleman

David Eagleman

Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, enjoyed less of a boost on Amazon’s American list, where Sum stands at No. 659 –again, not bad for a 107 page book with spiritual and philosophical themes, however beautifully written.

The day after Fry praised Sum, he clarified one item in his original tweet: “When I promised to eat 40 hats if you weren’t enchanted by “Sum”, I hope were aware that “hat” means “cashew nut” in a rare Papuan dialect.”

Eagleman’s U.K. publisher, Cannongate, gratefully rushed a new edition into print to meet the sudden demand.

“It’s lovely when things come out of the blue,” Cannongate’s Jamie Byng told the Guardian. “I knew Stephen was a huge fan of the book [but] the impact of his tweet is just amazing. It’s the ultimate word of mouth recommendation from someone [his followers] really trust, and from a publisher’s point of view it’s magical.”

This is not the first time Twitter has boosted a book. Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare at Goats, a nonfiction history of a secret paranormal unit within the U.S. Army, “raced” up the U.K. list after Brit tv personality Jonathan Ross selected it for a Twitter book club.

So Twitter is an effective marketing tool after all. That’s the bad news. The good news is the marketers can’t figure out how to make it work on demand. Whew.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    September 14, 2009 10:40 am

    Word of mouth? More like reading of text.

    I agree, this is scary.

    Aren’t people supposed to be taking book recommendations from people like, oh I don’t know, book critics?

  2. September 14, 2009 11:12 am

    Yes. Then No. As an author of a great book I have found that the media such as tweeter, facebook, and internet has the same rate of return as mail media, phone media and the likes. If you have some one famous endorsing it the rate is quite a bit higher. Look at Fry’s numbers. Look at the buys. Looks a bit like 1% to 1.5% range. Normal return would be about .05%.

    It is time. On the Chauncey Mabe show I announce that I have been secretly dating Oprah. It is time to tell the world. So here it is world.
    The Murples no longer want to hide the facts. They have asked me to tell the universe.

  3. Candice permalink
    September 14, 2009 8:11 pm

    If Frye needs any help eating those cashews, I volunteer.

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