Are book-bloggers killing journal reviewers?

Lisa Warren’s piece in Huffington Post has drawn the book-blogosphere into a debate as to whether they are replacing the book-reviewers from journals and magazines. The crux of her piece satirically titled “Will Blogs Save Books?”  is that unprofessional, shabby, opinionated book-blogs are killing the book editors’ jobs as various newspapers are downsizing their book-review sections and laying them off. The piece also implies that this is a blow to literature and the literary culture.

Lissa Warren’s piece in Huffington Post is an expression of professional frustration. The only way

Huffington Post itself is an alternate medium experiment

Huffington Post itself is an 'alternate medium' experiment

 the post is useful is by triggering a debate on an issue that might be of interest to all ‘lovers of literature’ who blog. However, the response to her piece on various blogs has been as disappointing as her piece itself. We bloggers have responded out of sheer anger than logic. There are, however, some exceptions – like this piece at edrants which gives another aspect to the debate, and logically so.

The simple fact is that the purpose served by professional reviews in journals or newspapers and that by book-blogs is different. I may love to read the New York Review of Books and yet want to pick up suggestions from a blog. Moreover, the whole experience of reading a blog and a professional article is different in so many ways that I can not describe them in this post. 

The journals are supposed to carry literary pieces. More than opinion on books, they are an academically researched and reliable overview of a subject, author, or book. On the other hand, blogs carry personalised pieces on what one has read and what thought process such reading might have triggered. An academic piece being opinionated is a hint of bias. On the other hand, a blog without opinion is a man without soul. Reading a blog post about a book or an author you might be interested in at that point in time is like a friend talking to you about something you want to know. How did one come to read a particular book and what his/her family thinks about it would be absurd in a journal but fits perfectly in a blog.

The target audience, purpose, and effect of the two are different and there is no competition here. No one is shifting because of one to the other. Both have there own exclusive readerships, which may overlap. And if there are blogs which have equally literary pieces and are serious about what they do as a professional, then it is just another free and fair competition. If you think its the medium that’s in demand, float a professional blog and post the same well crafted articles here and compete. No points complaining.

Not only does Lisa Warren’s article miss the point altogether but also it is factually and statistically incorrect. It is a blatant figment of her imagination that bloggers mostly link to professional reviews and provide cogent commentary to the same. In my experience of reading literary blogs in the last couple of years, I have rarely found this to be true. It is also understandable why a book publicist is more bothered about this phenomenon than the critics themselves. Because if you can write good pieces, you will find brilliant readership on blogs. However, for a book publicist, the important target audience is the not-so-iclined reader who stumbles upon a review. For that, we are sorry. Be creatvie, think of alternate ways.

And to the frustrated professional outburst of Ms. Warren, my last word – book editors are being laid off because reading habits are dwindling. Majority is no more interested in reading books let alone book-reviews. Book industry as a whole has been facing this problem. It’s not because we bloggers are fooling your readers into shifting their reading habits. Did it ever occur to you that 90% of your readers are these bloggers themselves? Because we are the ones who actually read.

9 responses to “Are book-bloggers killing journal reviewers?

  1. While I sympathize with Ms. Warren, I am convinced that the journals and blogs are different. As correctly stated:

    The journals are supposed to carry literary pieces. More than opinion on books, they are an academically researched and reliable overview of a subject, author, or book. On the other hand, blogs carry personalised pieces on what one has read and what thought process such reading might have triggered.

    But instead of blame-throwing, I think it is high time to make a reflection on this kind of evolution in the publishing industry. And then, adapt. Just like what Charles Darwin said. Otherwise, book reviewers will really become extinct like those dinosaurs…

  2. I posted about this yesterday and my reaction was on the annoyed side. As you say, the idea that bloggers just link to professional reviews is in her imagination. I think many bloggers didn’t like being lumped into this category.

    I’ve read the article a few times now. There is some useful information there but I don’t believe bloggers will consider themselves professional (unless we start getting paid). Our reviews will continue to be personal because blogs are personal. I’m about to use a cliched expression but it’s apples and oranges. I’m not a professional and never pretended to be. I’m just a reader with an opinion.

    I think the idea of the Professional Book Review Blog is a good one. I can’t have a discussion with a newspaper. I believe most bloggers started because they could express their opinions on the books they read. We don’t just want to read a review. We want to comment, to discuss. That’s the society we’ve become. Newspapers have to get with the times.

  3. I agree that there should be, and is, a clear distinction between what is written and how it is written in professional literary outlets, such as the TBR, as the classic example, and what appears on literary Blogs. I read samples from both for different reasons, and this is clear also for the person who wrote the post to which these comments are directed.

    There is another distinction between types of literary blogs: Those written by readers and book lovers who are not themselves authors (although who are certainly writers, the blog as evidence), and those written by authors … the distinction being between writers whose books are published and writers who books are not (yet).

    Maintaining one of those author blogs, I confess that the idea for it did not occur to me; my agent and publisher suggested it was a way to sell more books. That’s why I gave it a try. A byproduct, an unexpected and unintentional byproduct is that I kind of like doing it, especially after discovering a function more valuable than selling books: offering a platform where an author and his curious readers can communicate, which is a novelty indeed for writers, who in the past seldom if ever encountered their readers.

    I have not yet decided if this is a positive or a negative thing.

  4. Chris,

    “I’m not a professional and never pretended to be. I’m just a reader with an opinion.”

    Exactly my point. I guess, most of the bloggers fall in that category and all their readers recognise that fact. Therefore the debate that Ms. Warren wanted to trigger is factually a non-issue. And look out, there are some really serious ‘journal’ style blogs around already. Only they might not have the kind of names writing for them as for the journals for obvious financial reasons.


    Totally agree with you that not only blogs and journals differ in both content and target, but so do different blogs when compared to each other. Blogging by nature, I believe, is attractive for anyone who feels like writing and sharing – anything. The kind of freedom one has on a blog is unparalleled.

    Just a thought – maybe, the authors like you have started liking blogging because it gives you a platform to express what you cannot in within the bounds of a carefully plotted story.

  5. Thanks for a thoughtful response to the article. I thought Lissa Warren had some good points, actually. Book blogs don’t take the place of printed book review sections, nor should they.

    I write my book reviews in the first person, because it’s a blog. I don’t write plot summaries in my reviews because I figure there are other sources on the web which do that already (I’ve taken to copying the blurb from the publisher), but if I were writing for a newspaper it would be worth the space and time to write it in. If I don’t have any insight that’s any different from what everybody else is saying or “I liked this one!” I don’t bother with a review.

    When I want to read about a book, I’ll go to GoodReads or LibraryThing, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, where I can see several reviews of the same book in one place. I do skim the book review section of my local paper and often find books from there, but generally I don’t read blog reviews for their own sake unless I’m already interested in the book.

  6. Book Crazy,

    I understand why I started a webblog a couple of months ago — my editor and my agent pushed me toward it, suggesting that it might be fun and better yet, would help sell books. It was a mercenary beginning, although I do not yet know if that intended result will be consequential.

    Fun? That’s not exactly what I think of when I think of fun. I am also not sure if my webblog could be thought of as any kind of platform. I find enormous freedom with the structure of my novels — when I’m writing them. Although, like fun, maybe that’s not what others would think of as freedom.

    I suppose I just don’t know so far why I’m doing it. Maybe all will be revealed at a later time? What I do know is that the entertainment value of toying around with the software program that substantiates the webblog does assuage some boredom.

    Although frankly, I still much prefer writing with a pen on good paper. Maybe I should write the webblog postings with a pen in a notebook and then just scan the pages onto the blog?

    I have definitely noticed what an astonishing variety of literary webblogs there are, and have been surprised to find how interesting a whole lot of them are.

  7. I think it’s fair to say there’s general trend of people moving to the Internet to find and share content – that means a trend away from traditional printed matter such as newspapers and journals.

    Secondly there’s a whole lot of value in new user created content such as blogging, shared photos, videos, etc. Readers and viewers enjoy the directness and honesty, which you rarely fine in printed matter. Bloggers aren’t afraid to say what they think when they review a book. How often do you read a printed review that describes the merits of a writers style, the imagery and motifs, etc, etc, but doesn’t say if the book is dull or a fun read.

    Bloggers most often go from personal experience, or an adverse reaction to someone else’s view. For my money there’s a lot more directness and passion that you don’t always get from a piece by a professional journalist.

    The world is changing. We expect reactions and opinions at digital speed – not slow monthly instalments. The places where readers find intelligent, thoughtful, provocative reviews and ideas is also changing.

    And my writing this comment after having read this post is just further evidence of that.

  8. Completely agree with you Adrian. Let’s say I read a 1996 title today and want to know how others liked it or what others say about it, the only place to go is the blogosphere. It is practically impossible to check all newspapers and Jornals of that era. 🙂

    Bologosphere is sharing of information at reader’s speed whereas traditional media has its set periodicity.

  9. Pingback: Adrian Graham » Are book-bloggers killing journal reviewers? « Book Crazy

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