Simon Savidge wrote a post earlier this week in response to an article in the bookseller by Scott Pack about missed opportunities regarding the books pages in newspapers and blogs. Pack thinks it would be fun and useful to sometimes turn over actual news print to bloggers suggesting that both sales and web traffic would increase. He also thinks it won’t happen, not least because you have to ask what journalist is going to want to hand over any part of their turf to an amateur competitor?
I would probably have forgotten about the whole debate if it hadn’t been for a ‘Decanter’ magazine article about power in the wine trade. In a list of 50 of the world’s most influential names in wine number 16 is the amateur wine blogger. ‘Decanter’ has it about right when they talk about “a world of rapidly evolving views and insights which are increasingly becoming a key reference point - and forum – with which winemakers and producers can engage”. Substitute writers and publishers for winemakers and producers – it’s all the same.
The thing about the books pages in the weekend papers is that whilst they’re presumably still there I’m not reading them anymore. This is partly an economy thing, but it’s also a question of representation. It’s right and proper that the majority of reviews should concern themselves with contemporary writing but I’m more interested in classics or rediscovered curiosities and there’s no shortage of educated, informed, and enthusiastic write ups of the books I might want to read but to find them I go straight to the bloggers who share my love of a certain type of book.
An ever increasing number of bloggers suggest I’m part of a very big crowd and the thing that I suspect is becoming increasingly clear is that though the individual number of readers each blog has may be small (a busy blog being one that has a couple of thousand hits a day) the impact they have on their readers is disproportionate. Other bloggers make me spend money. Publishers know it which is why (I assume) they are generally so willing to throw a few books our way. Some bookshops are beginning to realise it, and plenty of writers are in no doubt whatsoever.
Which leads to another thing that fascinates me about the book bloggers I know – we most of us do it for free, as a hobby it takes up a huge amount of time and it’s rewarding in all sorts of ways (but not in cash) and yet somebody somewhere is making something out of what we do for fun, and all the time we do it we’re sidelining the people who make some sort of a living from more traditional reviews. I suspect that without the internet and the passionate partisanship of a hardcore of readers, publishers like Persephone would be somewhat less successful than they have been, it’s how they’ve separated me from the better part of £500, another few dozen like me and that’s a noticeable impact on a balance sheet.
I don’t know if this has been a missed opportunity or not, but I’m quite sure that things are going to get a lot more interesting.