Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Rise of the Cyber Critic

I noticed an interesting article in the New York Times today that corresponded to something I'd just been thinking about. Jay Tomio, in his interview with me for at Book Spot Central, asked in what ways I found the pre-publication of my first fantasy novel different than my earlier publications as an historical/literary novelist. One of the things that came to mind was that we were putting a lot of effort into creating online interest among die-hard fantasy/sci-fi fans. A lot of what that means is that we're sending arcs of the book to people that blog on fantasy fiction. We'll be giving attention to the traditional media formats also, but I've found it interesting to face the reality (and the potential) of giving actual readers a say in the early shaping of a title's reputation. I don't think we'd done that much with earlier novels, and I feel in general that literary writers and editors probably aren't that keen on giving regular folks (ie- readers instead of professional critics) that sort of power.

Thing is, it's increasingly not up to publishers to determine who shapes opinion on their books. The New York Times article is about just this, the reality that print media has been cutting, cutting, cutting back on the space they give book reviews. At the same time, the online world is growing as a source for literary discourse. So maybe my feeling that this fantasy publication of mine is quite different is really just coming to see that the fantasy market is ahead of the curve in acknowledging the changing world. If this is the case, many literary writers are going to need to do some catching up in the coming years.

Take a look at the article (Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?) and, if you like, tell me what think.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Lou Anders said...

Fascinating article. Worth noting that while the LA Times are indeed scalling back their print reviews, they have hired Believer co-founder Ed Park to do a monthly online-only SF&F review column called Astral Weeks. First one here: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bkw-park22apr22,1,5553445.story?coll=la-books-utilities&ctrack=2&cset=true
and I for one am very excited to follow this. Itzkoff's NYTimes print & online review column also generates much blogger discussion everytime he writes. Obviously the importance of the internet cannot be discounted. This is old news, but I remember the first time I recognized this - it was when a film quoted Aint It Cool News instead of Siskel & Ebert. But print still has a function, even if it may be read - in print- by less, the opinions expressed then get picked up and passed around in the bloggosphere. Incidentally, I'm one of those who got a galley of Acacia. Apologies, haven't read it yet - my own submission pile looming too large at present but I will get to it - but your accompanying letter explaining why you have chosen to cross over to the Dark Side intrigued me. Welcome.

10:58 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Lou,

Thanks for writing, and thanks for that link to Ed Park's column. That's a very good thing, and a reminder that the more the traditional print media folks learn to use the internet the more content can/will be available for all of us. Makes it seem absurd that newspapers are cutting out book reviews. They could be doing even more reviewing - and putting it online!

Glad to hear you got a copy of Acacia. I hope you get a chance to read it - and that you like it! So far the Dark Side has been good fun. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for me.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Constance said...

I'm a lot more trusting of online sources – blogs- precisely because they don't have the backing of a major corporation behind them. When you access a blog for information, I am intensely aware that this is someone's personal opinion, warts and all.

Is the NY Times book review going to influence my purchasing decision? Probably not, but I'm not their target audience. I don't read whatever is hot on Oprah this month. I'd rather poke through the Bryn Mawr Classical Review to find interesting books. (But I'm weird) It's unusual to find current speculative fiction reviews in a paper, unless it’s a big name. So where will I get good information on what's new/my tastes before I make a reading/purchasing decision?

"Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”"

Mr. Ford seems to be implying that newspapers are objective and have no agendas. Why can an institution be believed to have more responsibility than an individual? Why can't "some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute" have as much credibility as a newspaper? He had to build his credibility one reader at a time, just like the newspaper.

Then the question arises, does anti-intellectualism figure into all this? Are we falling into the trap of reverse snobbery – NY Times vs. Joe Redneck? I just want the publishers to assume I'm intelligent enough to make my own decisions when presented with information. I understand the need to promote, but honesty goes further than hype. I think you hit it on the head, David, it's a power struggle. For a long time people were told what to think by a select few. The power is slipping through their hands, and that's an uncomfortable feeling. The publishers want to carefully craft an image for their merchandise before we see it, and the public would rather to go all CSI on a book and get their hands dirty. Better to seed widely and take the good with the bad than try to control something you can't. Because in the end, the literature has to survive on its own merits.

My 6 cents, adjusted for inflation.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I don't read newspapers and journals to begin with, and when it comes to reviews, I trust the people who share my taste - something you discover over time. Those can be the German 'Pope of Literature' Marcel Reich Ranicki, but often it's fellow bloggers, reader circles at Literaturschock, and some select Amazon reviews.

And I'm all for blogs and other websites taking the power away from the officially sancitoned media - not only when it comes to book reviews but also in politics.

6:35 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I bet, actually, that publishers will be quicker to learn how to function in this climate than the authors. They're in it to sell books, and if the way to sell books has changed they'll change with it.

The authors, on the other hand, might not go so gently. Mr. Ford will never swallow a negative review from a blogger. (He doesn't particularly accept negative reviews from anyone, though.) He doesn't need too, I guess, but the younger generation of wannabees will have to adjust.

I was speaking to a very prominent author (who I won't name) the other night. I asked him about this issue and he said he didn't like the whole blogger thing. But this was based on the fact that there's one guy out there that's been trashing his work every chance he gets, some sort of personal vendetta.

Now, that would certainly suck, but it doesn't seem a well-thought out reason to dismiss the role of blogs entirely.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Constance said...

I think if you take all your information from just one source, you get wht you deserve. And are woefully ill informed besides. I try to keep my review options open to all formats, print, INternet, word of mouth. In the end, I'd like to pick up a copy and judge for myself if at all possible.

File under "Why can't we all just get along?" *g*

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I always read a bunch of reviews on any book I'm considering buying - if I can find them. I like to layer on the opinions until I get an idea what the truth might be. I'm not one for trusting one source either. It's usually websites of newspapers I go to. I don't actually buy the newspapers. Just read the content on line.

4:48 PM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...

Hey David,

The immediacy of online comment always ensures I go to the internet first to find an opinion. And criticism is opinion, no matter how well researched. No newspaper(person) can be completely objective, whether writer or editor.

The debate here seems to be about 'power' over the publishing industry. The following link is to a tutor of mine at Glasgow University who has been blogging for the Guardian in the UK. His comments go along the same lines as dicussed here, but there is also something about the merit of your John Doe blogging critcism in the face of the age-old (especially London) establishment.
There is also a strong Scottishnes to his point of view. And I love that.

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/11/in_defence_of_the_blogerati.html

12:31 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Jamie,

Thanks for the link. Good to know such debates have an international flavor.

I read a lot of newspaper content online also. Maybe the fact that I've been doing that allows for a blurring of the boundaries. If I come across blogs that seem professional, are updated regularly, are full of links, etc... they don't necessarily seem that different than old media. And if I can also drop an instant message to the author and/or other people who are reading the same material it's all the better.

On the other hand, if I stop into a blog that seems unprofessional, skewed or fanatical it's pretty easy to see that quickly. And then I go elsewhere. That's what you're all saying, isn't it? Seems like the old school emphasis on the NYTimes (for example) as the source for all literary wisdom isn't just a matter of not trusting bloggers - it's a matter of not trusting that READERS can analyze opinion and think independently.

11:01 AM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...

David,

I agree, the establishment fears your average person will accept opinion from some random blogger and not from them!

But I think average people are way more web savvy than the newspapers. They know where to look.

Newspapers need to lead the charge. Its the same as the downloading fears with the music establishment. The music industry has to lead the charge with action, instead of reacting to the pirates.

Make downloads affordable and available, and your average person will be happy to pay for it, rather than going through the trouble of downloading torrents or whatever they use and not being guaranteed the quality.

But I digress.

In the UK the newspapers seem to be on the right track. They are all offering sizeable websites with blogs from their writers (and visitors), podcasts and videocasts. This is the way forward. Print media will not suffer for it. Its the only way to ensure a future.

The blogs generally offer opinion on the print, giving a platform for discussion. Perfect really. Blogs offer writers/journalists an opportunity to expand and discuss.

I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Jamie.

1:42 AM  

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