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Old Bloggers’ Retirement Home

Pat’s debating giving up SFF blogging:

After 6 years, a couple of millions of visitors from over 100 countries, 263 book reviews and counting, many fun and interesting interviews, and countless giveaways and related SFF material, maybe it’s time to hang ’em up. . .

It would be sad to see Pat’s blog end. I paid close attention to the blogosphere over the years, from my days setting up Solaris. I’ve seen so many reviewers come and go. Back then, it was easy to see the potential. We were a smallish publisher who relied upon people power, since we couldn’t afford massive marketing campaigns or to spend thousands of pounds on advertising. Without getting too quixotic, I liked to think of blogging as a bit of a grassroots literary community. It was about a few people who loved the genre and loved talking about it, who did not have an agenda. More importantly, it was not influenced by publishers – they were busy courting print reviewers. At Solaris then, we wanted to be part of that debate. We happened to be fans in a good place – fans in charge of an imprint. There existed a mere handful of bloggers, not many more. As editors, we got to talk to most of them, got to know them a little too. To chat about books with others was a wonderful job.

The difference these days? As I said on Twitter:

I think the difference in book blogging is that 4 years ago publishers ignored you. Now they realise you can make them money.

Whether you like it or not, bloggers, all publishers now want to make money from you. Whenever you mention their books, there is a chance they will sell more copies. While for the most part publishers love being in the community and probably would anyway (don’t forget, many are geeks too), it’s also ridiculously simple to see the awkward corporations blunder about to focus debate in their court (they’re the ones that use terms like “networking” and “building communities”). They started to realise this potential only a couple of years ago, and who can blame them for trying to get you on their side? Their business depends upon it. Margins are tight. Supermarkets are screwing them for discount. Life is tough on the frontline. So free books started being sent out to bloggers – to this new reviewing middle-class, in order to monopolise word-of-mouth publicity. And more people realised they could join the debate and start their own blog. Some did it for the free stuff, and they kind of fell away quickly because they couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of demand from publishers.

Why I am waffling on like an old man? I don’t know. Twitter was abuzz last night with people commenting that the community wasn’t what it used to be, and that there was a growing distance, even growing rudeness. Also, people seem to find it increasingly difficult to find things to talk about, and I understand that.

Some random thoughts on those points:

1) You are not a slave to your blog. If you want to talk about other things, then that is perfectly fine. I’ve had stacks of people contact me in one way or another to say they’re glad I talk about other stuff – politics or the environment. There’s a whole world out there, and if you ignore it constantly then you’ll become tired of blogging. Also, it’s a helpful reality check. We do quite often blog in a bubble.

2) Don’t worry about hits. When you start worrying about hits, you’re not doing it for the love of reading. You’re doing it for the attention, and these days, you’ll likely be disappointed – because there is more white noise out there than ever before. You will possibly never achieve the level of hits Pat achieved – because he got there early and maintained it solidly for years.

I suspect the blogosphere is having another growth spurt. Soon it’ll settle down again, and cliques and niches will form naturally, but I’m afraid it still won’t be that cosy little place of a few years back.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

18 replies on “Old Bloggers’ Retirement Home”

It is interesting to note that some people see the place as being less friendly than it used to be.

I remember when I started back in 2006 or so, the SFF blogosphere was an absolutely terrifying place in which comments made with one audience in mind would be regularly picked up and turned into the basis for huge moral panics and terrifying slap-fights fought over hundreds of blog comments and reaction posts.

Looking back on it now, I think this was largely the result of discrete islands of fandom being shoved into the same cultural space. Now that more people are online and blogging, that space has fragmented so you get less of the moral panics, turf wars and slap fights but I think the blogosphere has always been quite a fractious place.

I’m not surprised. I invariably get the impression that LJ is like the Russian prison system in Pattern Recognition or the African Jungle in White Devils: A breeding ground for all kinds of nastiness that can infect the world at a moment’s notice. Is it something to do with the interface or is it just the resiliency of the cliques that post there? I remember when Race Fail was in full voice, the worst offenders on both sides were invariably LJ bloggers.

I think it is inevitable that the blogosphere has evolved from its formative days, that or die out. And as a part of that we see a changing of the guard. As you say Mark, “I’ve seen so many reviewers come and go.” While it would be sad to see current favourites disappear, I’m sure other bloggers will emerge as leading voices. As a blog lurker/reader and occasional commentator, there does appear to be an increase in the number of ‘speculative fiction’ blogs out there. All the better for me to sample and garner views on new and, hopefully, classic books.

Publishers have unsurprisingly latched onto the rich vein of almost-free marketing they gain for the cost of distributing a few advance copies. I am one of the beneficiaries as previously there were few options for reading reviews of genre fiction. In my younger days I almost exclusively relied on the back-plate and any cover quotes – a hit and miss tactic for sure! It takes a little time to figure out bloggers’ tastes and opinions in much the same way as trying a new author, but that is part of the fun.

Le blogger est mort. Vive le blogger!

The most interesting comment of the whole debate was Cheryl Morgan’s response to your publishers/bloggers comment:

@MarkCN Nope, now they think you can make them money. They don’t know any more than they did before.

Publisher confusion can certainly muddy the waters. Blogging’s still in its infancy as a media outlet, and there’re certainly kinks that need to be worked out.

Bottom line, I agree 100% that bloggers should blog about whatever they want. When we start trying to play to preconceptions and expectations it becomes exponentially less interesting and rewarding.

Jonathan – I suppose it depended where you visited in the early days of blogging. The new places on blogger or wordpress I suspect by the established community. They built their own thing independent of the rest of the genre, so perhaps missed out on some of the earlier fisticuffs.

Rachel – that’s what I thought!

JamesY – I think others will continue to be strong voices, but I’m not sure that people will replicate Pat’s reach any time soon. It’s the sort of thing where you had to be doing the right thing in the right place at the right time to get so many followers. A lot of folk probably check out a handful of blogs, and aren’t unaware of the good stuff being said on other sites. Which is a shame, but given the point of saturation, I can’t see that being undone.

Aidan – do you think blogging is still in its infancy? It’s been there a very long time. I think things are settling to be honest. All the major companies and publications have blogs these days. It’s the story of capitalism dominating what was traditionally an anarchistic medium. Twitter still has that freedom however.

Patrick – we’re all getting to that stage now! 🙂

Re ‘community’, I do have a theory that looking at blogging as a medium is a category mistake. I think it’s a lot closer to being a good conversationalist/dinner guest in the tradition of Ustinov and Christopher Isherwood. It’s about personality, it’s about judging tone, it’s about being insightful but also communicating that insight in an amusing way AND it’s about the accumulation of social capital rather than cold hard cash.

Blogs are still somewhat of an anarchistic medium. The problem is that everyone (including me) have become anarchists. Used to be there were bloggers and readers, now it’s just bloggers. Anyone who wants to contribute an opinion is doing it already in their own venue.

Commercialization of communication platforms is inevitable but I don’t think it is going to take those kinds of resources to gain the same reach. But it is going to take some kind game-changer to re-engage all the interest that has fractioned itself out over the web.

@TN Tobias – That’s an interesting distinction. It’s true that a lot larger group of my audience have their own blog now, compared to when I started up 3+ years ago. It would also explain, somewhat, the inverse ratio of comments:readers. Though my traffic is much higher than it was two years ago, I have to work harder than ever to engage my readers and prompt them to comment on my posts.

Jonathan – I’d be really interested to see that theory in more detail actually. I do think you’re onto something there. As in, it’s a kind of singularity between medium and creator perhaps? That explains why corporations still come across as clunking and awkward a lot of the time.

T.N. Tobias – an interesting notion. Surely, though, even in anarchism, there is to some extent unity. Perhaps there’s too little solidarity, which is what existed in the first place?

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