From my Twitter a few days ago:
Review blogs are valid because we host discussion of readers, not because we know best what books are good/not good.
Book review blogs aren’t effective b/c of the review. They are effective because of the discussion among readers who aren’t being talked down to by review who writes with presumption that s/he knows best. Reviews=discussions on blogs, not monologues
Since I wrote the above, I’ve been thinking about the role of the book review blog, either as Evil Killer of Newspaper Book Sections or as Example of Future Horizontal Marketing and Collaborative Success Model – especially in light of the Harper Studio poll revealing that folks trust “a recommendation from a friend” over “a book review.”
The thing is, I like to think review blogs, especially ones like ours and Dear Author are both. Not only are we reviewers, but we also form friendships and communities on the sites.
In all the grousing here and there about the failure of book review pages – and let me be clear: I am NOT saying someone shouldn’t grouse about losing their jobs because that fucking sucks like holy shit awful – I think that the newspapers themselves need to wake up to something very crucial. The way in which many of us interact with our entertainment has changed. We aren’t solo readers or solo watchers any more. We don’t interact with our entertainment in a vacuum.
We close the book, turn off the ereader, turn off the tv or leave the theatre and We find a community and discussion through which to continue our enjoyment, whether it’s fanfic or library groups or bulletin boards or wikis or blogs or email loops. We have book clubs and blogs, and we crave the exchange. Entertainment is more about community now.
So it’s no wonder that book review pages are dying. They’re one sided. Much of the time, the reviews I’ve read lean toward the presumptuous and are shot through with conceit and self-importance, and leave no room for questioning, exploration, and response. Well-written reviews on blogs invite response, welcome dissention, and allow the book to reveal more about itself from every reader who says, “Oh, I disagree! I loved this book, and here’s why….” There is no shame in disagreeing with a blog reviewer. The same can’t always be said of newspaper reviewers.
But I also think that publishing needs to be more aware of the function and future of blog reviewers too, especially, as Jane pointed out, many of us bloggers are being left off ARC lists as budgets get tighter. In her announcement of their new review policy which gives preference to early e-ARCs submitted over finished copies three weeks prior to pub date (a policy I wholly embrace and support over here in Bitchery HQ, for the record):
…almost all houses are cutting back on the number of ARCs being produced and being sent to reviewers. There is some belief that bloggers do not need much lead time as opposed to print publications. Unfortunately, this is not true.
I’ve definitely noticed that I’m receiving fewer ARCs, and have to ask for things more often. My attitude was, and to some extent still is, “Wow. Bummer. For you, and for me.” As Jane pointed out, the decision underscores two fundamental myths about us blog-reviewers. One, that we have time to review a finished product prior to release date (ha. not.) and two, that overall, our reviews don’t matter as much.
Speaking solely for myself while book shopping: I do notice blog reviews. I prefer them to Amazon reviews written by people who couldn’t find a complete sentence other than “it was good” if you spotted them the “it” and the “good.” I prefer them to longer reviews from publications who often treat romance with barely-disguised derision, or who squee all over the place to the point where I think I need to duck lest spastic streams of Karo syrup come flying out the pages at me.
If marketing folks grab a blurb from a review online, and it’s a site I know and trust, I listen to that over any print publication. I am not necessarily more likely to buy the book based on the review alone, but blurbing from a blog I know and like will absolutely grab my attention. If I don’t recognize the name of the site, I may look it up later to gauge the temperature of the reviews on the scale of “cold honest” to “hot squeeful mess.” I do look at book blurbs, though, to see which site said what – and evaluate the book based on which blog said it, not what was said. And bottom line: I trust blogs more than newspaper or print reviews, because any interaction with an audience is ultimately going to reveal the bias inherent in any review rubric. The community is the key element to blog reviews, and the importance and value of that community, I think, is overlooked.
And this is my frustration with everyone, from marketing teams to newspaper columnists to ebook technology programmers and device manufacturers to publishers who wrap their books up in the chastity belt of DRM: the experience and input of the reader is ignored or considered secondary to the entire purpose. Blog reviewers are readers, and the community that interacts with them are readers, and we’re doing all this writing and reviewing because… we’re readers.
From discovering to buying to reading to discussing, the reader matters. The success and popularity of review blogs proves it. The opinion of the reader matters. The interaction and the discussion of the reader matters. That is what sells books and authors and new series. That is why blogs are important.
That is why one-sided monologues are dying out in favor of community discussion, and why it’s self-defeating to cut us out of the opportunity to start the conversation. The conversation is the review, not the review itself. It’s the discussion amongst readers that defines review blogs, and creates the unique and new opportunity for future sales. Trying to curtail the conversation undermines all of us.