Larry, of OF Blog of the Fallen, sparked a bit of debate the other day when he grumbled about blogs trending towards promotional giveaways and other easy-way-out content that leads to pageviews, but not necessarily to intelligent content. In essence, Larry’s annoyed that more and more blogs seem to be losing their voice, and replacing it with that of the publishers who send them free books.
From his post, title When do you ever stop whoring yourself out?:
Lately, I’ve been a bit…disinterested…in following quite a few blogs. This isn’t about 1 or 2 or even a handful of blogs, but more about some that are in my blogroll, others that are not. At times, I find myself wanting to take on the role of the reader, of the person who receives book suggestions rather than providing all sorts of info on the books old and new worth reading. But too often, I’m not finding that when I’m browsing through a couple dozen blogs a day.
Instead, I’m finding more and more space devoted to this contest or that giveaway. For a few blogs, that is virtually all of their content. They don’t ever say much of anything about the books being pimped out. When a review is written, too often it feels rather vague and as if the punches were pulled back some. Just this sense of CYA, I guess.
Realistically, this is both a problem and, at the same time, not a problem. Sure, it sucks that some blogs are little more than extensions of the PR departments of various publishers, but at the same time, the beautiful thing about the web is that poor content is easy to ignore. Joe Sherry, in the first reply to Larry’s post, sums it up pretty well:
The promotional blog is something that is pretty well designed to make me stop following / reading it.
I use Google Reader to browse most of the blogs I read. It’s great, it syncs with my iPod and makes keeping up with near 100 blogs rather painless. It’s also great, because I can skip all the shit content that’s thrown at me, if I so desire. I’ve got a pretty good system worked out that invovles clicking through to the blogs that post good content and forgetting about the stuff I don’t care about. Rather than damning poor content, I prefer to reward good content.
All of this, however, isn’t what interested me about Larry’s post and the discussion that followed. Rather, it was my reflection on my own content that really got me thinking.
Early on, when I was just setting out to create A Dribble of Ink, I wanted to be a creator of content, rather than a puller of content. I was determined to get people to read my blog because they loved me and my take on the world of Speculative Fiction. It started off great, of course, but it quickly became clear that there was so much more out there that I was interested in, wanted to pass on to my readers, but didn’t really leave much room for my own personal interpretation. That’s where my ‘Asides’ first came into being, and from there they just took over the blog, eschewing their role as tangets from the true purpose of the blog (original content, created by me) to the bulk of the content.
Again, though, that’s not really the issue for me. I like how my blog was developed – I enjoy posting new cover art (that I feel strongly about), I appreciate posting news bits that interest me, and I appreciate the discussion it evokes in my readers. To me, this isn’t ‘whoring out’, as Larry puts it, but rather just creating a repository of information that I find interesting. I don’t run giveaways, not just because they annoy me, for the most part, but because they’re a pain in the ass and don’t interest me as a blogger.
Another commentor, Mark, makes a good point about blogs and their value to the reader and the author equally:
For starters, I’ll say that no blog or blogger is beholden to anyone. The time between posts should matter little so long as the content (and quality thereof) is always one’s first priority. Gawd knows the existence of one’s own blog can be attributed to any number of factors from the personal to the financial, so the type of blog kept is certainly one’s own business.
Occasional promotions can be a great way of exposing readers to new material, but again, is this a personal blog or a thoroughfare for publishers? Are you a gateway or a destination? I just don’t see the use in getting too big. What use is there in popularity if you’re left with little to say?
Which brings me to the heart of the matter that’s been running through my head lately. Since mid-May, A Dribble of Ink has seen a distinct lull in new posted content. Now, it’s easy enough to blame this on the fact that during that time I accepted two new jobs, a freelance contract for a website and moved houses, but Larry’s post, and the comments that followed, got me thinking a bit deeper about the situation and consider where I went astray as a blogger. The answer was pretty obvious, once I stumbled upon it.
I was feeling rather disenfranchised with the world of Speculative Fiction, books and blogging alike.
On the book front, I have no one but myself to blame. I read slowly, review rarely and made a couple of bad decisions in a rown when it came what book to read next. Rather than putting these books down, and moving onto something more interesting, the blogger in me told me to push through to the end, to persevere in the name of hard-nosed journalism. In hindsight, this is obviously ludicrous. A literary blog should be an extension of the blogger’s love for reading, not a guiding force. Most recently, I read James Enge‘s Blood of Ambrose, a novel I was sent by its publisher, Pyr Books, that I never would have read if I had not recieved it for free. It was a shot in the dark, and it missed completely – I thought the book was rubbish, and looked back on the two weeks it took me to read it and felt a little sad about that.
This is a problem rather intrinsic to bloggers, who recieve these free books, and are perhaps a bit less careful in their consideration of what they’re going to read next, considering it’s no skin off their back, or money out of their pocket, if they don’t like it. The problem for me, however, comes in the opportunity cost. In that time, I have many books on my shelf (much of which were purchased by me) that could have been read in place of Blood of Ambrose, but instead I pushed through to the end, simply so I could write a damn review for my blog. I had a two new John Scalzi novels, a couple of the Dresden File books, Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson and, most importantly, The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a prequel to my favourite novel of all time. And yet I was reading a novel I was growing to despise more and more.
There are two problems here. The first is to wonder how this experience might colour my review – would I have enjoyed the novel more had I not been sitting on a pile of great books? The second was some of that anti-enthusiasm was ekeing its way into my consistency as a blogger.
Now, I’m not blaming Mr. Enge or his novel (which many people have greatly enjoyed, despite my reservations), but rather myself, for letting some sort of percieved duty to my blog keep me from falling back on being a simple lover of literature. Back before A Dribble of Ink, I would have dropped Blood of Ambrose without second thought, and moved onto something else. Now, though, it’s not so easy.
In any case, I’ve since moved on and cracked open The Angel’s Game and all of a sudden my eyes opened to all of this. I realized what I was missing, I remembered what is was like to love reading and, damnit if my interest in blogging hasn’t suddenly come back full force as well.
Now all I need to do is remember how to keep A Dribble of Ink as a pure reflection of who I am as a reader, and as a writer. Rather than bend to any sort of percieved rules about how a blog should be run, I need to remember to have fun, and to push the boundaries of myself and the books I read, and even those I decide to put down, because they just ain’t that good. I might not be the blogger I set out to be, but I think the important thing is to find the blogger I am.