From yesterday’s set of observations, and because sometimes these things need a spotlight of their own. There was, as I’ve come to expect, a huge, sprawling conversation on Twitter, yet again proving that a) Twitter is great at spreading news but b) absorbs a lot of the debate, meaning these notions and any good thoughts are instantly lost.
So, here are a few things that cropped up. Some food for thought here? Or utter madness? You know I love a good storm…
When it becomes about hits, the “soul” is lost. Too many homogenized posts/challenges/etc. out there as it is now. I sometimes feel as though I am reading a bot’s writing when I browse through several blogs these days, but that’s a topic for another time and place, perhaps.
Every passing month sees the bloggers sliding that little bit further towards being unpaid PR staff. Every passing month sees being principles bent and working relationships sanctified with lip-smacking and back-scratching for all. Every passing month sees a little bit less discussion and a few more ‘guest posts’ and ‘giveaways’.
It’s like a rising tide of civilisation.
Of course the standard of reviewing is rubbish. Being a blogger nowadays is not about becoming a better writer and a more perceptive reader, it’s about getting invited to costume parties.
Relationships where one party has power over the other are always inherently unhealthy and I think this applies to publisher-blogger relationships as much as anything else. However, the idea that the publishers hold all the cards in this relationship is illusory. If you give a single book a bad review and the publisher stops sending you review copies, that news would get out pretty quickly and give the publisher a bad name for being unprofessional. We know how fast bad news travels on the Internet. For this reason, as far as I know, this has never happened in the current SFF blogosphere. The bad press isn’t worth the handful of lost sales from one book getting a bad review, especially since likely there will be other positive reviews elsewhere in the blogosphere.
I will say there’s one publisher who wanted several bloggers to jump through some hoops (a signed agreement that they would review all of the publisher’s books as soon as they arrived) in order to get their books, and as far as I know no-one did. Even their authors didn’t seem to think this was a good idea, with several of them sending review copies out themselves to get around that restriction.
The influence that publishers have over critical discussion is far more insidious than that.
For example, if you suddenly find yourself being contacted by publishers and offered stuff for free then you would only be human if you felt a certain degree of pride. The message is that not only have industry professionals heard of you, they think enough of you to invite your comment on their products. It is a lot harder to put the boot into that product than it is to put the boot into product that you have gone out and bought for yourself.
Another example, bloggers crave feedback. They want to know that someone out there is reading. But it is difficult to feel part of a conversation if you are talking about stuff that nobody else is talking about. By sending out review copies to reviewers, publishers are thereby allowing reviewers to all be on the same page at the same time. Simply by putting the same books in front of people at the same time, you are influencing what gets written about. You are dictating the cultural agenda.
Throw in stuff like give-aways, costume parties and exclusive interviews and you have a blogosphere that is utterly in hock to commercial interests.
Most of the blogs seem to be fair. I think the more popular a blog becomes the more difficult it may be to publish damming reviews though. This is two-fold a)they may know the author and even if they don’t would they want to potentially ruin them and b) there’s always going to readers of the blog who will passionately love something you hate and this could cause chaos and loss of hits.
I don’t really see a problem with bloggers being “unpaid” PR as long the reviewer genuinely thinks it’s worthy of the praise.
Mark’s very own blog is essentially PR but that doesn’t mean all his posts are bogus. He’s not being paid by BP or GM food companies, that’s for sure 😉
I guess the thing is with an author blog, you know what to expect. Relentless self-promotion, of course! But with other blogs, perhaps readers expect impartiality, and sometimes that might come into question – with the above examples?
I guess this is why it’s sometimes a good idea to have a mixture of reviewers rather than a single person. This is usually the case with music/films/tv and i tend to trust these types of review panels more. Then again they tend to let the person who’ll probably like it, review it but they may have the other reviewers comments included.
Some of the other complaints in terms of publishers manioulating bloggers is really no different from what happens in other forms of entertainmnet either. That’s not to say it’s right but that it’s merely how things work. To be fair if the publishers don’t let bloggers get hold of the books before the release most of us tend to think it’s because the book is a stinker.