Yesterday afternoon, Canongate quietly made public an innovation so head-slappingly simple that suddenly, the slow demise of the print media that hadn’t thought of this already began to make a lot more sense. Fittingly, it made the announcement via Twitter – unless you had already rushed out and bought a hardback copy of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok within seven hours of its going on sale, in which case you may have noticed it before then. But for everyone who didn’t (for shame! We’re living in a society here!), this was the news that graced their timelines: ‘Now printing hashtags on our jacket flaps. Look out for them and join or create a conversation around a book. First up: #ragnarokbyatt‘.
Before anyone jumps in and decries the further dumbing down of literature, presumably after restoring their monocle to its rightful position and being revived via smelling salts having fainted dead away from the shock of it all, think about this: has the inclusion of the URL of a publisher’s website on dust jackets ever affected your enjoyment of a book’s contents? It’s a move that does no damage, aesthetic or otherwise, to the quality of the book itself, but stands to bring it that much more publicity in a widely read online forum. I believe that’s what’s known as a win.
Of course, whether or not it catches on is something else entirely. At the time of writing, there are precisely ten tweets on all of Twitter with the hashtag ‘ragnarokbyatt’, six of which either come from Canongate itself or are retweets of its messages on the subject. Given the overwhelmingly positive reception the book has had already, however, it stands to reason that the hashtag will appear with increasing frequency, as more and more people get around to reading it and feel the need to share their opinions of it with the rest of the world.
Let’s be honest – none of these hashtags are ever going to break into the top trending topics (currently in the UK, these include ‘Jared Leto is the BOSS’, ‘Hollyoaks Later’ and the intriguingly truncated ‘Matt Cardle’s’), but an easily searchable database of fellow readers’ reactions is certainly a handy facility to have. Everyone must surely know the frustration of finishing a book and having nobody with whom to talk about it. If this toe in the water turns into a full-on cannonball, that could permanently be a thing of the past.