Book blogs: do they matter?

September 6, 2005 | 2 min read

Here’s another one: this time it’s a CS Monitor article by Randy Dotinga called “Book blogs’ buzz grows louder.” Over the last year many newspapers have printed some variation of this article. In it, the author introduces his readers to this online literary subculture book blogs. (And once again The Millions fails to get mentioned, but congrats to Mark Sarvas who leads the article – I’ve got to borrow his PR person.) Almost invariably, these articles also try to assess the impact, if any, that these blogs have on book sales, and almost invariably that question proves very difficult to answer. Here’s Dotinga’s stab at it:

But is anyone listening? Many book bloggers seem to be talking only to themselves, judging by the dearth of postings by outsiders on their sites. And it’s hard to tell if bloggers’ mash notes translate into sales at Barnes & Noble.

Which is another way of saying that book blogs have no measurable effect on book sales. We are a drop in the bucket, as it were. It’s hard to disagree with that conclusion. Extrapolating from my own numbers, the numbers I’ve seen mentioned by other book bloggers and the numbers mentioned in Dan Wickett’s interviews with book bloggers (1, 2, 3, 4), I’d estimate that on any given day no more than 75,000 people worldwide read a “book blog.” Most large publishers wouldn’t bother buying an ad if it was only going to reach 75,000, and yet, if my experience is representative, the more prominent book bloggers are recieving e-mail pitches, catalogs, and review copies almost daily. Are these publishers fools to be courting us? Well, yes and no. Anyone expecting a burst of sales from being mentioned on The Millions is sadly deluded, and the same is likely true of an isolated mention on any of the dozens of other book blogs out there. But, collectively, we book bloggers are able to deliver something that is hard to come by: a targeted audience. Publishers know that the people who read book blogs are many times more likely to buy a book than non-book blog readers, and by thrusting books into our hands, they hope to reach our coveted audience and get a little word of mouth going. If all the pieces fall into place, I think it’s possible that book blogs are capable of boosting the sales of a particular book, though not enough to get it onto any bestseller lists.

But I have another theory as to why these publishers are courting us: It’s fun. For the first time there is an informed, entertaining conversation about books going on that anyone in the world can listen in on. No longer do the desk jockeys in the publicity department have to spend all their time clipping reviews and engineering in-store events, now they get to read blogs – now they get to feel like they’re a part of the book discussion. They get to reach out directly to the most passionate readers. (I suspect this is why authors and all sorts of publisher types seem to love book blogs, too.) So, sure they want us to sell some books for them if we can, but, secretly, I think they just want to join in the fun.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

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