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Hachette to experiment with selling books on Twitter

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Do tweets sell books?

It has long been a question for publishers and authors, who have started relying heavily on social media to promote books as they search for new ways to reach readers in an uncertain retail market. Authors with large Twitter followings, like John Green and Paulo Coelho, have become publishing powerhouses.

Now, the Hachette Book Group is testing whether a tweet from an author can directly trigger a sale. Hachette, which publishes best-selling authors like James Patterson, Michael Connelly and Malcolm Gladwell, announced Monday that it would partner with Gumroad, a company that allows creators to sell their products directly to their social media followers without leaving the Twitter platform.

Hachette is kicking off the experiment this month, with just a handful of books by authors who have large Twitter followings. The first batch includes "The Art of Asking," by Amanda Palmer, who has more than 1 million Twitter followers; "You Are Here," by Chris Hadfield, the former astronaut and YouTube star who has 1.2 million followers, and "The Onion Magazine: Iconic Covers that Transformed an Undeserving World," a book from the satirical news site The Onion, which has 6.6 million followers.

A limited number of each of the titles will be for sale on Twitter, with a "buy" button, along with an exclusive bonus item, such as an original manuscript page from Palmer, with her notes and notes from her husband, the author Neil Gaiman, or a signed photograph of an aerial image of Corfu from Hadfield.

A Hachette spokeswoman said the company planned eventually to expand the effort to include more titles.

Gumroad has worked with musicians, artists, music labels and charities to sell works and raise money through Twitter, but Hachette is its first publishing partner. Gumroad will take a transaction fee for each purchase, and the books will be sold at their list price, according to Hachette, which would not disclose the specifics of the transaction fee.

The experiment will probably draw some criticism. Many social media users still see sites like Twitter, which introduced a buy button this fall, as a place to share ideas and experiences, not to sell merchandise. And early efforts to roll out e-commerce on social media platforms have lagged.

But some authors say they are eager to try anything that will help them sell more books.

"As an obsessive experimenter with a tightknit army in the digital battlefield, I see platforms like Gumroad as real allies to all sorts of creators who need help sharing and selling their digital work," Palmer said in a statement. "I’m really excited to see how my growing reader community responds to this kind of sharing."

Alexandra Alter, New York Times

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