Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Late to the Party,

but the New York Times today sums up some of the issues that were bouncing around here a couple of weeks ago. What is perhaps most salient is that their news about blogs-and-books reaches a potential audience, in print and online, of far greater number than any blogosphere dustup does, while here it's mostly insider baseball. I find it odd, though, that Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus sets himself up as the defender of newspaper book reviews as providers of regional coverage ("While I’m all for the literary bloggers, and I think the more people that write about books the better, they’re not necessarily as regionally focused as knowledgeable, experienced long-term editors in the South or Midwest or anywhere where the most important writers come from") as if, one, that's true, or two, that's important. And is he saying that "the most important writers" are more likely to be found in one region than another? His assumption of regional origin as such a defining characteristic of writers that it needs to be nurtured by regional newspaper coverage seems evidence of someone who is ignoring the Internet, and what it's doing to social geography, at his peril. (Or maybe it's just smugness that he lives in New York.)

I'm with him on the "knowledgeable, experienced long-term editors" part (he says, anxiously patting his paycheck). This is what newspapers and the traditional review journals have, but it's not the fact that those media are disseminated on paper that gives them their value. It is simply that their authority was built in an era when book news came on paper. That is becoming less and less true. But the real distinction is not between paper and bloggers; it's between editorial authority and unsifted opinion. That's where the fight will be.

15 comments:

Andy Laties said...

From the article:

“Like anything new, it’s difficult for authors and agents to understand when we say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to be in The New York Times or The Chicago Tribune, but you are going to be at curledup.com,’ ” said Trish Todd, publisher of Touchstone Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. “But we think that’s the wave of the future.”

So -- what I was saying a few days ago when we were discussing this is that marketing people at publishing houses are confident that they can successfully manipulate the litblogosphere. This quote proves it. The publishers are already well on the way to shifting the focus of their marketing efforts. Lit-bloggers: you are their targets. You can say that you will never never never cave in to their efforts...

Good luck! I hope that you're strong! (The publishers will be betting big money that they can figure out what makes you tick...)

Roger Sutton said...

I dunno Andy--the quoted publisher discussed print and blog reviews as examples of the same thing--potential coverage--so I don't see how you get that she expects to be able to buy one and not the other.

Andy Laties said...

The statement expresses the intent to include and depend on blogs as anticipated source of book review coverage. This means that marketing budgets are being redirected to that end. Of course marketers have ALWAYS felt that they must strive to manipulate ALL reviewers. They talk sweetly, they "respect" the system: but that's all part of doing their job. They need to generate review coverage of their authors. They struggle to achieve this goal. They spend money: they're on salary, they have budgets.

Lynn said...

The review I use is dependent on the purpose of my book purchase. When performing collection development duties I use professional reviews (Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly to name a few) because I know these are credible reviews by professional paid to write them. I do not see this purpose coming to an end anytime soon, especially in libraries.

I write book reviews (I was instructed in the process during "library school" and I find it good practice) for our education students on a library blog and also write reviews and discuss books on my personal blog. The purpose of each is different, as is the type of review or discussion concerning the book. I am not pretending to present professional reviews on my personal blog, but am doing so on work blogs.

I do look at children's book review blogs written by others as they offer a differing viewpoint; a refreshing change from what could be termed more "stuffy" reviews. While I may not purchase a book solely on their recommendation, I would take time to look at the book in question if I enjoyed the review and definitely enjoy the comments and conversation that are often part of the blogging process and culture.

It does not have to be one or the other. There is reason and purpose for both.

Andy Laties said...

I agree. I'm definitely in favor of more reading and more criticism. It's terrific that the internet is serving the world of books. I love it that as much as people announce that The End Of The Book Is Nigh, nevertheless the book as a medium and a form and an idea seems to be strengthened (via litbogging, here) by the very medium (electronic) that theoretically is endangering it!

Anonymous said...

I wonder who uses blog reviews to influence their purchase of children's books.

Do parents of young children had the time or interest to identify and follow the children's book blogs?

I was briefly exposed to the procurment process at the San Francisco Public Library. Each book contained a set of reviews from the various professional journals. Librarians highlighted and added their own comments. It seems unlikely to me that these reviews would be substituted by blog reviews.

I would be curious if there are any studies linking children's book blogs and sales.

Sincerely,
Katherine

Anonymous said...

"But the real distinction is not between paper and bloggers; it's between editorial authority and unsifted opinion. That's where the fight will be." Amen.

Careful readers will continue to be faced with the task of separating wheat from chaff in both editorial authority and unsifted opinion. Brilliance and nonsense reside in both spheres. However, the sheer volume of unsifted opinion provided by the net increases the magnitude and sometimes the urgency of that task enormously. Caveat lector.

-- Carlo

Anonymous said...

BTW Andy, I think it is far more likely that those marketing people will be targeting Roger Sutton and his new book-in-progress, When Blogs Die: What to Read to Your Kids When the Power Goes Out...

(...and Mr. Sutton, have I mentioned my latest book?)

Sincerely,
Katherine

Anonymous said...

I don't know if blogs affect sales, but I do know that parents of young children don't buy books. Other people buy them books, as gifts. (Though sometimes parents buy books for other children, like when you need a gift for another #%$%! birthday party.)

Andy Laties said...

Hmmm. That's quite a broad generalization.

I have lots of young parents as customers, who buy books for their young children -- this has remained true for me, over the 22 years that I've been running three different children's bookstores.

I would certainly agree that the MAJORITY of young parents don't buy books for their young children, but this is because the majority of Americans as a group don't buy books much, period, compared to other products and services.

Children's book sales (unit sales of new books that is) have been declining over the last few years (if you factor out the Harry Potter spike-years), along with the general, overall book sales decline (numbers of new books sold: unit sales I'm talking about). Unfortunately no one really knows how many "used books" have been sold -- now or ever! -- and it's widely acknowledged that used book sales online have jumped sharply during this period of declining "new book" sales. Thus it is POSSIBLE that Americans are still buying as many books as before but that many of these sales/purchases aren't being counted as "real sales" by the government or the book industry, since they're "resales", and they don't add anything to the Gross National Product. (Used items that are resold are not counted in the government or industry figures!!)

Anyway, in summary, I don't know how it's really possible to find out if young parents are buying fewer books for young children since you can't tell how many used books they're buying.

Gwenda said...

Blogs are word of mouth with a megaphone (the reach depending on the number of people in shouting distance), that great intangible thing that everyone wants for a book. Linking blog reviews to actual sales might not be possible, but it can only help. I buy/read a lot of books recommended by my fellow bloggers that I might not otherwise.

Who does read litblogs though? It's publishing peopleht, other writers and many dedicated readers, and those are people who have a big influence on furthering word of mouth and helping books they like. Or quietly trashing ones they hate.

The NCBLA said...

Do not underestimate the economic factor in how much space, if any, newspapers give to book reviews. The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance has long advocated for more book reviews, and book coverage, in newspapers and popular magazines. In particular, we asked newspapers to include book reviews in their style and entertainment sections in order to reach people beyond the “literary choir.” Without exception, the response from the newspaper community was shaped largely by economic factors. Quite simply, as they explained, coverage of movies and movie reviews get preeminent space partly due to readership interest, but largely due to major advertising revenues from film companies. Adult and children’s publishers are not willing, for their own economic reasons, to spend monies advertising in newspapers; consequently book coverage is limited. In fact, many newspapers would argue that book coverage and reviews are essentially done as public service.

The NCBLA did have some measure of success with popular children’s and teen magazines, Seventeen Magazine being a prime example. Seventeen Magazine has a longstanding popular reputation with generations of teens, and a heritage that includes promoting great writing and art. At one of our initial NCBLA Board meetings, I used Seventeen as an example of a periodical that had once been an advocate for teen reading. Seventeen not only published book reviews and original short stories, it had also run a national writing and art portfolio competition for teens, featuring the winners in full page spreads. I confessed that one of the most exciting days of my teen life was the day that I packaged up my large and ungainly portfolio and mailed it off to the Seventeen offices. There was a great deal of satisfaction and thrill in realizing that a city kid from Cleveland, Ohio would have her portfolio reviewed by the Seventeen staff in New York City. My confession sparked the interest of the NCBLA Board, because some of the members, including Katherine Paterson and Patty MacLachlan, had sent in their stories to Seventeen’s writing competition and had experienced that same thrill taking part in the competition.

As a result, we met with the Seventeen editorial staff. Katherine Paterson shared her experience as a young girl sending stories to Seventeen’s competition, as well as the impact that action had on her as a young creative person. Seventeen listened and made editorial changes. Subsequently, we shared our Seventeen experience with editors of other kid and teen publications; many of the magazines we approached did make changes.

Getting the word out about great books for kids and teens is a huge and growing problem. Newspaper coverage of books and book reviews, especially in local and community newspapers, is worth fighting for, not to reach the literary elite because they have no trouble finding the information they need, but for outreach to parents, teachers, and the occasional book reader. Newspapers, especially community newspapers have, unquestionably, a much broader audience than Publisher Weekly or The Horn Book.

Speaking of The Horn Book and spreading great news about books for kids, I have a challenge for all Horn Book bloggers-help build readership! As many of you know, in only 3 states is children’s literature mandatory for elementary teaching certification. And many school libraries are now manned by parent volunteers or library aides who in some cases have very little training in librarianship and/or knowledge of children’s books— and no money to pay for further training. The Horn Book should be promoted as a relatively inexpensive way to enrich teachers’, library aides’, and parents’ knowledge base. Whenever I visits schools and libraries or speak to parent groups as director of the NCBLA, or as writer/illustrator, I bring copies of The Horn Book with me, promoting its use. Unfortunately, most of the teachers I meet have never heard of The Horn Book and are delighted to learn of its existence. I have also found that many of the school and public librarians who do subscribe keep copies for their own use in their library office. In schools, why not get those copies into the teacher’s lounge where the highly attractive covers are bound to garner much more attention? In public libraries, if you are not doing so already, get The Horn Book out into circulation in the parenting bookshelves. And when speaking to parent groups, suggest a subscription to The Horn Book as a wonderful collective class gift alternative to the endless “I Love My Teacher” mugs.

Those of us who know and understand that books change lives, especially children’s lives, must continue to fight for any and every avenue that allows us to get the news out about great books for kids.

Andy Laties said...

This is a really fascinating analysis. The American Booksellers Association has engaged in similar kinds of lobbying with the publishers: the Publisher Planning Committee called on leading individuals at the major publishing houses year after year, struggling to get them to understand the longterm effects of their shortterm policy decisions vis-a-vis their own best interests in building book sales via multiple channels. It's stunningly difficult for individual employees inside huge corporations to make choices that engage with longterm objectives and override shortterm financial imperatives (quarterly bottom-line outcomes). I had no idea that leading children's authors were volunteering their time to sway periodicals publishers. That's really marvelous.

I bet there are ways to build elaborate corporate sponsorship campaigns that enhance the economic value of book reviews to the media that are providing column inches to these reviews -- and that these periodicals publishers aren't taking advantage of their opportunities in this regard.

Roger Sutton said...

And tell 'em to advertise in the Horn Book while they're at it.

Andy Laties said...

As an example of an absolutely outstanding of corporate sponsorship mechanisms in action, check out Grace Lin's book promotion for her title, "Robert's Snow" at www.robertssnow.com

This was a case of an author acting autonomously, not waiting for her publisher's marketing department to think up a good campaign. (Of course Grace's motives were obviously not commercial! She certainly was focused on raising money to find a cure for cancer. And yet the promotion clearly had a strongly beneficial impact on the book's sales. Therefore this sponsorship campaign functions as a perfect model for authors and publishers looking to understand how to transform their rather pedestrian business-as-usual functioning into a much larger and more effective book promotion framework, by linking hands with each other in non-conventional ways.)