Written by Emma Vetriano • Published 29th November 2011

The publishing industry has been notoriously slow to embrace digital. Only in the last couple of years have publishers engaged with social media to a commercial end. Industry giant Penguin was among the first to take the plunge – only months later their Facebook page is a fully-fledged bookstore and the shop-front of the brand.

Image Amazon Kindle

Courtesy of ebook reader, flickr.com

For leading writers, social media is fast becoming a vital mouthpiece to express their views and cement their public influence. Twitter is, of course, a natural sounding board for anyone with plenty to say and perhaps a tiny bit of egoism. If you’re a leading writer and you are not on Twitter, it seems you are missing a trick. Just ask Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood.

Salman Rushdie even curated a Twitter campaign demanding Facebook to give the correct handle for his fan page. Facebook had previously doubted the authenticity of the page and changed the name to ‘ Ahmed Rushdie’. Clearly, the social media followings of novelists are not just a handful of enthusiastic bookworms – Rushdie’s followers took on Facebook and triumphed. The ‘Salman Rushdie’ page has already amassed 20,000 fans despite the fact the writer is yet to publish a single update.

There are several writers with this level of influence and more. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho is an established Twitter veteran with enough followers to rival the Rihanna Navy or Gaga’s Little Monsters (two and a half million followers in fact!).

Image Paulo Coelho

Image Paulo Coelho

This surge in social media activity from the publishing industry also coincides with a drastic change in the product itself. Digital has changed the way we read and what we expect from our reading experience.E-books and portable tablets are continually increasing in popularity and publishing houses cannot afford to ignore this. Nevertheless the issue – as always with emerging technologies – is how to make it pay.

Undoubtedly the one to watch within the e-book industry is Amazon and their influence cannot be underestimated. Recently Amazon took a shrewd step making clear their vision for the future of the publishing industry. Amazon Prime members are now able to ‘borrow’ a book a month from the Amazon Lending Library as part of their package. It remains early days with the six biggest publishing houses in America still not supporting the Lending Library. Indeed, it is widely reported that the project makes Amazon a loss – but this is no short-term business plan. Amazon are in it for the long haul and will have thought further ahead than this. Just think of the first Kindle launch where Amazon touted free books to incentivise new Kindle users – we are all now so glued to our screens that we didn’t notice the RRP of the average book in the Kindle store gradually creeping up.

E-book reactionaries have often used the argument that reading digitally takes away from the experience in the same way as living life through a camera lens. But the difference is that the characters in a novel are not real life. Even factual writing loses a sense of immediacy in the very act of writing it down. Reading is not a ‘real’ experience at all – it is a passive act about made up events or someone’s version of real events. So does it make a difference if the story is on a tablet or in a first edition book?

So where do you stand; are you a digital evangelist or clutching your most treasured tomes in horror as you read this article? Or perhaps you think there is a place in our reading lives for both?