Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is a game changer. So when he does something new, people sit up and take notice. How interesting, then, for we who are immersed in publishing, that his new initiative is in our camp: he just launched The Year of Books Community on Facebook to fulfil his New Year’s resolution to read a book each fortnight.
Zuckerberg’s annual resolution is notorious for being somewhat zany. As the Independent newspaper recently reported:
The 30-year-old billionaire is known for making New Year’s resolutions that are by turns banal and bizarre. In the past he has undertaken to meet a new person every day for a year, to write a daily thank-you note, and to wear a tie every day. One year, Mr Zuckerberg vowed to learn Mandarin. Another, he announced that he would only eat meat from animals that he had killed himself, and enlisted a local chef and butcher to facilitate the process.
This year, the Facebook founder asked for suggestions from his followers for a resolution, and he picked wisely. He offers the following as a mission statement for his club:
We will read a new book every two weeks and discuss it here. Our books will emphasize learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies. Suggestions for new books to read are always welcome. We ask that everyone who participates read the books and we will moderate the discussions and group membership to keep us on topic.
Essentially, although Zuckerberg is careful to avoid the term, this is a book club. A very big book club – perhaps the biggest in the world – because at the time of writing already 210,000 people have joined.
I very much like Zuckerberg’s spirit with this endeavour, but I do wonder whether he has opened a can of worms in terms of choosing the books to read and discuss. A new book every fortnight equates to 26 books a year. That is a tiny drop in a very large ocean of books that are published.
I can envision the community being inundated with publishers and authors offering their wares; already plenty are doing so. And the reason is clear: this brand-new book club is already one of the most powerful in the world. The first book on the list for the year, The End of Power by MoisésNaím, sold out on Amazon.com in 24 hours. Clearly, like Oprah, Zuckerberg has the power to wave a magic wand and make a book a bestseller.
I wonder how the author feels. A little overwhelmed by the speed, perhaps! And the publisher? Perhaps a little disappointed that it didn’t get advance notice so that it could plan for the deluge of sales. Jim Milliot, editorial director at Publisher’s Weekly, said on the subject of the Facebook club versus Oprah’s: ‘For one thing, Zuckerberg hasn’t worked with the publishers yet to help facilitate sales.’ The word ‘yet’ is interesting. There is an assumption that publishers will be supported to use this venture to their own gain. But perhaps Zuckerberg thinks otherwise. Perhaps this club is not about which publisher carries the most clout, but about some genuine book choices by readers. Grass roots. Very, very interesting.
It remains to be seen whether those who are joining the book club will stick with it – reading the books and actively discussing them. But the wave of new joiners is indicative of a shift to digital for readers – to discover books, to read books and to talk about books. What’s most exciting, I think, is how sharing recommendations on social media can bring books to the fore.
On Twitter, for example, you can explore various reading hashtags as a means to find new books. I like the #amreading one, and of course #fridayreads has long been popular. Twitter has a lot of potential for readers and writers alike. Did you know, for example, that John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars was the most discussed book of last year on Twitter, with some 1.4 million mentions?
It’s surely enough to take the wind out of the sails of those who bemoan the growth of digital for its effect on the book. In so many ways digital is getting people sharing stories, and that trend can only go one way: up.