Today's guest blogger is Anne K. Edwards, co-author of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, which we reviewed here. There is much debate about the validity and influence of the numerous online book review sites that have popped up over the past few years. I asked Anne to give me her thoughts on the impact that these sites have in light of cutbacks in newspaper book review sections. Here's what she had to say:
If you are among the readers who like to know what a book is about and whether it is worth reading, you probably look to reviews for that information. You may also have noticed that your favorite newspaper has cut back on reviews or deleted them altogether.
There are several reasons for this, but one of the foremost is economics. Books are not considered as important as music or dvds or movies for instance and the reader loses out to those other audiences. The exception is, of course, any ad taken out by a large publisher will garner a willing review by that newspaper. But remember that review is going to be favorable no matter whether the book is good or not because the paper won't want to alienate the purchaser of the ad--it's a simple matter of whether reviews are income producing or not. The attention given to music and visual artforms is often because their producers are paying for the ads.
So, the reader may turn to print review magazines for reviews, but these often have the same problem as newspapers. They must have money coming in to survive and paid reviews are one way of managing this. Any print media form is expensive and likely to become more so.
This leaves the Internet where reviews and reviewers are thriving and the lovely fact is most are free. It doesn't matter whether the reader goes to a review blog or a site that has a businesslike appearance for their information--they will find reviews posted aplenty.
The blog review has many forms, two are the informal review by someone who just wants to share a book they truly enjoyed while the other is the more realistically named review site that usually spells out good and bad points in a book and may or may not recommend it. This is a growing trend and anyone may set up such a blog on the free sites.
The more formally named review site offers the reader a balanced review also of the good and bad points of a book for consideration. They generally use certain guidelines and often have a staff of reviewers who read and evaluate the books or may take freelance reviews.
There are new sites and blogs being set up every day and the reader will soon discover some favorites where they can turn for the information they want about any book they're interested in. Some sites are exclusive to one genre while others are open to all genres. The proliferation of review sites and reviewers speaks to the popularity of reviews with readers. If readers weren't using these sites, they would soon cease to exist as numbers of visitors and readers are what shows a site's popularity. The longevity of these sites also is proof that reviews are here to stay.
It is quite likely that more readers are visiting review sites online than ever read reviews in the newspaper. Reasons for this may be the reviews are written in less formal language that does not condescend to the reader, they can be accessed any time as always available online, and the reviews are shorter which is something a time conscious reader will consider.
In the end the reader, author, publisher and reviewer may find the Internet is having a larger impact on reviewing and book selling than newpapers ever did simply by the larger number of books reviewed. This is the place where the small press that couldn't ever get attention in the print media may now find limitless reviews of its product. With a wider offering, the reader may feast his eyes and mind on an endless array of reviews.