Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why buying bloggers' books was bad for business

What's surprising about the fact that bloggers who have snagged lucrative deals for nonfiction books aren't seeing through-the-roof sales is that so many industry-types appear to be surprised. Take a look at this article from today's Boston Herald:

Bloggers, buoyed by site meter numbers and Internet buzz, were the darling of the publishing world about two years ago. But when books hit the shelves, sales fizzled, and now it takes a lot more than a laptop and a blogspot account to make it onto Amazon’s top 100.

“They haven’t performed as well as publishers hoped,” said Boston-based literary agent Jill Kneerim. “It is still a phenomenon that people are hopeful about, but in many cases, people who are fans of the blog have already read the content. So what’s the point in buying the book?

In many cases? We who faithfully read and write blogs are having a good laugh over that one. Bloggers' books aren't selling because it's hard to sell something you've already given away for free. And I'm not just talking about the daily blog posts. Take a look at all those archives. Want to know your favorite blogger's take on a particular issue? If there's not a search tool right there on the blog, just head over to Technorati. An interested reader could live off old blog posts for weeks.

Now let's consider how easily a blog reader can enjoy personal interation with her favorite blogger. If the blogger doesn't answer her questions or observations in the Comments section or via private e-mail, chances are very good that he'll work up a new blog post addressing them. Why on earth would anyone buy a blogger's book when she already has full and immediate access to that individual's opinions?

I'm talking about nonfiction books, of course. And before anyone mentions "Wonkette" Ana Marie Cox's novel suffering a similar lack of interest from readers of her blog, I'll point out that the book was based (so I hear; I have not read it) on her own experiences, which her blog-fans already knew plenty about. "Pure" fiction would be different--but publishers haven't been offering big-name bloggers contracts for novels. And rightly so, because wit and erudition on a blog aren't reliable indicators of talent for fiction-writing. (Regular readers of NRJW know I'm an effusive admirer of Terry Teachout's writing. But even this fangirl doesn't assume he'd make a brilliant novelist. For all I know, he'd stink at fiction.)

Recently I heard a fellow writer ask if published fiction writers should be concerned about "overexposing" themselves on their blogs. I don't think that's possible unless a blogger is writing content that would alienate potential book-readers, either by ticking them off ("Senator X is such a moron!") or getting overly personal ("My husband was a real idiot last night when I told him I wanted to go ahead and have the breast-reduction surgery"). Unlike the "issues" bloggers whose nonfiction books are merely rehashing and expanding on old blog posts, a novelist is offering something completely different in her books from what can be read for free on her blog. If her book-fans grow tired of all her nattering on the blog, they'll stop reading it--but they'll keep buying her books.

Many of you who are reading this post will probably never rush out to buy one of my books, but I'm fine with that. While this blog has provided me with a handy platform from which to promote my fiction (has everyone seen that bookcover and blurb over there in the sidebar? Go ahead and look; I'll wait right here), it has never been my goal to convert each and every one of you to inspirational-romance readers. I'm just tickled that you're reading the blog, and I hope you'll tell your friends about it (maybe one of them will end up buying my latest book).

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Bonnie Calhoun said...

I must admit that if I didn't get your book for free *blush* throught the CFBA blog tour, I probably would never have bought a romance. But I have lent it out to several friends who like romance, and they would buy your next one.

And so would I!

Brenda Coulter said...

Aw. Thanks, Bonnie.

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