Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marketing and Blogging

Book editors receive tens of thousands of review copies every year and have to calculate the number and kind of books they can fit into precious shrinking pages. 275,232 books were published in the U.S. in 2008, according to statistics released in May by Bowker, the famous bibliographical information company. The top five categories were:

1. Fiction (47,541 new titles)

2. Juveniles (29,438)

3. Sociology/Economics (24,423)

4. Religion (16,847)

5. Science (13,555)

Yet there's no more Washington Post Book World. No more L.A. Times Book Review. These newspapers still print daily reviews, but many fewer.

So many books, so little space.

No wonder publicists turn to bloggers.

Bloggers sell books. Are there statistics? Over the years, I've bought books recommended by countless bloggers, and sold a few myself.

Case in point: Bloomsbury is reissuing the light and charming Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson as a result of reading Frisbee. (They dropped in to tell us.) Fabulous! That’s what we love to do: spread the word about books.

But will I receive a review copy when it’s published? Dubious. I don’t live in the UK, I've already reviewed the book, and I can’t be much use to them, except for occasional recommendations of out-of-print books. On the other hand, Bloomsbury novels like Poppy Shakespeare and The Spy Game have delighted me. So we’re kind of even already.

Bloggers often step in where a professional book review editor fears to tread: the space is free and their own, so they don't have to write about the latest books. Often they're talking about reprints and library books.

I buy most of my books (I just bought and reviewed A Short History of Women, and bought and will review Monica Ali’s In the Kitchen). I’ve had to build my own collection of out-of-print books and classics. (In other words, Penguin and Oxford World Classics have yet to send me their complete set of books - or any books.)

I occasionally receive review copies from publishers.

I have one question for my fellow bloggers, though - and I respect them, so don't take this the wrong way. Why, when they write about a review copy, do they feel compelled to preface their blogs with fulsome statements like: “I just found in the mail a copy of A Short History of Women from Scribners and I was ecstatic, because Kate Walbert is on my list of 10 Writers to Read Before I Die, and Ann Packer wrote a blurb...” No, It’s not that bad. But it is bewildering. It somehow makes it sound like: a) the blogger is insecure and worried about ethics, because she’s receiving gifts and advertising the publishers, or b) hoping that if she praises the book enough, maybe they’ll send a book that she REALLY wants.

I find the tone confusing, to say the least. Are we marketing, or blogging?

It's really better not to mention it. Do professional book reviewers, as opposed to bloggers, write, ““Love and kisses, Scribners" or "Random House, thanks again!" No, it’s pointless.

I know that's not what my favorite bloggers mean - I hope not - but it's weird...

No one else complains about this, however...


Vintage Reading said...

Very interesting points. As a fledgling blogger I've never received any review copies and I'm not really sure that I want to as I like to follow my own reading path.

I've noticed one or two book bloggers openly pleading for review copies and I find it a bit off-putting. I pay for my own books and then I can say what I like about them!


Vintage Reading, I have learned from experience that buying or borrowing my own books gives me control over what I read - and that's important. .I have requested and received a very few review copies from publishers, and I'm certainly grateful - rah rah, sis boom bah, publishers, and all that - but it never occurred to me that a simply thank-you via e-mail wouldn't suffice.

I can only read so many contemporary books before I have to feed my out-of-print book habit. The other day I looked at a very good blog, noticed with dismay that it has almost turned into a market firm for review copies, and thought, "My God, you couldn't pay me to read all of those review copies!"

My husband has suggested that bloggers' obsequiousness and groveling to publishers is a way of boasting that they're "in" with the publishers. That hadn't quite occurred to me, but there is an element of that. And the crazy thing is that publishers are owned by big corporations that have cut many literary writers from their lists since the '90s - so why grovel?