Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bloggers & Bookstore Affiliates

Chris Cleave, a novelist and Guardian writer, says that he received the worst review of his life from a blogger.  The mysterious unnamed blogger didn't show up for a recent lunch for nine writers and nine of the UK's most popular bloggers.  In fact, only four bloggers showed up for this lunch sponsored by Cleave's publisher.  Very odd.

Cleave says he thinks book reviewers and book bloggers are equally powerful and he doesn't prefer one to the other. He enjoyed chatting with Farm Lane Books, a blogger I confess I don't know.  But he humorously insists that some blogs are big business these days, receiving "a 6% kickback off Amazon when you click through on one of their links. I'm just saying." And, he goes on cattily, some bloggers receive tens or hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, so they're NOT strictly the not-for-profit operations you'd imagine.  

His facetious remarks about the Amazon Associates program gave me pause.  I'm vaguely aware of bookstore affiliate programs:  Amazon Associates, the Book Depository Affiliates, & Barnes & Noble Affiliates.   The Am/Ass gadget appears in the sidebar of my draft blogger page.  The truth is I CAN'T profit from it because I can't be bothered to use it. 

I don't pay much attention to these links.  Well, perhaps I've noticed them, but I never click on the book image links at blogs.  If I want to buy a book, I note it in a notebook and then go to Amazon afterwards.  Amazon has the best website, so even when I don't buy, I often read up on books there.  

Do affiliates compromise more in their reviews?  I'd have to analyze reviews and note stats and...  Heavens!  It's not Bloggergate.  But I just clicked on some blogs on my blogroll and am amazed to find so many enrolled in affiliate programs, among them A Common Reader, A Work in Progress, Dovegreyreader, Nonsuch Books, Random Jottings, and The Literary Stew.

A few of these bloggers are really about PR.  They say they write only about books they like.  I used to suspect some of being marketing firms.  And that doesn't mean I don't enjoy them.  I DO.  Only not always for their book reviews.  They're TOO nice, and that means they're unreliable.

But quite a number on my blogroll are NOT enrolled in these programs.  I tend to respect their judgment, too. I must admit I feel relieved I'm not the only one not in business.  There's something about making money off a blog that doesn't SEEM right to me. I never thought about it, of course, before I read Cleave's Guardian piece, though.  

I read blogs for many reasons.  I like Dovegreyreader, Stuck in a Book, and Random Jottings for notes on English life-styles as much as reviews, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog Two for her academic fairness and intelligent criticism, The Fiction Desk for elegant writing, and A Work in Progress for the midwestern perspective on pop and literary novels. 

The truth is I'm much more interested in fair reviews than nice reviews.  Vintage Reading, an honorable, shrewd reviewer, didn't like Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmans of Westport, but I was able to deduce that I might enjoy it, and I did.  A reviewer's opinion is only part of it, and doesn't dictate what I read.

My blog sketches & reviews help me remember my life:  books, bicycling, weather. Perhaps I would be nicer if I remembered that writers sometimes stop by.  But I honestly don't think about that much. 

And I'm not bothering to put links by the bloggers' names in this post; you'll have to go to my blogroll.  There are simply too many potential links in this post...


Anne Brooke said...

Interesting times indeed! Speaking as the nameless blogger concerned, I'm not sure I've ever been a professional anything and power of any sort is way beyond my ken :) but I do utterly agree that reviews should be fair and intelligent.

Like you, I also note books - though on Goodreads rather than a notebook - and then buy them afterwards. I thought everyone did that!

Anne B

Danielle said...

I'm in your list and I am an affliate--trust me, I don't make enough money from it to quit my day job. As a matter of fact blogging is only a hobby for me, one I enjoy, but I don't pretend to be any sort of real reviewer and certainly not in the same class as that Guardian writer is talking about. Writing about what I'm reading is a way for me to be a better reader and also to remember what I've read. I hate to think I am unreliable--if someone chooses to pick up a book I write about great, if not, I am not offended as the post was more for me anyway than anyone else--and there are certainly plenty of varying opinions out there on books anway for someone to get a different perspective. I suspect I AM too nice, but that's who I am and I can't change that. Lord knows I am not a mover and a shaker in the literary or blogging world--I just want to enjoy my books.

Danielle said...

...Reading over my comment I don't mean to sound as fierce as it might come off, as it's really not meant to be! :)

Frisbee said...

Anne, how fascinating that you're the blogger who criticized Cleave's book. I think he was being funny, but he did go on and on. Since, in my experience, bloggers tend to be extremely nice, I'm pleased that you're writing criticism. It's not that I don't like NICE, but I like alternatives to newspaper reviews, nice and not no nice. And since you're also a writer, you're in the same class as Cleave, not the pajama blogger he says doesn't exist, so it seems that boundaries are blurred in his little article.

Danielle, I don't mind your sounding fierce at all! Anyway, I know nothing about these affiliate programs, and it seems to me that if one in 1,000 readers clicked on the links--wouldn't that be realistic?--people would just make a couple of dollars. It's Cleave's idea that there are professional bloggers!

And, you're nice but you DO criticize books, too. I wasn't trying to criticize my favorite bloggers, and am certainly not looking for meanness, but just looked quicly at blogs for the affliate practices. So I gave an example of "famous" blogger affliates who happen to be on my blogroll!

Oh, dear, this was not a way to make friends!

There's not really an issue here at all. I've simply never seen anything written about the affiliate programs.

Danielle said...

The affiliate program is like having a little tip jar by the cash register. If I accumulate more than $10 a month I get a voucher in that amount to use for books, otherwise it just keeps adding up until I reach that amount. It depends on whether anyone buys anything if they click through, but it is literally pennies that you make from a purchase (unless they buy something really expensive). I suppose if you get a lot of foot traffic and market yourself--make it easy and obvious for people to search Amazon (by having a search box?)you might actually make some small profit, but I don't do more than link to books I'm reading. I wish I were a better writer, but I've never studied Literature formally and know what I do is nothing compared to what other bloggers in your blogroll put out. I'm sure they would scoff at my blog, so I am just content to stay in my own quiet corner. :)

Teresa said...

I've never noticed a big difference in the critical tendencies of those who are in affiliate programs vs. those who aren't. And from what others have said, there's not enough money in it to sway anyone's opinion toward the positive. I do think someone told me once (can't remember who) that you can see which books get bought through your affiliate links, which does sound like something interesting to know.

And if Anne's review (which is rather hilarious and seemed entirely fair) is the worst review Chris Cleave has ever gotten, he's a lucky writer indeed.

SFP said...

I was an affiliate for four years, until Amazon decided it wasn't going to play nicely with the state of North Carolina (details here: http://pagesturned.blogspot.com/2009/06/no-longer-amazon-associate.html ).

When I first joined, it would take several months to earn a voucher, and by the time Amazon kicked me out of the program, I was earning a couple hundred dollars a year in coupons--just because they click on a book link doesn't mean they aren't going to buy an exercise bike once they're on the Amazon site. But I operate a little backwater blog; I don't doubt that there are some bloggers who manage to put their formidable marketing skills to work and make a good deal more, but I think a lot of that is probably through actual advertising.

Vintage Reading said...

I wasn't aware of the affiliate thing and I'm a regular visitor of some of the blogs you mentioned. Actually, the only thing that puts me off a blog is the book bloggers who rarely or never interact with their comments box. I think they sometimes forget that the internet is all about communication although I do appreciate that if you have a hugely popular blog it is difficult to reply to everyone!
Strange we differed over the Schine because usually our tastes in books are similar!

Frisbee said...

I've been out of town and am just catching up on comments. Glad to see I still have that journalist's touch for stirring things up. The Guardian blogs are often incendiary. I have never paid attention to affiliate links, but it does raise certain questions.

Is it conflict of interest? I think that's what the Guadian blogger was saying. Do bloggers have to consider such issues as conflict of interest? Bloggers, of course, are not journalists. Journalists have to be very careful about accepting freebies, cashing in, or even socializing with the subjects of their articles. But bloggers are not journalists. Are we reviewers? Are we book editors? Are we line-crossers? We're anything we want to be. Book editors receive free books, give away huge numbers of books, and assign books to reviewers who are NOT under obligations to publishers. We're sort of book editors, making up our own rules.

It's interesting to consider the issue anyway.

But everybody here says there isn't a conflict and isn't there anybody who thinks there is? We're all awfully nice, aren't we? :)

Anonymous said...

Just today I read a paper by student on how to have a blog that makes a profit. I'm not sure what is meant by affiliates, but she seemed to say the way to make money is to have ads on your blog. Is that what Amazon provides? Ads? The student said how one has to have a central subject and stick to it, it has to be broad to get people commenting, and if it's about books one must be positive or you offend.

There is self-evidently a conflict, and while blogs are not as vacuous and filled with over-praise like blurbs they are often bland and don't talk about the book's real content at all.


Frisbee said...

Ellen, the affiliate programs are SUBTLE ads. A blogger writes about a book. An image appears in the post, or in a sidebar, and if you click on the image it goes right to Amazon. (Not like our images, which go nowhere.) And then if some reader clicks and buys the book, the blogger makes a little money.

For ME it's conflict of interest. For MY HUSBAND it's conflict of interest. It's never clear-cut on the internet. I can see how things come about. It's best not to pay too much attention to the affiliate programs. But it's best, in my experience, not to buy a book until one's read several reviews. Bloggers' enthusiasm used to carry me away, and then I'd get burned with a book not to my taste.

So it's hard to find these super-critical bloggers everybody complains about. I just don't see them.