On the pointlessness of book blogging

Recently on Twitter I've seen a couple of discussions about book blogging, which have made me think (not that I've never thought it about before) about why I like to blog about books.

One was from a reader who remarked that she couldn't understand why people review books, because she considered it a chore that ate into her valuable reading time, and that the need to 'generate content' must surely take the fun out of reading.

That's easily answered. Firstly, I don't find it a chore at all, and it doesn't take up much of my time. I love books, and I love talking about books, and I love being able to recommend books to others. This blog is a means of doing so, without having to go to a book group and drink warm white wine while awkwardly chatting with semi-strangers about a book I never really wanted to read in the first place. Secondly, I don't feel any need to 'generate content'. When I've finished a book, I like to write about it. I find this easy and fun, and not especially time-consuming.

The second discussion I've seen was prompted by the author Anthony McGowan:

Now, I am a total nobody in the world of book blogging; in fact, I would say that I am not even in a world of book blogging at all. I don't really chat to other bloggers. The number of review copies of books I've received from publishers in the last three years is in single figures, and have never actually been requested by me. However, despite being nobody, I do know that people have definitely, definitely bought books after reading my reviews. Mostly, these people are friends, or Twitter followers. But they do buy books when I recommend them. Not in great numbers, obviously. But, in answer to Anthony's question, yes, people who are not book bloggers absolutely have bought, and continue to buy, books after they've read blogs on them.

Even so, if it was the case that nobody in the world had ever bought a book as a result of book blogging, would this make it pointless? Are book blogs there to sell books on behalf of authors? I'd say no. Book blogs are there because there are people who love books, and love talking about books, and love sharing the news of a book with others. That's all. Personally, I don't think talking about books - which is all a book blog is, a place to talk about books - is ever pointless, and it seems strange to me that someone who makes a living from writing books would think it pointless, either.

Later on, Anthony M seemed to be suggesting that while book blogging is 'a lovely hobby' (I'll leave you to decide whether this was intentionally patronising or not), he feels publishers essentially give too much to bloggers, presumably because he feels there is no evidence that blogging boosts sales.

In fairness, I should point out that later he says 'Don't get me wrong - I love bloggers'. Again, I'll leave you to decide whether that rings true or not.

I don't know, or indeed give a monkey's, how much overall influence blogs have on book sales, or whether it justifies the time or money spent by publishers on engaging with bloggers - although I do work in PR, and in my experience, publicists are rarely keen to dish out a shedload of free stuff if there's no chance it will have a positive impact on either sales or reputation. I would also guess that in the arena of YA fiction, in which Anthony McGowan writes, teenage readers probably read more reviews on blogs than they do in traditional media. 

All that said - while it's certainly the case that some readers do buy books after reading blogs, as I know from feedback I've received even as a blogger with a minuscule readership - Anthony may be absolutely correct that the overall impact on sales may not justify the attention given to certain bloggers (I say 'certain bloggers', but the majority of book bloggers are like me, and get almost none), and I'd be interested to know whether he's taken that up with his publisher face to face as well as tweeting about it, or asked to see any evaluation or monitoring of coverage.

I fully understand that if writing books is your livelihood, you are, correctly, going to be focused on sales, and I have no issue with that whatsoever - but the focus on sales would surely apply to publishers too, and their engagement with bloggers suggests to me that they do see a commercial value there.

Either way, it's a shame to see a writer be quite so dismissive of the wider benefits of talking about books. Some of the book bloggers out there are kids and teenagers who are excited about books; blogging gives them a means of sharing that excitement. Isn't this something to be encouraged, rather than dismissed?


In the interests of fairness, I should absolutely point out that Anthony McGowan later posted this clarification of his views: