I don’t want to cover Twitter too much on this site, but having written a brief introduction to Twitter for authors, I wanted to take a quick look at an aspect of Twittering that affects publishers.
As Twitter becomes an increasingly powerful tool for book publicists – although the jury is out as to how powerful it might get – established Twitter accounts themselves are going to become increasingly valuable commodities. A well managed Twitter account could have the ear of thousands of potential customers, journalists, bloggers, and other useful contacts. These kinds of accounts often represent a considerable investment of time and energy, and have a significant value. (Anybody want to guess what @stephenfry‘s account is worth? The man can probably knock a smaller website offline just by mentioning it.)
As with anything of value, sooner or later, people are going to start arguing over who owns these Twitter accounts. Is it the publisher or the publicist? Some accounts obviously (probably) belong to their current publishers – examples of these might be multi-person accounts (@threemarketeers and so on) or branded accounts (@randomhouse), but what about accounts in the publicist’s name? For example, right now, Penguin’s @joethepublicist has around 1,350 bookish followers on his account. If he moves to another house, does he take that account with him, and simply start tweeting about his work at the new house? Or could Penguin have some claim on it?
Other questions: what effect could this have on hiring freelancers? If you hire the man, do you get the Tweets too? Will control of a popular Twitter account be a major feature of a publicist’s CV? Is it already?
There’s a good post over on Search Engine journal that examines various situations from an (American) legal perspective, which suggests examining issues like whether the Twitterer had the account prior to starting the job, whose time the Tweets were made in, whether social media is part of the Twitterer’s contract, etc. That post definitely provides some food for thought, but I suspect that we won’t really know where everybody stands until the first arguments break out…