As print book reviews shrink and independent bookstores face stiff competition from online retailers, will book bloggers assume the role of the hand-seller? Can their enthusiasm in spreading the word about great new books have a measurable impact on publishers’ bottom lines?
At the first annual Book Blogger Conference, the jury was still out on these questions, though judging by the number of online marketing specialists in attendance from the major houses, the potential for bloggers to have some sales impact is clear.
One blogger who is actively engaged with this question is Candace Levy (a.k.a. @bethfishreads on Twitter). A full-time freelance book editor for several decades, she also reviews books on her blog, Beth Fish Reads, and in print publications as a freelance writer, in a range of genres from adult nonfiction to middle reader fantasy, and in formats from ARCs to classics.
I caught up with Candace recently to dig into the issues – read on, for our Q&A. We also hope you will join us on Twitter this coming Thursday from 4-5pm ET, for a #followreader chat on this topic.
To what extent are book bloggers are influencing book sales right now?
I would like to think that book bloggers are beginning to have an effect, though I don’t have proof. But the industry is certainly paying more attention to us. One sign is the fact that BookExpo America (BEA) offered bloggers the same media passes they give to print journalists, and embraced the first-ever Book Bloggers Convention. And while last year at BEA many presses seemed uninterested in talking to bloggers, this year most were very welcoming.
What do the publicists you work with say about bloggers’s clout?
They definitely see our growing cultural influence. Caitlin Hamilton Summie, who handles publicity for Unbridled Books, recently told me, “Bloggers are driving much of the conversation nowadays about books (and publishing in general), and that conversation builds buzz, for both specific titles and for publishers’ brands. I expect the influence of bloggers only to build, especially because the blogging community is paying attention to all kinds of books the mainstream media is all too ready to dismiss.”
Erin Deedy at Peachtree Publishers says bloggers have helped raised awareness about the press: “We are still very new to book blogging and Twitter, having been involved for less than a year, so we are currently assessing the impact of blog tours, blog reviews, and social media. That being said, working with bloggers has increased peoples’ knowledge of Peachtree Publishers and our books. We’ve had so many more people seeking us out at shows and conferences or saying, “Hey, I love that book! I didn’t realize it was from Peachtree,” and we even have increased traffic on our blog and website on days when posts go up on [book] blogs.”
But it’s still not clear how much bloggers affect the bottom line, according to independent online publicist Lisa Roe: “Blogger coverage and the impact on book sales can be difficult to determine, given the variety of online purchasing options. The focus needs to be on how to utilize bloggers and their networks by connecting them with publicists, authors, and bookstores to create entire communities around titles. Personal attention to the readership goes a long way toward driving sales.”
How can book bloggers work together to have a bigger influence on book sales?
I can think of a few specific things bloggers have done that likely made a difference, although I have no way of measuring the effect. First, there have been several cases in which a single blogger has promoted a favorite book or author: For example, Alea from Pop Culture Junkie has been active in her support of Willow, by Julia Hoban, and Amy from My Friend Amy is hosting a reading challenge focused on books by one of her favorite authors, Beth Kephart. Some bloggers do an excellent job of covering author events and thus introduce their readers to authors in a personal and approachable manner. For example, Kathy from Berumdaonion’s Weblog reported on a local community event with author Jennifer Niven and then offered a signed book to one of her readers.
Some bloggers (like me) have run challenges or features that promote a particular imprint. I believe that I have made a difference for Amy Einhorn Books (even if slight). If nothing else, my readers now know the books, the imprint, and the editor. The authors in that imprint have been amazingly supportive and have helped promote the challenge. I plan to continue to promote favorite imprints and editors.
Do you think that bloggers partnering with booksellers might be a key to influencing sales?
Bloggers and independent bookstores can work together on a number of levels to hand-sell books and authors. If a bookstore publishes a newsletter, they could feature a local (or favorite) blogger’s review in each issue, and actively involve bloggers in their websites, through mutual links. Stores could also add a bloggers’ pick shelf to sit alongside the staff picks. I know of at least one instance where a bookstore (Just the Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) printed up bookmarks to use in books that were recommended by particular bloggers (Jen of Devourer of Books was one of those bloggers – she tweeted a photo of her bookmark.
Some bloggers feel that if too many people cover the same books, it leads to a lack of variety on blogs. Yet, isn’t it important for bloggers to come to a consensus on a book – and spread the word widely – in order to have a significant impact on sales?
Very tricky question. I think if the buzz and mass of reviews come about naturally (perhaps like we saw with The Hunger Games or the Steig Larsson books), then there is a stronger impact and a longer-lasting wave. When 30 reviews appear of the same book appear within a week or so, but those reviews are the result of a tour, then there is a sense that the excitement is artificial, even if the book deserves the buzz.
Publicists and tour services have to walk a fine line between generating timely reviews and not over-saturating their audience. I think most companies have given up on the idea of a mass of reviews on a single day and are either asking their reviewers to post within a certain time period (say a two-month window) or are spreading out the tour stops.
The other side of this issue is that if everyone reviews the same books then how are we to discover the sleepers? I’m talking about the gems of books that used to be spotted by independent booksellers. This is an area in which bloggers could have an effect. I would love it if every blogger made an effort review at least one lesser-known book a month. If a blogger found a winner and if he or she promoted that book on the blog and/or by working with an independent bookstore, then maybe we’d see a revival of the hand-selling phenomenon.