Amazon Is Killing Off Big Romance Blogs

Posted May 28, 2016 by Mrs Giggles in Rants & Thoughts / 11 Comments

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A Good Death by Rodney Syme
A Good Death by Rodney Syme


We have heard and read a lot about how the Internet is killing off the dead tree book reviewer, but have you noticed how Amazon, which is big enough to be 40% of the Internet these days, is killing off the online review blog? Okay, that’s click-baity of me to say that, but if you look at how things are these days, Amazon is changing the role of the online romance reviewer.

It used to be that the blog or the website is the place to be to get “credible” reviews. But then we have Goodreads that allow a more focused and less “wild west” democratization of reviews compared to the Amazon website itself, and for a few years, more people move on from reading reviews to writing them on those places – it’s easier, and it comes with eyeballs without the poor reviewer having to do a lot of work to attract people to her blog or website.

But the launch of Amazon’s Kindle platform really changed things. It sprawled several industries: the 21st-century indie author renaissance in the US and the mainstreaming of the concept of “indie” in that country, and along the way, businesses dabbling in book cover design, digital file formating, ghostwriting, etc get an even bigger boost. But it is the emergence of the “Kindle mailing list” businesses that delivered the coup de grace to big romance blogs that are already suffering from cannibalization of audience by Twitter, Goodreads, BookLikes, and such.

You see, indie authors are legion – they are everywhere, and there are only so many ways they can call attention to themselves. Mailing list services like BookBub and such on the other hand generally show good results in terms of downloads or borrows – unsurprising, as readers in general like having someone screen their choices for them when confronted with an impossibly wide selection of choices. So indie authors love these lists. They want to be on those lists. And while those mailing list people, I’m sure, would love to take everyone’s money, they only have limited slots in their newsletters. Hence, they instated a rule – your book has to have a certain number of reviews meeting a certain minimal amount of approval, usually on Amazon (sometimes on Goodreads too).

And with that, Amazon reviewers are hot crap again, to put it frankly. Now, more businesses spring up. Hello, indie authors, we specialize in connecting you with active Amazon reviewers, just for this amount of money! And Amazon reviewers find themselves in demand. Where Amazon reviews were once seen as a punchline of sorts when it comes to legitimacy, now they matter because indie authors want to get paid too.

So where does this leave the more “old school” bloggers? Well, nobody cares unless they take the trouble to post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads too. I’ve seen authors who actually said that reviewers are worthless unless they post on Amazon. Even some consider Netgalley a waste of money and time, as it only nets snooty, often negative reviews on websites and blogs and rarely a much sought-after glowing Amazon review. (Why is everyone looking at me like that?)

More significantly, Amazon’s Kindle platform effectively kills the centralization of influence among the romance community after all the work started by Twitter and Goodreads. What happens is that these developments splinter the community. People who want to review go to Amazon and Goodreads, and they can talk about books on Goodreads too. Twitter is for casual discussions and book promotions, while the tedious bunch of people who only wanted to rant and rag about racism, sexism, and stuff in everything move there too and can finally stop pretending that they care about romance novels, away from those who actually like to talk about romance novels. If you look at the big blogs these days – you know which ones I’m talking about, surely – you will see that comment counts are significantly down. They are not held up as the authority of everything romance anymore.

This is a very good thing, if you ask me. Having so much power centered around a few queen bees resulted in a toxic environment. Because I deliberately distanced myself from that community after being so jaded by the results of these power-centering, most people feel that I’m a “safe” person to vent and rant to, and as a result, I heard things that I could only wonder about. Was it true that those queen bees are BFFs with editors and publishers of those big houses, so much so that their words could poison those industry people against the authors? I don’t know, but there seemed to be some kind of genuine fear among a number of authors, while resentment simmered in other authors. And it seemed to me that no author really wanted to go against those queen bees because of the feared repercussions. Even if all this was paranoia, the authors’ fear and silence gave those queen bees power, and I was disturbed by that.

And then there were the inability to disagree with them. Disagree on the comment section, and you would get swarmed by everyone and her mother (or so it seems), and even as you grit your teeth, you have to live with knowing that those people were also carrying on about you on Twitter, and before you know it, there was a mob with a pitchfork wanting to brand “Badly Behaving Author” on your forehead. A part of me felt that this “say something and you will be KILLED” sentiment was exaggerated, but, again, if authors didn’t speak up because of this fear, then the fear only gave those big blogs more power. Again, not a good thing.

The power imbalance became more evident when these queen bees started working with publicists, getting their own book contracts, and more while still doing what they do, and heaven help anyone who dared to point out the conflicts of interest in such scenario.

Now, are the queen bees wrong to seize opportunities that were given to them? No, good for them, in fact. But the result was still a toxic and unpleasant environment. Opposing arguments were silenced or shunted off to “hate blogs” – the result was homogenous, one-sided Reddit-style “discussions” on both sides of the fence. Some of the cool kids started acting like Genghis Khan. Others started to write increasingly longer posts and comments that were fixated mostly on semantics and Why You Are Wrong (and Are Thus a Morally Inferior Gnat). Cliques were formed, cold wars erupted, passive-aggressive antics proliferated.

But, thanks to the spiraling changes of the landscape started by Amazon when they launched the Kindle and empowered indie authors to take their destiny in their own hands, it is easy to skip these big blogs. Now, no matter what you think in the past, you know now that they are not important. In many cases, the choice is taken from you – you have to care more for people who can help your career grow, so your time is better off nurturing your relationship with Amazon reviewers and street team members. You can also take some petty joy in knowing that even if these hoity-toity divas deign to start doing something on Amazon to gain your attention, they end up being one of many rather than the singular influencer, heh. For the first time in a decade (or maybe longer), big blogs can’t hold talks at RWA conferences insisting that they are very important anymore – they are competing with the Amazon reviewers, instead of “being better than them”, for power… if that is what they are looking for, anyway.

What does this mean for the average blogger? Nothing – unless feeling important and being known as the influencer is essential, that is. I can say that, for me, life goes on. I know from my stats that the number of visitors have remained stable in the last five years, I don’t deal with messy drama, and I read and review what I want. The only thing I wish will happen is a cutting down on the number of review requests I get from authors who are clearly just spamming every blog hoping to catch something, but I suspect that’s not a problem unique to me. But for big blogs that have certain interests (financial or otherwise) in retaining their influence… well, I don’t envy their position. They have to play catch-up, and I have a feeling that many of their traditional publishing contacts can’t have much influence these days. Maybe it’s time to start a mailing list or blog tour service?

At any rate, I like what is happening now, believe it or not. I’d like to think that these developments would, hopefully, allow new voices in the online community to be heard after having to either join the cool kids or be silent for so long. Mind you, that’s how the big blogs got started – there was an exodus from a previous generation big website, and for a while, everyone was nonpartisan, sharing opinions and stuff across the blogs and it was easier to find interesting discussions back then without having to scour the Web like these days. I’d like to think that a similar disruption is happening now, thanks to Amazon. Break down the old guard, and let the new guard take over. Hopefully I’d be around to see what fun things that will take place over the next few years!

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11 responses to “Amazon Is Killing Off Big Romance Blogs

  1. I found that, even when the bigger blogs were more powerful, I still spent most of my time following specific reviewers at those blogs… ‘Reviewer A has taste similar to mine, Reviewer B is way off in left field and should be ignored.’ I was pretty happy when some of my favoured reviewers left one of the larger blogs (aren’t we being coy!) and started reviewing on their own sites – made it easier to find their reviews without having to sort through all the rest.

    I find it annoying to sort through reviews at Amazon and Goodreads too, though. So I’m happy with the small-blog model where I can follow those whose tastes I share with minimal distractions from others. Yay for the current status quo!

  2. I generally avoid Goodreads and Amazon reviews for the same reason. Too high noise to signal ratio. Not to mention, some of the people there seem addicted to drama!

    The Romance Reader seems to be making a comeback – on WordPress too – and AAR has been saying that they will similarly transition for a long time now. I wonder how well they will be able to rejuvenate their presence on the web. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I do like those two places, and AAR is sorely in need of more staff members that can comfortably talk about anything other than Mary Balogh, Jane Austen, Nora Roberts, Outlander, and Linda Howard again and again and again.

  3. PeggyL

    Drama aside, I do follow a number of people on Goodreads–although I do not intend to make/request any “friends” there anytime soon.
    I do miss TRR and the old AAR with a more cohesive (for lack of a better word) readership when they participated in lively discussions on issues that were of interest to any romance reader.

  4. Anonymous

    One thing I’ve increasingly noticed about a couple of the Big Romance Blogs over the last few years is that the quality of their reviews has markedly diminished. They’ll post reviews that make no sense because the reviewer doesn’t give the reader any details about the plot, and then mentions very specific things without any particular coherence. I’ll read the review and have no idea what the book was about, and only the vaguest idea of why the reviewer gave it the grade she did. Some of them read as though the reviewer wrote a longer review and then randomly cut out half the paragraphs to keep us guessing. There have been more and more of these reviews over the last two or three years. I don’t get it. Why bother writing reviews if you’re just going to phone it in? And it’s almost always the reviews written by the Queen Bees, not the newer reviewers or guest reviewers.

  5. I must be an ‘old skool’ reader, as I don’t usually trust Amazon or Good reads reviews. I’ve never bought anything based on a review in either of those places, but I really had good times reading them after I’ve read a book.
    So it’s very surprising to see myself considered as a kind of minority -if things are as you say.
    I’m one of those who keep on trusting half a dozen popular blogs. Big Romance Blogs. Perhaps they are the ‘queen bees’ you mention, I don’t know. But they are the ones that guide me in my purchases and I usually get what I expect. It could simply be that I’m not the kind of reader for those ‘indie’ books you talk about, I don’t buy them, I don’t read them and I don’t review them.

  6. SusanS (former TRR reviewer)

    The Romance Reader (TRR) is making a comeback? Huh? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Can you provide the link?

  7. SusanS (former TRR reviewer)

    Sadly TRR is not back in business. The domain name lapsed and it looks like someone picked it up, but there is no new content. The former editor was surprised to see the link.

  8. There is so much gaming of reviews over at Amazon, I can’t tell you. People buy reviews, of course, but also, there is a lot of “family and friends” stuff going on. The development of street teams and mailing lists is resulting in fan gangs. They won’t just praise their friends, they’ll go and vote the perceived rivals down, although few authors approve of that.
    I look at the worst reviews (some of them are staged, too) and the best, but mostly I go by the 3 and 4 star ones.
    I just went to find a laptop cooling pad, of all things, and even there the “loved it” reviews are evident. But at least there were enough people who were obviously vested in a proper review.

  9. I remembered wondering back in the early 2000’s when authors were going to act like Idol contestants and rally fans to be street team members. Well, here they are! The folks at Fiverr offering reviews, likes, and dislikes for only $5 don’t make things any better, I’d imagine, and the whole Kindle Unlimited model is asking – and has received – plenty of get-rich-quick people putting up both fake books and reviews to get money from borrows.

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