Well, it was bound to happen. Book reviews have now moved online as book bloggers fill the gap left by increasingly limited print reviews. Many publishing companies are very supportive of these book bloggers, most of whom work for free simply for the love of spreading the word about good books.
This May at the first-ever book bloggers convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan, the presence of online marketing specialists from most of the major houses and sponsorships by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and the Crown Publishing Group, as well as smaller publishers like Peachtree and Unbridled Books — showed the industry’s endorsement of the bloggers. “The best people in the industry are getting to know the best bloggers,” declared Ron Hogan, former director of online marketing strategy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
It’s understandable that professionals in the publishing business would be keen to get to know the best bloggers and offer them support. There are 18,000 books published a month and newspapers can only review 300-400 of them at best. Now that the book review section of the newspaper is becoming increasingly smaller, it is becoming more and more difficult for publishers to find someone to write a review for their book, which is why publishers are so supportive of book bloggers.
There is quite a bit of debate, however, about the effectiveness of book blogs compared to print reviews. Print reviews have a formal format that includes the basic skills of book reviews. It’s less about the writer’s opinion and more about the non-biased judgment about the book and how it compares to the author’s previous works, etc. As Lissa Warren said in her blog, Can Blogs Save Books? “I think book reviews on blogs — particularly those of the Blogspot variety — tend to be self-indulgent. Book-reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment.”
Others disagree with Warren. Ana Grilo and Thea James gave a rebuttal in their blog Boldly Blogging Where No Newspaper Has Gone Before. “Book review blogs encourage discussion. Much less formal and stuffy than print reviews, blogs provide a more relaxed, personal view of reading experiences that allow readers to connect with each other and have dynamic discussions via comments. There is also a much greater accessibility via blogs—especially in terms of creating contact with publishers, and authors themselves.”
Many bloggers do not see themselves as trying to replace print reviews. They just love books, and they want to share their opinions and their favorite books with others who share their passion. That means the people who are now writing the majority of the book reviews are not professionals but amateurs. (Professionals in the sense that this is their job, and they have an editor that keeps them in line.) Sven Birkerts says in his blog, Lost in the Blogosphere: Why Literary Blogging Won’t Save Our Literary Culture, “While more traditional print-based standards are still in place on sites like Slate and the online offerings of numerous print magazines, many of the blogs venture a more idiosyncratic, off-the-cuff style, a kind of “I’ve been thinking . . .” approach. At some level, it’s the difference between amateur and professional. What we gain in independence and freshness, we lose in authority and accountability.”
The debate between book review blogs and print review is the same old school vs. new school battle that has been seen countless times throughout history. Just as older generations looks down at the “wild” ways of the younger generations and purse their lips, so, too, does print media look down upon the unbounded blog reviews. Bloggers have little desire to step into the outdated shoes of traditional print media. So is this a question of blogging being in the adolescent phase of growing up or is this the start of a complete change to the world of literature? Only time can tell.