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!