Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Dear Avon Books: Social Media UR Doing it Wrong

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Update: Pam Jaffee, Avon’s Publicist, responded to the AAR interview here. As stated in my article below, I have had a good relationship with Avon’s publicists.

Dear Avon Books:

I’ve come to understand that you don’t have much of anything good to say about the “online world”. Yesterday Katiebabs pointed me to an interview that two editors from Avon Books did with All About Romance. During the interview, your editors a) were dismissive of the impact that the internet had on sales and b) evinced no understanding about the ability of publishing to harness the internet to create brand identity and loyalty.

First, let me address the concept of ranking because according to Lucia Macro, she’s shocked at how low some blogs rank. I’m not sure what services that you are using but the fact that you use ranking to determine the value of a blog misunderstands the internet community and how it works.

I’m not sure that the vast majority of readers recognize all the online sites. When checking their rankings I’m often surprised at how little traffic they really get.

You shouldn’t be measuring bloggers by their traffic, but by their influence. For example, KristieJ got over 23 bloggers to read/review James’ small press book, Broken Wing. KristieJ is an influencer. Her stats might not measure up to Publishers Weekly or Romantic Times, but within her circle, she’s a persuader with influence. You claim, Avon Books, to be plugged in and so you should know this. If you don’t know this, then how can you truly measure the impact online sites have on a book?

May Chen: In my opinion, the online world still doesn’t have much impact on sales as, anecdotally, I’ve seen books get horrible online reviews but have done well. As far as I know, we still don’t include online reviews on our books, but that can certainly change if we see them start making a difference. Right now, the best endorsements for us still seem to be from NYT bestselling authors and from major traditional print reviewers.

I completely agree with Ms Chen that negative reviews may have little to no effect on sales. I would argue that horrible reviews of a book can actually increase sales. But the online community isn’t solely about reviews. Reviews are simply a way that we can build trust relationships with other readers. The true value of the online community is our inner connectedness.

Avon: The internet is a factor in marketing. We do “browse inside” on our books, post our covers early, and have author microsites on the main Harper Collins Server. However, we aren’t seeing that any review driven website has the power to “make” a book. Yet.

Yes, Avon, it is true that one blogger can’t make a book but the fact that you use that as a measuring tool again misunderstands how the internet communities work. Let’s set aside that other websites rank higher than you do on specific books and authors (in other words, so much for the posting of your covers, titles, and “Browse Inside” widgets).

Little known fact about Dear Author. Google is our number one referrer and by that I mean on a daily basis much of our traffic comes from people using Google to find out something about books. For example, “from dead to worse” google search shows the DearAuthor review as the no. 2 link. “Black Dagger Brotherhood” google search gives a Dear Author link as the number one result. Nearly every minute, we have a new visitor via Google or some other search engine.

But let’s move on to the second and more important feature of the internet. Better known facts about Dear Author? We love to recommend books and give away books and generally foster the love of reading romance. We are developing what Kassia Krozser calls “trust networks” with others. Some readers recommend books to us both in the comments and via email and we recommend books to you via our reviews. We interact about the genre in a very passionate way and by doing this, I believe we foster within each other a renewed love and growing loyalty for the genre. Internet communities like Dear Author and Smart Bitches and so many others are not about book promotion, but instead about developing relationships.

I actually feel like I have a good relationship with the Avon publicity department but it seems that at least some of Avon doesn’t get it. What the “online world” does is provide exposure for a title and this is vital for new authors and midlist authors where the sale of a 1000 more books can make a difference.

Your interviewees display a very old media point of view. In the old media paradigm, influence only flowed one way. All of their efforts: facebook, the author sub sites; the nearly unnavigable Harpercollins website with its Google ads; their covers; and their browse inside is all about talking at us instead of engaging us.

New media is about interaction, about developing relationships, and empowering your consumer base to advocate on your behalf. I highly doubt that Avon is really plugged in because if they were, they would realize that while we may only account for a few thousand of the millions of romance readers, we are the fiery base that loves this product so much we spend hours of our free time devoted to developing relationships around romance books. You can ignore and dismiss the internet but you do so at your peril. Also? Avon Books, you kind of suck at relationship building. Just saying.

The full irony of this interview was summed up brilliantly by Amy:

Why bother doing an online interview if online community is irrelevant?

My Friend Amy via Twitter

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

102 Comments

  1. Laura Vivanco
    May 22, 2009 @ 04:30:33

    Have you seen the followup to the AAR interview with Avon? First of all, AAR’s Lynn Spencer blogged about it and then Pamela Spengler-Jaffee, Director of Public Relations, Avon Books (or someone pretending to be her, since one can’t always be absolutely sure about these things, but it’s probably safe enough to assume it was her) responded in a comment , saying that

    I am astounded that AAR would post such invective online about Avon, misquote our editors and make assumptions about our online marketing and publicity platforms, without attempting to reach out and contact Avon's publicity or marketing director about issues pertinent to our positions.

    HarperCollins is an internet-forward company; we are among the forefront of those experimenting online, and stretching digital frontiers. […]

    For the record – When your Avon 'source' was (mis)quoted as saying “we aren't seeing that any review driven website has the power to “make” a book. Yet.” There was no intended detraction from Avon's respect for online review sites (if you look at Publicity/Marketing's outreach, we know how to reach our readers -‘ they are a websavvy bunch. We recognize that they are largely online. […] What this comment meant is that we haven't yet experienced a trackable surge from one online review site to sales results on one of our books; we HAVE seen it happen for sister imprints, and are working to assess and quantify opportunities that will help us maximize online results for our authors, and help us connect with the romance genre's Internet-savvy readers.

    Lynn Spencer responded to that, saying, among other things, that :

    we here at AAR stand by our story. The interview was conducted via several exchanges of email, and the results were simply posted in response to the questions. I did not edit the responses to take out or put in extra wording. No one was misquoted, I think you are out of line for making that accusation, and I believe an apology is in order.

    So far the incident’s not looking like a great success in terms of relationship-building.

  2. Leeann Burke
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:17:05

    Great article Jane.

    Personally I have found the internet to be a great place for readers to get to know their favorite authors and keep track of what they have coming out soon.

  3. Liz_Peaches
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:22:33

    Romance novels are, for me, the hardest genre to pick a book from. Not only are most of the covers unappealing, the blurbs on the back are all designed to emphasize “teh sexxy” and don’t, for me, put the books in an interesting light…unless I happen to be very, very horny.

    *ahem*

    What I’m trying to say is that my favorite romances are not books I would have picked out based purely on the cover/blurb. I picked them out because by chance I had a good experience with the author and have faith that despite indications to the contrary, the book inside the blaring sex sells advertising will be a good read. The romance genre produces so many books that it’s just plain intimidating for a newbie like myself. Go to the store and just pick one? Impossible! I’ll gamble with money, but not my reading material.

    I’m a romance n00b. I count on sites like DA and SBTB to help me find new authors, because it’s one genre that I’ve realized I need my hand held with when venturing out of familiar territory. At the bookstore or the library, if I find a title I think I want or am at a loss for what I want to read, I’ll pull out the ol’ Blackberry and check the sites for high grades, or to make sure the book I think I want isn’t a lemon.

    Even though I don’t always agree with the reviews (one of yours and SBTB’s A books I hated, while falling madly in love with another A grade) I know I can count on this site to be honest with me. That’s the whole relationship building thing at work, and it works for me.

    That said, while Avon could certainly do more on the relationship front, I do prefer it when a seller talks at me instead of trying to start up a dialogue about their product. I agree that the publishers could do more to engage me, but I appreciate a bit of professional distance, otherwise it feels like the whole traveling salesman tactic — “let me pretend to be your pal while I shove this product at you so persistently that you’ll buy it so I’ll shut up”. Or sometimes its just embarassing, like the politicians on Twitter. I don’t think many of them want to twitter (although I am of that group that can’t fathom why anybody would want to twitter) but they do it because its hip! Like the rap music! Please think I’m cool!

    The video game industry has a penchant for seeding their employees in gamer forums. The employee will be part of the forum for a while, build “friendships” and then post a good review of a recent title, and because that person is a familiar name and a member of the community, people try the game on this recomendation “from a friend”. I would hate to see the same thing happen in the book world, since frankly I prefer publishers who bumble about the internet to developers who stoop to this tactic. While it would be nice for publishers to give online communities more recognition for sales, I’m nervous about how far a marketer might go to take advantage of these communities.

    I’m interested in how you feel publishers could engage their consumers more without coming across as annoyingly in your face or trying too hard. I love the review sites because I know you are not trying to sell me a book. You’re telling me what you thought of it, pure and simple.

  4. Jessica
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:38:56

    To play devil’s advocate, yes, Kristiej got 23 bloggers to read and review Broken Wing. My own review of Broken Wing got maybe couple hundred hits, representing maybe 50 unique visitors. Half of those were the exact same people who read and commented on the other 22 sites about this book. So, while you are right that it is important to consider looking at qualitative indicators like influence and trust, and not just web traffic, we are still talking very very small numbers.

    And even if thousands of people looked at an online review of BW (as may well be true of a site like DA), how does that translate into sales?

    Common sense suggests the web is important and will only become more important over time. But how important is it, right now, relative to other ways of generating sales? I don’t know.

    Unless I am missing something, the blowback on AAR, and other websites, amounts to a bunch of people (like me), who spend a LOT of time online, attesting to the importance of the internet in their own book purchases. That’s surely true, but merely anecdotal.

    They also assert their personal opinion that online promotion and blogs are important to other buyers besides themselves. I would like to believe it, but, to be hard headed, why should I? Where’s the data?

  5. Laura Vivanco
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:49:51

    Jessica, Lynn did quote some data in her blog post:

    in a 2008 survey on book purchasing habits(”The Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans”), Zogby surveyed 8218 adults. While not strictly a romance survey, the survey did find that more than half of the respondents go book browsing online without knowing in advance what they plan to buy, and that close to the third of them stated that they rely upon online reviews for recommendations. While romance readers may differ in some ways (we tend to buy more books than others, for starters), I seriously doubt that our behavior is so unique as to make this data inapposite.

    This Zogby report is ”The Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans” is available online as a pdf and was commissioned by Random House. I haven’t read it; I’m just passing on the information in case someone else wants to do so.

  6. Laura Vivanco
    May 22, 2009 @ 05:56:44

    Sorry for that last sentence being rather jumbled. For some reason I couldn’t get the link to the Zogby report to work for a while, and by the time I’d managed to sort it out, I’d run out of time to do more editing.

  7. KristieJ
    May 22, 2009 @ 06:23:30

    Great post! I love what you say about the online community being about building relationships. That’s exactly how I see it too.
    This feels kind of weird in a way – but using myself and Broken Wing as an example, yes, there were 23 (now 24 and counting as Orannia, another blogger has issued a challenge) who read and reviewed it, how many others who don’t have a blog, who are more comfortable just lurking read it? How many might have happened to see it in the store and remember there being buzz about it and picked it up on a whim? It’s the I told 2 friends and they told 2 friends and they told 2 friends and so on factor.
    There’s no question that Harper Collins/Avon is wildly successful. But as more and more readers ‘get online’ and discover the vast wealth of great recommendations there are on the ‘net, start purchasing these books and trusting those sources, the more influence the will have.
    The internet is a fabulous tool that will only grow in stature. And the wise publishers will pay attention and use it to their advantage instead of writing it off as not that big of a factor.
    I’ve started seeing online quotes and sites listed in recommendation pages at the beginning of a book and I am thrilled every time I see that.

  8. Dana
    May 22, 2009 @ 06:31:24

    Right now, the best endorsements for us still seem to be from NYT bestselling authors and from major traditional print reviewers.

    What major traditional print reviews? I rarely see romance reviewed fairly in mainstream media, and it’s usually only the big names like Nora Roberts. I find 90% of romance authors/books to try through blogs, reveiws sites, and message boards. Usually DA, SBTB, AAR, and TRR, plus a few smaller sites.

    I agree with Jane that the online community is important to increase name recognition for new authors. It may not translate into immediate sales, but it does build up a readership that’s willing to rec books to others, and buy the next release. There are so many authors I would never have found without the internet, such as, Carla Kelly, Pamela Clare, Sherry Thomas, Joanna Bourne, Meljean Brook, Victoria Dahl, Nalini Singh, and C.L. Wilson, just to name a few. (OT, but I was so disappointed to hear that Wilson’s next book has been pushed back. I want to know how it ends!) Not to mention a ton of authors from Ellora, Loose-Id, and Samhain.

    And I would think that the hardcore readers that participate online are the ones who would be more willing to try new authors, just because they love the genre so much. So it seems a bit short sighted to dismiss the online world.

  9. LauraJane
    May 22, 2009 @ 06:40:13

    I’ve become dependent on my favorite book blogs this year and I think online reviews by bloggers make a big difference. I stopped trusting reviews by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and the newspapers a long time ago. I believe my favorite book bloggers are more honest when they review.

    After reading a review at Dear Author for the novel Super in the City, I bought the book the next day. I had never heard of it. If it hadn’t been for the Dear Author review, I’m sure this book would have never been on my radar. (I also noticed a few other posters bought the book after reading the review.) I also bought my first Loretta Chase novel because of a Dear Author review.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    May 22, 2009 @ 06:43:32

    When your promotion budget is limited, you have to try to target potential readers a lot closer. The Internet is really good at this.
    To take wider examples – “Boston Legal” never really attracted a huge audience, but it had the highest socio-economic group profile of any entertainment show. So they were savvy enough to realise they could advertise high-value products and used it as a targeted advertisement stop. One of the few programs that had the luxury of deciding for itself when it was going to close.
    HBO generally is a finer targeted station. It knows where it’s going and who tunes in most. Much more efficient advertising can be achieved that way. Similarly, on the Net, readers can be identified and presented with information that they actually want, rather than bombarded with general stuff they don’t care about.
    Second example? Right out of left field, Susan Boyle. Who could have predicted that, and how else could it have happened except on the Interwebs? A Sunday afternoon programme, much less “important” than “The X Factor” (the UK’s American Idol). Then Susan Boyle – she isn’t the most talented or the best performer on that programme, IMO, but she caught the public’s imagination. During the recent American Idol final, Simon Cowell was visibly bored. Britain’s Got Talent has perked him up no end, especially since Susan Boyle went viral. The only way Susan Boyle could have ended up on Larry King within a week of her first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent was via the Interwebs. Even JK Rowling and Bloomsbury took a year or three to get the Harry Potter train well on the rails.

  11. Ames
    May 22, 2009 @ 06:48:59

    I was going to say what KristieJ said!! :D I think the big point that Avon is missing is that the viral-ness (is that even a word?) of the net carries over into real life. Someone sees a book reviewed online in three or four places, they pick it up in stores, they fall in love with it and tell all their IRL friends. It’s the ultimate word of mouth. And word of mouth is still the number one way to sell books.

  12. Cindy W
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:01:15

    You ARE SO RIGHT KristieJ (Hi!!) I am one of the 23 who read Broken Wing. And what did I do? Buy another 3 copies, gave one to my mom, one to a friend, one to an aunt. Then what did they do? They passed the book on to someone else. I would have never heard of the story unless it was from the internet. BTW, check out Pink Princess’ blog, she just read it too!

    Also, it’s the friends you make online, connecting with books, KNOWING, you are getting a great suggestion!

    I would have never read any of these authors/series books if it wasn’t for online:
    Black Dagger Brotherhood
    Twilight
    Bridgertons
    Kleypas’ Seasons
    Karen Marie Moning

    I’ve also seen some blog’s quoted on author websites, Amy- Romance Book Wyrm and Barbara- Happily Forever After

    I said it on the AAR blog about the interview:
    They need to grow with the times or the times will grow with out them.

  13. SandyW
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:03:18

    It’s not just reviews. Consider KristieJ’s example, with ‘Broken Wing.’ 24 people read and reviewed. I am willing to bet that many more than that did what I did, read some of the reviews and bought the book. That’s the key, how many copies did those reviews sell?

    Every time I read May Chen’s answer that you quote, it sounds to me like she is confusing reviews as publicity and reviews as sources for cover quotes. Not the same thing. I would also like to know what ‘major traditional print reviewers’ they are getting all those cover quotes (and sales?) from. Because I only see the big name, highly marketed authors reviewed. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

    Surely they do marketing studies on this stuff, don’t they?

  14. katiebabs
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:04:14

    Lucia Macro shocked at how low some blogs rank? How does she know about rank? Does she ask each individual blog or review site how much traffic they get in a give day?

    I also raised the question on Twitter- If NY Times or other print publications such as USA Today disappear, and it is looking as if NY Times may not be around in 5 years, how relevant will that almighty NY Times Best Selling author label be? Will that much coveted spot as a NY Times best seller matter?

    Because of the internet, print publications such as newspapers, even those that have been around for over a century are on the verge of collapse. Why would you count out on-line sites who help give FREE PROMOTION for the author or publisher? Before I read on-line review, I never cared for author blurbs or even review blurbs on the inside of a book. I would walk up and down the aisles at the book store and what caught my eye was the cover or the synopsis on the back of the book.

  15. Sarah Frantz
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:04:17

    I don’t know how valid my opinion is on this, but I’m convinced it was the internet that made J.R. Ward. And I don’t know how or if you could quantify this, but I know that I only ever heard about her because of people raving about her on Suzanne Brockmann’s now-defunct message board. And I know that most of them only heard about it from places like AAR and RRA-L. And then what happened was hand-selling from friend to friend to friend. Hand-selling over the internet and hand-selling IRL. And then the crack got us. I don’t think Ward would have hit the NYT on book #3 if it hadn’t been for her rabid fans being rabid all over the Internet. JMO.

    So I think for Avon to diss what it is that we do here is wrong. Would Sherry Thomas have sold through so quickly if it hadn’t been for her place on DABWAHA and all the recognition and therefore great press she got for being such a darned good writer? (And I think it was Thomas who just announced what I think is called selling through–actually selling more than her advance.) Who knows and who can quantify without shutting down the internet.

  16. J.C. Wilder
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:11:55

    It doesn’t surprise me. Years ago NY pubs made the shift from growing careers and taking chances on new authors to wanting only the biggest bang for their buck. They’re no longer content to sell 10k of a book, the want to sell 110k and they’re not interested in anything less.

    I believe the current statistic is 40-some percent of households own a computer but of that percentage only 25 (or so) are online with any regularity. Amazon may sell millions of books but they are such a small slice of the pie that NY isn’t terribly interested in their numbers.

    What I see happening is, with online sales increasing, in the next year or two they will overtake book and mortar store sales then NY will scramble to reverse their position. They did the exact same thing with ebooks and now they’re trying to play catch up.

  17. roslynholcomb
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:12:26

    I would never have read Broken Wing had it not been for the reviews here. I wouldn’t even have known about it to look for it. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did buy it. Same with Patricia Briggs. Because of a review here I bought a freaking anthology full of authors I’d never heard of. I never buy anthos, especially by unknown authors. I then went on a Briggs glom, including a hardback, something else I never buy.

    Reviews sell books, because the people who read the blog have established a relationship with the bloggers. No, I wouldn’t trust an unknown to me blogger, but if I’ve been reading a blog for a while, then yes, I’m more likely to give it a shot. That’s what traditional folks don’t understand about the internet. It’s not the instant marketing that they’re so accustomed to. People don’t trust advertising anymore because they’re so inundated with it. On the internet you have time to read other reviews by that same reviewer and get a feel of if you like the same thing. I’ve read the review blogs enough to know who I jibe with, and who I’m not feeling. I’d never get that from an ad.

  18. Keri M
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:31:25

    I agree with alot that has been said here today. I wasn’t even aware there was such a romance community out here on the web at all. I strictly read within my author base and very rarely ventured out of that. I would look at Amazon reviews and that was about it. I discovered DA one day and that lead to SB and then to AAR and then to Book Binge and several more. I can’t count the new authors that I now read thanks to these very sites. I so appreciate them.

  19. Debra Date
    May 22, 2009 @ 07:54:26

    Honestly, is anyone surprised ??
    This is “How to Ruin a Business Relationship 101″ i.e. Boss gets involved and in just a few statements manage to undo lots of good work.
    I am sure that the Avon marketing department has a much better idea of how to sell than these editors. They are the ones with their boots on the ground, and those editors just made their jobs a hell of alot harder.

  20. SarahT
    May 22, 2009 @ 08:25:51

    I would love to know if the authors featured in the ‘Save the Contemporary’ noticed a surge in sales, traffic to their websites, blogs, etc. I know I bought all the books you’ve featured, so far. The only author I’d previously heard of was Lisa Kleypas. I’ve since bought several of Jill Shalvis and Erin McCarthy’s books, and I have Victoria Dahl’s ‘Start Me Up’ on pre-order. In other words, online buzz works for this customer.

  21. SarahT
    May 22, 2009 @ 08:27:51

    I forgot to say that I made my first Twitter-induced purchase yesterday. Booksmugglers tweeted a link to their review of Kate Noble’s ‘Compromised’. After reading the review, I quickly looked up the author’s website, read an excerpt and ordered the book.

  22. GrowlyCub
    May 22, 2009 @ 08:43:30

    I think there are several issues with this interview and follow up.

    First, I think the online community of romance readers is indeed pretty small (still) compared to the millions of folk buying romance, but that doesn’t mean that once the online buzz has started this doesn’t translate to buzz going on the street in RL and that the internet communities are still in their infancy and rapidly becoming more important, which is something the Avon editors seem to have overlooked.

    Second, twitter (I don’t use it, but it really seems to be taking off) will become more influential in creating the buzz (see Lord Ian). Ignoring these new technologies and dismissing the fact that they cannot quantify how sales are impacted shows a lack of vision that’s really troubling for PR folk whom authors trust to *know* their business.

    Third, the response from the marketing director was dismissive and combative. Big fail. VERY big fail. Even bigger fail, touting HC as at the forefront of pushing digital boundaries. Excuse me while I go rolling on the floor laughing my ass off for several minutes! Oh, the irony!

    Their website is the most user unfriendly idiocy I have seen in forever. Their policies of selling e-books at considerably higher prices and of when they make samples available shows a complete lack of understanding of how online shopping for ebooks works.

    I think it’s understandable that our knee jerk reaction at being dismissed is to tell them how influential we are. I’m not sure we are quite there yet, because as somebody else said there’s a large overlap in readership at the different sites, but in any case a PR person who goes around spouting off like this ought to get fired for being too stupid to live. Avon is a company that cannot afford any more bad press in my very unhumble opinion.

    The first rule of advertising/PR is not to piss off your customers… this interview and follow up are a an excellent example of what *not* to do when making public statements.

  23. Jane
    May 22, 2009 @ 08:55:21

    @Laura Vivanco: I had not see the followup. I suspect that is Jaffee. I’m not sure how it is done at AAR but all my interviews are funneled through Jaffee who is really great to work with. I think I mentioned that in my article but if it is all in email, I suppose it would be easy enough for AAR to prove their position.

    @Liz_Peaches: I think a publisher can work on building trust with a community of readers by being responsive to them. I.e, whether it is through having an open email box or being on twitter. There is no one more knowledgeable about the product than the editors so it’s interesting to hear them talk about their books and what they are truly excited about. More importantly, I think they can be part of the community. Look at Angela James from Samhain. I know I look at Samhain books more because she’s part of our community. I feel like she is a reader, just like me. She’ll recommend books that aren’t from her house. When she says she loves a book like Butterfly Tattoo, I sit up and listen. It’s all about that relationship thing.

    @Jessica: At the MIP conference held by the Book Industry Study Group, the number 2 source of book awareness was the internet. Bowker said that 54% of individuals rely on internet advertising v. print advertising. 67% were influenced by a review online v. 34% on a review not online. 21% of fiction books were BOUGHT because of online awareness.

    @katiebabs: Good point about the “FREE PUBLICITY” bit.

    @J.C. Wilder: In 2008, online retail sales outsold traditional brick & mortar for the first time.

    I love hearing that people are buying books we’ve recommended and enjoying them. I always slightly cringe when I hear “I bought this book on your recommendation and it sucked”! But that’s all part of building the trust network. Sometimes I’m inside that circle and sometimes I’m not. :)

  24. terri
    May 22, 2009 @ 08:57:53

    As a lurker to this blog, until now, I applaud all the insight from the reviews and comments! What seems to be forgotten, in the publishing world, is the romance industry is pretty young, only exploding into a high volume and profitable business, since the ’80’s. The internet, blogs and now Tweets – even younger. :)

    I guess that means, editors currently content to be in the one area of publishing that hasn’t tanked in the recent global economic crisis, feel business as usual is something secure. But romance books got a lot of negative press for years and I think sites like this and SBTB will be making a greater impact – specifically because of the community building.

    NY pubs are now in a role of “gate-keepers” regarding what they think readers read and why. The online world is a wave, still building. It’s going to be fun to see how fast it washes over “business as usual”.

  25. Alyssa Day
    May 22, 2009 @ 09:05:52

    I am absolutely in awe of the online community and love being part of it – I’m a voracious reader as well as an author and spend an average of $2,000 per year on books. The important thing to remember about many members of the online romance community(ies) is that they are the kind of buzzmakers who can and do start a viral effect via word-of-mouth/keyboard about books. And word of mouth is the only *real* way an author is going to grow and succeed.

    Yes, it’s true that not all of my readers are online talking about books. But those who are do talk about books with people in their daily lives, offline. So many of my reader letters begin with “my sister/friend/colleague/bowling team-mate/hairdresser/librarian/etc. etc. recommended your book to me” and so many of those initial readers heard about the books online. My overall philosophy is that everything that gets readers talking about books is great for all of us. I’ve even started a Great Reads Thursday at my blog to talk about all the great authors I know and read. And now I’m getting letters from people who heard somebody talk about me on Twitter.

    Readers want to talk about books; we always have and we always will. In person, online, it’s all good. A side benefit to the wonderful online community is that it’s international. My husband is in the Navy so we move a lot and now I know that wherever I go next, I’ll be able to find terrific readers and writers to meet and hang out with. This, to me? Priceless.

  26. Kat
    May 22, 2009 @ 09:12:05

    I replied to a related post over at Monkey Bear Reviews, so I’m just going to repeat myself…

    In the original interview (I can’t comment on the response because I can’t get to the post for some reason) I think when the editors were talking about the “online world” they were thinking primarily of independent review sites. Their claim that author endorsements have more weight when it comes to selling books is, I think, a fair call. First, it targets the existing readership for that author, and it also gives people an idea of what the book will be like (i.e. similar genre/style/etc.).

    I also think the interview questions led to ambiguous answers:

    Has Avon changed its thinking in this area? Avon, also, seems not to include many online reviews in books. Are there any plans to change that policy?

    To me, it sounds like Avon just answered the last two Qs, not the first one, but the interviewer read it differently because her next Q starts off with:

    I noticed that both May Chen and Lucia Macro indicated that they don't see the internet as much of a factor in marketing

    which Avon refutes in its reply:

    The internet is a factor in marketing.

    Personally, I've seen a few books with cover quotes from review blogs, and even as someone who blogs and reads numerous blogs, I didn't recognise most of them. I guess my feeling is that those quotes are targeted to print buyers, and people who are making buying decisions based on what they see in print. When buying online it doesn't matter as much because buying decisions are made AFTER reading the review.

    The point about traffic is a good one, although I think Avon hashed it up in the delivery (because traffic isn’t the only metric, particularly for niche sites). The problem for publishers might be that with so many review sites out there it’s hard to say which ones will have the most impact on which types of books.

    All that said, I think it was silly of Avon to downplay the impact of the online community when, clearly, that community is the audience for the interview.

  27. Sabrina
    May 22, 2009 @ 09:43:51

    Jane – thank you for another fantastic post and response in support of the online romance community. As a new blogger, I see my site as a place for not just book reviews, but for an open discussion of anything and everything romance book related. I agree that we don’t just “sell” a book with our reviews, but we promote the entire genre and are helping to take away the stigma that many stupid people would place on reading romance.

    I hope that my site becomes a site for open discussions on what we love (and sometimes hate) about the current books being offered. And I sincerely hope that the discussion leads to new authors and small press titles finding an audience they might not have without internet support.

    Thanks again and I’m so happy to have you representing us romance bloggers!
    Sabrina

  28. azteclady
    May 22, 2009 @ 09:55:37

    Online marketing is a tricky wicket because it’s difficult to quantify exactly which aspects (giveaways? reviews? blog tours? book videos? quizzes? interviews? and on and on and on and on) result in direct sales.

    However, for publishers, the cost of spreading the word (a few copies to established review blogs) vs ‘traditional’ advertising? Very much cost effective, I think.

    And hello, how about people reviewing or simply talking about books they bought? I know that I’ve bought a bunch of books based on blog buzz, and I know that I’ve spread the love to people who are avid readers but are not online much–from my sister down in Mexico to my neighbor across the street.

    One review, three sales — cost to the publisher: nichts, zilch, zero, nada, niente, rien.

    How can that be anything but win/win for the publisher?

  29. Marianne McA
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:16:54

    During the interview, your editors a) were dismissive of the impact that the internet had on sales and b) evinced no understanding about the ability of publishing to harness the internet to create brand identity and loyalty.

    As I said on the AAR blog, when I read the interview, I took something different from their answers.
    I thought they were saying something much more limited, and probably true – that if they have a choice between putting on their covers:

    ‘Fabulous book’ Dear Author
    and
    ‘Fabulous Book’ New York Times

    the latter wins, because at this point in time more customers recognise ‘New York Times’ than ‘Dear Author’.
    In five years, that might be different – I’d now pay more attention to a Rotten Tomatoes rating than a quote from a print review – but for now, I don’t think it’s insulting to say that the vast majority of readers wouldn’t recognise the names of internet review sites.

    (I know probably the NYT doesn’t review romance, but I don’t know which US print publications do. )

    I do agree that the internet sells me books all the time (and yes, KristieJ sold me Broken Wing), and that influence isn’t limited to customers who browse online, because many of us will then recommend books to people IRL and have friends and book groups reading books we originally came across from online recommendations.
    And as ebooks could be available forever, presumably the way the market works will change as well – a book that enjoys small but steady sales year on year into a particular niche market might be profitable for the publisher (guessing here) – and the internet must be the best way to find those niche groups.

    In the old media paradigm, influence only flowed one way. All of their efforts: facebook, the author sub sites; the nearly unnavigable Harpercollins website with its Google ads; their covers; and their browse inside is all about talking at us instead of engaging us.

    So true.

  30. kimber an
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:22:07

    This is what comes from making assumptions based on a narrow sample of numbers rather than getting out and actually *talking with and listening to REAL PEOPLE.*

    It also explains the endless parade of sameness in the New Releases.

    And the countless readers grumbling about it to no avail and turning to the used bookstores and ePublishers instead.

    And why it can be so hard to find the very books the publisher wants to sell for the readers who actually want to buy them.

    If they really wanted to know what it means for a publisher to be plugged in, they should pop over to Harlequin and Tor. Nobody’s perfect, but these two do pretty well.

  31. XandraG
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:34:53

    Big companies, publishers included, understand and play well the economies of scale. Getting the bestsellers into Costco is a single deal that will net tens of thousands of sales for eight or ten big books, based on a single relationship built with the Costco book rep (who will do that selling or delegate it to the other sales reps). Whereas using the internet to build relationships cannot translate into the same return on effort. Yes, it’s more direct–a marketing effort builds a relationship with an individual consumer, who buys one book and has little motivation to buy one more or sell one to someone else. Now, the consumer (or the blogger or the internet personality) can tell her friends and readers about it if it excites her, but the spheres of influence here are much smaller than the sphere of influence labeled “Costco shoppers.” The internet’s a cloud to people with buckets in search of a downpour. There’s just as much water there, but it’s harder to get a cloud into a bucket.

    What this really means is that people need to trade in their buckets and figure out what the hell a cloud-catcher looks like.

  32. Sybil
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:46:39

    I tried to post this last night at AAR’s blog and it never showed up. I would do a post myself @TGTBTU but my net has been wiggy as hell, I am lazy and well jane has all the info and links here *g*. With luck this will go through.

    should have posted at AAR last night, now w/some edits sort of
    —-

    Alexa is a very bad way to try and track traffic of a site, well if you want a general overview it is fine but it is easy to screw with, fix and not at all something most view as something with any respect as being “right” because of how easy it is to mess with. Your numbers can change daily and if you install the toolbar you can raise your rank MUCH faster.

    from a quick google of “alexa rank”:

    * Another trick is the quick con of shady e-marketers by getting website owners to install the toolbar to inflate the stats by having them visit their own site, and sell the results back to them as being some kind of expert. People love numbers and graphs. Few ask questions on how the info is determined.

    “The traffic data are based on the set of toolbars that use Alexa data, which may not be a representative sample of the global Internet population. To the extent that our sample of users differs from the set of all Internet users, our traffic estimates may over- or under-estimate the actual traffic to any particular site.”

    “Why do you hear so much about Alexa and why is it being promoted so heavily by some e-marketer's?

    * Sorry to say, though, it's mainly ignorance-most people don't read the fine print about how the stats are being generated. The rankings aren't worth much-except for ego.”

    not that anyone asked me… ::shrug::

    Personally I like many an Avon book and adore many an Avon author but it doesn’t matter if a blog has 100 visitors or 100,000 visitors those visitors are readers and it seems really dumb to tell even 100 people their opinion doesn’t matter.

    Of course there are people who don’t care about the internet but that window is getting smaller every day. And the number of people who can randomly throw books in their cart are shrinking and most likely they know blogs or bloggers names more than know publishers.

    I would find it very sad if the tone of the interview was how it was meant to come across, would I be shocked? No, but lil shocks me these days. At the same time Avon has always been very ‘pro’ internet in my opinion. They have done fun things with TGTBTU, always been helpful, interested in whatever maddness I have cooking, they did Fanlit and numerous other online ventures. They can also be a machine that drops series in the middle with lil to no care for the reader or author and ‘seem’ to think every author is replaceable to a point. And the spin on this has gotten AAR more attention than I have seen on forever of course I have been on and off line tons over the last six months…

    Could be badly answered by Avon’s editors or well edited by AAR.

  33. Robin
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:51:45

    My first reaction to the Avon editors’ comments was the same as Sarah Tanner’s: “Are you fucking kidding me?” But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me that Avon would discount (IMO partly through misunderstanding) the importance of the online community — I mean, seriously, how in touch are print publishers in general with what readers want, like, appreciate, dislike, etc.? That it takes a giant crash and burn for them to start thinking that *maybe* they need to change says a lot, IMO. My first thought is that it does not serve Avon authors very well, but perhaps the authors in question are totally on board with Avon’s philosophy.

    When I first arrived to the online Romance community like five years ago, I heard all about how insignificant the community was (#’s wise), how it didn’t represent mainstream reader tastes, blahblah. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. IMO the online community offers an immense amount of data to interested publishers about what readers value and love and don’t love — if they are only interested. It’s not the ONLY data available, and perhaps not exhaustive as far as readers are concerned, but it’s easily accessible, diverse, and FREE.

    Frankly, as an online reviewer, I would never want to be in a position to make or break a book, because a) too much power to contemplate, and b) that would put me in service to authors and publishers, and that is so NOT what I want. I realize that publishers and authors view online reviewers and readers as potential marketers and I am okay with that as long as I can retain my independence as a reader/reviewer. But if I never got another ARC, what I do would change very little.

    It may be that the typical Avon reader does not read online reviews. The point in the interview where the potential impact of online reviews is discussed read to me like an ‘online reviewers who don’t like Avon books aren’t hurting us, neenerneenerneener’ moment. But even if it isn’t, I agree with Jane and others that Avon is not perceiving the value of online connections among readers expansively enough. One of the ways in which these networks of trust are built is by having individuals connect laterally through online venues — that is, by establishing relationships that are not necessarily *social* but are not hierarchically defined, either (remember the ridiculous mess the publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stirred up when they dissed online reviewers? BAD WILL, folks, it’s not GOOD). Networks based on good faith can yield all sorts of mutually positive, often unintentional benefits. Why would anyone in an industry based on consumer loyalty discount the value — current and potential — of that?

    Someone in the comments on Lynn Spencer’s blog rebuttal mentioned Harlequin as similar to Avon in terms of online presence. But Harlequin is online EVERYWHERE these days, through Malle Vallik’s presentations on digital media to the eHarlequin site to a substantial presence on Fictionwise, etc. to the Presents blog, et al. IMO any media outlet that dismisses the online community is short-sighted and jumping straight into the trap that other victims of the rise of digital media have fallen into — you know, print newspapers, publishers, etc. And any media outlet that only sees the online community as a marketing opportunity is missing the point big time. It’s no coincidence that we conceptualize the “marketplace of ideas” on a free market model.

    I have always thought that the point of a free market is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. Love him or hate him, but Jeff Bezos is currently capitalizing on the dearth of innovation in both print and e-publishing/bookselling, and it’s a sad state of affairs that he does not appear to have any serious competition at this point. Yes, I understand all about how most businesses are reactive rather than proactive, but geez, when they are practically bragging about that outdated philosophy, it doesn’t give me much hope for a publishing renaissance anytime soon.

  34. Bonnie B
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:57:34

    I would say that nearly 100% of my book-buying in the past 5 years has been because of INTERNET “word of mouth”, especially within the romance genre on-line community. When I walk into a bookstore these days, typically the store’s employees are busy stocking shelves or running the cash register, but know *nothing* about my favorite genre, other than what they can look up on their in-store computer. (Shouldn’t it be a requirement, that if you work in a BOOK store, you know a little something about BOOKS, in ALL genres???)

    For anyone to say that the “new media” is irrelevant will eventually end up being the irrelevant ones themselves one day, and probably sooner rather than later.

    -‘ Bonz

  35. Robin
    May 22, 2009 @ 10:58:14

    @Marianne McA: I think it’s the focus on “now” rather than “the future” that strikes me as such a problem. Here’s my question: are the most successful businesses those that go with the flow and pay attention only to the moment, or are they those that look toward the future and try to shape it in their favor?

  36. Karen
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:10:14

    There is a generosity and equality about sites such as DA, SB and AAR that the Avon editors seem to not recognize. Their work is built on business models and sales figures, but the online community is an organic, well-fed living thing (with a sense of humor). If their approach is to quantify the dollar effects of the romance sites, they miss the point.

  37. Katie Mack
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:38:41

    @Sybil:

    Could be badly answered by Avon's editors or well edited by AAR.

    When responding to Pamela Jaffee’s comment, Lynn Spencer at AAR stated that she did not edit the responses. The answers are the opinions of Avon’s editors, for better or worse.

  38. SarahT
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:47:03

    @Robin I’m also sceptical of the dismissal of the internet as a source of information for potential readers. While this may have been true a few years ago, I doubt it is today, and it certainly won’t be in the very near future.

    How do the Avon editors know that their ‘casual’ Walmart customers haven’t already heard about the books online? Are they absolutely sure that readers are solely swayed by man titty and the Avon brand name?

    While one could argue that iPhones and digital readers are still luxury devices, their popularity is increasing. This would indicate that online customers are worth pursuing sooner rather than later.

    Whatever the case, one thing is certain: the Avon interview is a PR disaster. Had they been more tactful in their replies, they could have said essentially the same thing but caused less offense.

  39. Jessa Slade
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:59:24

    It seems to me that we’re talking about two different things. Is an online community worthwhile? Of couse. Does it sell books? Not sure.

    You said online comms are:

    not about book promotion, but instead about developing relationships

    Which I agree with, and value, but relationships aren’t hard numbers, and publishing, like any business, is about numbers, ultimately. I think all of the interwebz is trying to discover if — and how — relationship translates to profit.

    As a romance writer, just typing that line above makes me feel pimpy. Ew.

  40. MaryK
    May 22, 2009 @ 12:23:08

    Since I started reading book blogs, I’ve spent way more money on new books. I used to buy only favorite authors new. Online book recommendations are able to persuade me that I’ll like a book enough to buy it new. I sometimes even buy new with the intent of supporting the author because I’ve encountered them online. So, yeah, trusted websites have directly impacted book sales in my small corner of the world.

  41. GrowlyCub
    May 22, 2009 @ 12:32:29

    I find it hard to comprehend how folks can question that reviews online and online buzz sell books in the real world, when many folks in this thread have said so. I have literally bought 100s of books since rejoining the romance community and starting to hang out here and at SBTB and a couple of occasional other blogs. Books by authors I would not have touched otherwise, because I had preconceived notions, or book by authors I would have never heard of if not for these blogs. I don’t have any local friends who read romance, so all my recommendations and discussions are online.

    Maybe the examples given are not in the 10s of thousands of units sold, but between just two people in this thread 5 copies of Broken Wing got moved. Multiply that by all the folks who bought it who haven’t commented here, or who heard about it from somebody who visits here or any of the other 23 blogs who reviewed it, but who do not come themselves.

    Can you quantify that? No, but I would seriously question anybody who claims they can quantify the units sold via those mythical NYTimes ads/reviews.

    I was watching BW’s Amazon sales for several months and it stayed up there much longer than other debut author/novels I was watching and some from not not debut authors.

    Any word of mouth sells books, whether it’s people twittering, blogging or eating lunch together and talking about the books.

  42. MaryK
    May 22, 2009 @ 12:44:57

    How many people online are anxiously awaiting Laura Kinsale’s new book? And you can’t even pre-order the sucker yet.

  43. Keri M
    May 22, 2009 @ 12:51:31

    I can give you two direct examples where DA made sales for authors, one direct and one indirect: Vision in White by NH, ya’ll had me so het up to have the book that I went that day and bought the book brand new…which I NEVER do. I buy used, always. I don’t regret the buy, just the book was so-so for me.

    The other was The Sentinel Wars: Burning Alive by Shannon K. Butcher. I bought that brand new and I LOVED IT! I sped through the entire thing and then started over and read it again. Heck it was Sci-fi Romance too boot which is normally not my genre at all. I got her name off of SB with her romantic contemps, which have been pretty good, but this new cover and description had me all hot to trot and I just couldn’t wait to buy it used.

    I enjoyed it so much I sent an email to Ms. Butcher letting her know how much and found out that the 2nd installment will be out in November, yea!!. I have also posted how much I enjoyed it on 3 other websites. Online reviews and word of mouth works and sometimes works for other genres as well.

  44. Jennifer Estep
    May 22, 2009 @ 13:06:47

    I definitely think online reviews/sites have an impact on sales. How much, I don’t know, but I’ve bought several books that I’ve seen featured here at DA, Smart Bitches, The Good, the Bad, and the Unread, and other online sites.

    Some were good, some weren’t. But would I have picked them up if I hadn’t seen the online reviews/articles and heard the buzz? I don’t know. But I definitely use the sites as tools to help me decide what to buy and read next.

    New media is about interaction, about developing relationships, and empowering your consumer base to advocate on your behalf.

    I totally agree with this. I work at a newspaper, and staff members are now being encouraged to do things like Facebook and Twitter about what we’re working on for tomorrow’s paper. And everyone knows how resistant newspapers are to change.

    I, for one, would love to get the kind of online exposure that comes with something like the “Save the Contemporary” campaigns or the Twitter book club feed where everyone was reading a new historical (I can’t remember the name). Even more than being a great marketing tool, I think stuff like that is just fun — and it’s memorable.

    To promote my next book out in February, I’m doing much more online and viral advertising, more blogs, e-ARCs, etc. Because I think that’s the best way to reach readers these days.

  45. Statch
    May 22, 2009 @ 13:07:50

    I bought Broken Wing on the strength of KristieJ’s review, and I wasn’t one of the 23…just a lurker. I even bought it new and in hard-copy, which I rarely do any more (I buy ebooks). I buy many, many books on the strength of online blog reviews….and I also don’t buy books based on negative reviews on those same blogs. Negative reviews do matter to me. It’s not that I take the author’s word as gospel, but that they often identify plot elements or issues that I know won’t appeal to me.

    Ebooks, the ability to buy instantly online, and online reviews have caused an explosion in both the sheer numbers of books I buy, and in the numbers of new (to me) authors I’ve tried.

  46. Kristie(J)
    May 22, 2009 @ 13:20:14

    It might just be my perception and I may be wrong, but to me it seems like Avon has a core – albeit a rather large core – of readers who purchase books because they are Avon books – and online buzz doesn’t really affect them one way or another. They will buy books based on a) publisher and b) author. And for now this works well for Avon.
    But I also think Avon has the opportunity to tap into a market – online romance readers – that they don’t seem to be targeting at the moment to the best of their abilities.
    We may be a relatively small group now, but as others have said, I think as time goes on, we are only going to gain in numbers. I’ve seen an explosion in reader romance blogs in the past couple of years and they have introduced me to a huge number of books and genres I would never have tried if it wasn’t for their enthusiasm.
    I know that in this tough economy, romance is doing well. But as things continue to tighten, while I think romance will always sell, at the same time, I can see readers becoming less inclined to buy as many books as they may be doing now. They will want to do a bit of filtering of numbers. And they will be paying closer attention to buzz and rec’s. Now whether this will apply to the core group of Avon readers I don’t know, but I would think it might be in Avon’s interests to keep close tabs on this kind of thing.
    Another thought worth pondering. Like Robin said

    But if I never got another ARC, what I do would change very little.

    I’m the same way. But! Having said that, I get ARC’s from a certain publisher. I’ve exchanged e-mails with one of their marketing people. As a result, I have a partiality to this publisher and it’s because they recognise the role that on-line romance readers can have on a book.

  47. SandyW
    May 22, 2009 @ 13:44:04

    @Kristie(J):

    It might just be my perception and I may be wrong, but to me it seems like Avon has a core – albeit a rather large core – of readers who purchase books because they are Avon books – and online buzz doesn't really affect them one way or another. They will buy books based on a) publisher and b) author. And for now this works well for Avon.

    This was mentioned on the AAR blog too. People who buy books by publisher. I am trying to picture how that works. Do they have some secret source for lists of Avon books? Making little lists out of the advertising in the backs of the books they have on hand? Are they getting the titles off the Avon web-site and ignoring all online reviews, etc.? Going through the romance section at the bookstore and reading all the spines? (My mind boggles at that.)

    Maybe I’m missing the obvious?

  48. SarahT
    May 22, 2009 @ 13:53:32

    @SandyW

    @Kristie(J):

    It might just be my perception and I may be wrong, but to me it seems like Avon has a core – albeit a rather large core – of readers who purchase books because they are Avon books – and online buzz doesn't really affect them one way or another. They will buy books based on a) publisher and b) author. And for now this works well for Avon.

    This was mentioned on the AAR blog too. People who buy books by publisher. I am trying to picture how that works. Do they have some secret source for lists of Avon books? Making little lists out of the advertising in the backs of the books they have on hand? Are they getting the titles off the Avon web-site and ignoring all online reviews, etc.? Going through the romance section at the bookstore and reading all the spines? (My mind boggles at that.)

    Maybe I'm missing the obvious?

    And it’s not like Avon have a monopoly on man titty covers.

    Seriously, though, I can see that marketing model working for Harlequin. Their books are relatively inexpensive. But most new Avon titles are sold for $7.99. Do many customers today have the ready cash to buy all the books published by Avon per month? Is Avon really a brand in that sense?

  49. azteclady
    May 22, 2009 @ 14:07:30

    Plus the Harlequin/Silhouette books tend to be shelved in a cluster–end caps in books stores, a specific shelf in the grocery store, etc.–while the Avon would be shelved alphabetically by author. Not that easy to spot, I wouldn’t think.

  50. Robin
    May 22, 2009 @ 14:13:19

    How do the Avon editors know that their ‘casual' Walmart customers haven't already heard about the books online? Are they absolutely sure that readers are solely swayed by man titty and the Avon brand name?

    I doubt it. I understand that many publishers are only interested in *selling* books (i.e. Avon uses online “for marketing”), but if that’s really the case, then drop the pretense that you care that we actually like (or not) what you’re hawking. If, however, publishers are actually interested in selling books that readers love, then they must, IMO, think beyond *selling*, beyond the hierarchical structure of publishing itself, to a more engaged, more lateral strategy to connect with those they want reading their books. They should be *building* the market, not simply *reacting to their vision* of it; they should be helping *shape* reader tastes, not simply trying (and often failing) to second guess them.

    In terms of Avon, some of their authors I really like (e.g. Chase, Julie Ann Long, Melody Thomas, Anna Campbell), others I don’t. But still I wonder what differences there are between the Avon that first published Laura Kinsale and the Avon that exists today. Has the publisher changed or the market? Or both? And how, if Avon is still considered the Romance publishing leader, does that position the rest of NY publishing vis a vis the future of the genre?

  51. Lori
    May 22, 2009 @ 15:00:27

    Maybe I’m really off but it seems if you want to see how an online community can influence books and book sales: how’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms doing? Seems the Smart Bitches and that community are offering proof positive that online influences marketing, visibility and all.

  52. Anthea Lawson
    May 22, 2009 @ 15:16:56

    What irks me the most about publishers in general (yes, exceptions have been noted above) dismissing the power of the internet, is that it seems they’re missing an obvious connection.

    WORD OF MOUTH

    It sells books. It is mysterious and unquantifiable and publishers even admit that it can propel books to unforeseen bestsellerdom. (Harry Potter, Aragon, The Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook…)

    It seems that publishers are missing the point that on-line communities take word of mouth to a higher level. That the comments *after* the review are as important, if not more so, than the review itself. That the network of avid, connected readers of romance is only going to grow.

    Beautiful comment above about figuring out cloud-catchers… meanwhile we are happily flying around up here. Will the publishers scramble to get their wings on in time?

  53. Kristie(J)
    May 22, 2009 @ 16:04:51

    People who buy books by publisher.

    I’m one of those odd ones who does pay attention to the publisher quite a bit. When trying to decide whether to purchase a book, that’s one of the things I check – odd as it sounds. When trying to decide on an author I haven’t tried before, the publisher can have be part of a deciding factor. There are certain publishers I have more success in enjoying a majority of their books then others. And then there is another publisher who for some reason, doesn’t have a lot of their books on the shelves here in Canada and if they have an upcoming release I’m interested in, I know I’ll probably have to order it online and that can be a factor when placing online orders too.

  54. Keira
    May 22, 2009 @ 16:12:02

    Great post Jane. It’s also important to note that a Google PR or other ranking systems are quantifiable but in terms of exponential power. The difference between a 3 and a 5 on Google PR is a factor of 100 as it’s based on Log10.

    For a 3 to become a 4 it must be 10 times more powerful than it is currently in terms of backlinks, search engine traffic (aka more content), and visitors new and recurring. For a 3 to become a 5 it must be 100 times more powerful than it currently is. Mid-level ranking is something 75-99.9999% bloggers want… depends on the niche and the blogger.

    The higher ranks are what I call corporate ranks: SU, Google.com, Twitter, Yahoo, etc. Why? Because they’re universally used or used a lot. For instance, Twitter.com is an 8 b/c everyone’s home page on Twitter is twitter.com/home which typing in twitter.com will automatically route to for you. Every user using Twitter on the web increases Twitters ranking.

    I think book blogs with any ranking at all by Google’s new system is a miracle because they took time to notice us. We’re not a 0, a nothing, a blip. We’re much bigger than that. If Google is willing to acknowledge our power, Avon should be too.

  55. sybil
    May 22, 2009 @ 17:00:47

    I agree to a point Kristiej but if they had enough readers to buy from ‘publisher name alone’ we would never bitch about the many unfinished dropped series books from Elizabeth Lowell, Elizabeth Lowell, Nicole Jordan, Lorraine Heath, Lorraine Heath, (the most recent she SAYS she will finish ::cough::) no reader would ever stop buying because they are slaves to the label yes?

    Of course I have had someone from Avon blast me for giving an author a ‘C’ review (something I said then and say now is not a BAD, evol grade @ TGTBTU) so I do find the whole thing somewhat amusing. If on line reviews don’t matter why waste your time trying to explain to me why I should lie and give a good grade?

    Avon is often the kicking boy of AAR, I think they coined ‘wallpaper historical’ in their honor, so it isn’t shocking the editors would tell them we don’t really think you matter. At the same time I don’t see why they gave the interview at all unless they just wanted to drive home the point that they think they don’t matter. It is also possible they only want to love, hug and squeeze blogs, reviewers and sites that only gives rainbows, kisses and A’s to every book. Ten to one they will find deep love for MB. Her ‘there are no bad books, just bad reviewers’ style seems to fit the message. It is also possible they didn’t mean to include all blogs, readers, sites and so forth and so on in the mix.

    Or not, I am still not sure. For all I know it has been an Avon lovefest at AAR and all books have been getting DIK’s. Again, dunno. Should look. As for the editor stuff I am thinking it was a flub cuz I want to think that, at least for now.

  56. Liza
    May 22, 2009 @ 18:57:56

    I think if Avon doesn’t learn to grow with the times they may be left behind. To me the saddest thing about this is I remember when Avon was the innovator.

    I can’t help but compare “the old model” vs ” the new model”

    On the old model side we have GM. Ready to file bankruptcy, still expecting the american consumer to bail them out over their staid thinking.

    New model side is Honda and their innovative hybrid non gas guzzlers.

    GM dismisses the “greenies” and continues to make guzzling SUV’s.

    Honda embraces the tree huggers and sales increase.

    Harlequin runs with ebooks and blogs. Sales are way up.

    HP doesn’t. Ridiculous expensive ebook prices and unnavigatable website.

    Like many a commentator here I do consider the publisher.

    The one with the biggest buzz lately is Medallion. Ms James publisher.

  57. » Avon Fails to Understand Online Romance Community
    May 22, 2009 @ 19:01:51

    […] Jane | Dear Avon Books: Social Media UR Doing it Wrong […]

  58. Kat
    May 22, 2009 @ 19:31:37

    @Robin:

    But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me that Avon would discount (IMO partly through misunderstanding) the importance of the online community -‘ I mean, seriously, how in touch are print publishers in general with what readers want, like, appreciate, dislike, etc.?

    On one hand, I get what you’re saying, Robin. On the other hand, at ARRC I heard Harlequin talk about its titles and covers and the market research that shows that those titles and covers sell. And yet we often make fun of them in online discussions. So while I think Avon was tactless in the interview, I also think that there’s some benefit to considering if maybe those editors have the data to back up what they’re saying. (And to reiterate, I think the interview questions weren’t presented clearly — see comment #26 above.)

  59. AB
    May 22, 2009 @ 19:31:55

    When I first started browsing the romance section, I had NO idea where to start. There are so many titles out there that seem to be similar when reading the back covers. While I was pretty sure there had to be some authors and stories that I would like, I had a hard time finding them. Consequently I bought no romance books and only relied on the library. And it was hit or miss.

    Thank goodness for online sites like this one and Smart Bitches. They pointed me to the right authors for me. I know I have bought more books because of them. In fact, unless I read an ONLINE review (because I have built trust through the communities), I won’t buy it.

    I have also found so many new authors that I love through this site. So check off one more person who values online blogs a lot.

  60. Long Time No Quack : The Good, The Bad and The Unread
    May 22, 2009 @ 21:38:16

    […] Interesting (if overblown) interview at AAR with two Editors at Avon.  I posted at AAR, which of course never showed the new owners of AAR were all about getting me fired for being a ‘blogger’ and apart of ‘maili’s clique’ almost from the moment I joined up to review so no shock there.  Aww good times. […]

  61. Nadya
    May 23, 2009 @ 04:13:01

    I feel like laughing over the “the online world still doesn't have much impact on sales”. Because whenever I’m at the bookstores and see an interesting book, I’ll take out my phone and google the book. And I would debate on buying said book based on the info and reviews I would get on the book.
    So implying that online reviews won’t have an impact on sales is just wrong. Internet can be accessed from everywhere easily. Not capitalizing on it is just foolish.

  62. Denise
    May 23, 2009 @ 09:02:42

    I thought the interview responses reflected a short-sightedness. Never let your laurels rest on what works for now. That’s likely to change at any moment.

    I can only speak for myself, but in my many years as a bookseller I never had a customer ask to see books based on publishing house except for Harlequin. Other than that, no one asked where we shelved the Random House, Avon or Dorchester books. People bought based on author name recognition, familiarity, cover art and blurb.

    So I’m a little curious as to how Avon is able to track sales based on publisher loyalty. If it’s simply based on people buying from an author published solely with Avon, then the tracking is skewed. That’s loyalty to the author, not the publishing house, IMO.

    My buying habits are rarely influenced by a well-known reviewer’s opinion of the book. Reading tastes are subjective. I find the greatest value in reviewer blogs like Dear Author, SBTB, etc. is the separation of reviewer opinion from the industry’s marketing machine. Whether or not I agree with the review, I can count on the fact the reviewer is giving an honest opinion of the material read, not acting as a mouthpiece for the publishing house that sent the ARC or the author who wrote the book. The review is in service to the reader–a valuable service both valid and appreciated.

    In addition, these blogs and websites offer a means to learn more about less known or new authors, books I might never have seen or heard of because they’re from a smaller publisher or not available in brick and mortar stores and just general insight into the industry as a whole. I’ve never bought a book based on a review at Publishers Weekly. I have bought several thanks to reviews (good and bad) from DA and SBTB because they were highlighted. I didn’t know they existed prior to the review.

    Again, it seems short-sighted to dismiss what may well become a powerhouse of advertising in the future. Then again, from what I’ve seen and learned about traditional publishing, their business models are bizarre and seem out of date, so these opinions espoused by Avon don’t come as a surprise to this reader.

  63. Sarah Mayberry
    May 23, 2009 @ 14:30:26

    Speaking from very personal experience, my third Harlequin Blaze book, Anything For You, is now out of print but still available as an e-book. It was published in 2006, yet very kind and supportive reviews still appear for it regularly on the internet, and my recent royalty statement showed that this book has sold two to three times as many copies on e-book as any of my other titles. I am sure there are other authors out there with similar experiences. There is no way for the world to even know this book exists if it wasn’t for on-line reviews, bloggers, Twitter, etc. Word of mouth is THE best advertising for any product (book, movie, underwear, whatever). Who of us isn’t going to take a personal recommendation from a fellow romance lover over a faceless advertisement? I think the internet is incredibly powerful and will only continue to become more so. Which makes me feel very guilty for my very shabbily maintained website…!

  64. SarahT
    May 23, 2009 @ 16:07:49

    @Sarah Mayberry I first heard about Anything for You on Dear Author. I read the book, loved it, and ordered your backlist. I’m now on the second of your soap opera trilogy, All Over You. So far, I’m really enjoying it!

    Word of mouth is an incredibly powerful selling tool. If I read a recommendation from someone who has similar tastes to mine, then I generally check out the book. I’ve made numerous purchases on the basis of online reviews, and I’ve now bought three books after recommendations on Twitter. It’s probably just as well I have no Kindle or my impulse buying would go out of control…

  65. XandraG
    May 24, 2009 @ 16:11:46

    So I'm a little curious as to how Avon is able to track sales based on publisher loyalty.

    Avon has a book club that works pretty much like Harlequin’s does. People who buy by publisher go direct and get the discount. And if my local grocery is any measure of the larger practice, the books are shelved by genre, and within that, by publisher (so all the Avon ones are right in the same row, all the Warner ones are grouped together, etc.).

    I have to wonder, too, if we are missing a perspective here. Folks who hang out at romance blogs and book blogs effectively constitute a “fandom” of romance so to speak. And like Fen of any other fandom, can be reliably counted on to subscribe to more offerings of the fan focus in question. But they don’t really represent accurately the target consumer. The casual consumer is.

    There are, without doubt, many many people who scout the review sites, the communities, and the publisher sites, and who make their purchases based on research and word of mouth. But there are more who see the red cover with the swoosh or something about the guy’s hair-do that make them pick it up and throw it in the cart next to the potatoes and the hotdog buns when they’re in the grocery store. Or people who went to the bookstore in search of something else who saw it on the shelf and picked it up too because of the blurb.

    There’s no doubt that mobilized fan communities can make a difference and get attention. I’m just not yet convinced that translates into make-or-break sales differences. For one thing, the romance community is not monolithic. There are contemp fans and cowboy fans and historical fans and SF fans and paranormal fans and bride fans and amnesia fans and et cetera et cetera. And there’s no accurate metric that says that an internet influence influenced a buyer to buy (but I bet someone saying that three times fast would make a cute YouTube viral vid) in the absence of any other advertising influences. So it’s really hard to say that yes, an online presence makes or breaks sales. Not having one is most likely a detriment, and extremely short-sighted, but maybe not as bad as having something that’s ham-handedly obviously a marketing gimmick. I’d rather they shut up and publish than try to be everyone’s buddy.

  66. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 14:07:19

    Jane or someone may want to hop to the AAR blog there and read Carries comment near the end about piracy. I saw that and it made me think of you all here first.

  67. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 14:42:48

    Ghods am I glad that very few authors I like are being published by Avon… they just don’t know when to shut up. Poor Anna Campbell won’t be getting any more of my dollars now.

    Right, we folks who hang out online and talk about romance are all about encouraging piracy… whatever.

  68. DS
    May 25, 2009 @ 15:17:36

    I think that some consideration should be given to the “influencer” idea. Years ago when all I had was book stores and the copies of Kirkus Reviews I read in the library, I used to depend heavily on a UBS owner. She read a lot and also subscribed to RT. When a new issue would come out her romance customers would mob the place looking at the reviews (and talking about how inflated the grades were by the way). She also had bookmarks and advertising cards sent to her by authors.

    Websites are a lot like that UBS but they keep better hours and I don’t have to wait for a magazine to come out to get the latest book news.

    Then people who are online can be influencers offline. Because we are scattered all over the world it creates a lot of little pockets of influence branching off from the websites we read.

    Because marketers seem to track everything else It should be possible to devise a study that would in some way measure the influence of websites on the book buying public.

  69. Jane
    May 25, 2009 @ 17:49:00

    @ldb I didn’t think that Carrie was saying that bloggers endorse piracy but instead she is looking at what bloggers can do for her and Avon. I.e., we are simply a tool for them to employ and if we really wanted to make a difference we should do something about it. Not sure how she thinks we are going to do that.

  70. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:00:35

    Jane, I think the more important question would be ‘why’ rather than ‘how’.

    I don’t think she necessarily meant to imply the bit about piracy, but it’s this kind of vague blah blah that shows what little understanding and willingness to explore new tech and the changing face of romanceland Avon really has.

  71. KristieJ
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:33:33

    GrowlyCub: I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you saying you won’t buy Anna Campbell, an author by the sounds of it, you have enjoyed, because she is published by Avon???????
    If so – that makes no sense. Why hurt an author because at present time, a publisher doesn’t think the online community has a great impact on sales? It’s kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face *g*.

    And as for your other point – the increasing piracy of books by authors we love – I agree with Carrie 100%. This is something I’ve only become aware of in the past few days – the magnitude of what is going on – and I think it’s something we should all start being passionate about.

    @Jane: I’m not sure what we can do about it either – but it can at least start with awareness it seems to me, of the situation and what is going on. Even though I’ve been reading romance for years and years, I was in kind of a fog as to breadth of the piracy of books and how it’s an ever increasing issue and how much it can impact authors. Now that fog has lifted and I just feel that something needs to be done. As I’ve mentioned, IMO, this is so much worse than plagiarism.

    This isn’t for the publishers – though they are victims too – it’s for the authors who are losing out big time on sales and big time on number of sales.
    When the whole Cassie Edwards scandal went down so many were up in arms and passionate and outraged. I want to see the same kind of passion and outrage over this situation.

  72. KristieJ
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:37:31

    And to the why – because authors are being robbed! Their works are being stolen right from under them!! Because I admire and respect authors as a whole and the dedication so many of them put into their work and the hours of enjoyment that we get as a result. That’s the why for me! I hope it’s the why for more readers than just me.

  73. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:43:47

    Jane I wasn’t 100% clear if she was saying that bloggers are responsible or if they turn a blind eye to it, it just brought me to mind of Dearauthor because this was really the first place I’d heard about piracy and seen anyone float ideas about preventing it. That’s why I wondered what your thoughts were about that comment.

  74. Jane
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:52:09

    @ldb I think it shows that the Avon editors have no clue about harnessing the internet for the betterment of their authors

    @KristieJ – we have talked about piracy both here and at Smart Bitches. We’ve had long and arduous debates about it. Piracy is wrong. I think that how authors go about combatting it isn’t always effective. First, yes, authors have the ability to employ a DMCA cease and desist letter. Second, I think that authors need to make the ecopy of their books available for every device possible and to every consumer that wants it. Many times the highest rates of piracy occur outside the area in which the product is being sold. I.e., if the product is obtainable in the US, the highest rates of piracy occur outside the US where there is no legitimate channel for purchase. Conversely, US is one of the biggest consumers of scanlations which are pirated forms of Japanese manga. Third, don’t link to or talk about the sites where there is pirated material. It only serves to feed the sites offering illegitimate material. Finally, publishers need to do more to protect their investment and that includes reducing the reasons why people pirate (not providing it in an easy format for purchase, having multiple formats, etc.)

  75. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 18:54:33

    KristieJ,

    Yup, I meant I will be thinking long and hard whether or not I will be buying Avon books new. It’s not just this PR debacle, but their history of ‘historical light’, higher e-book prices and other things that contribute to that thought process.

    The point I was trying to make was not that I think we shouldn’t be passionate about the piracy, but that I would wonder why anybody online would let themselves be used as a tool by Avon, or any other publisher for that matter, after having basically been told that they are irrelevant.

    As far as I’m concerned they can’t have it both ways. Either we are irrelevant in which books get attention/read/bought and have no influence over the readers in romanceland or we are important enough that Carrie expects us to address an issue that the publishers themselves cannot be bothered to take seriously. If they did they wouldn’t put it on the authors to contact those sites.

    In my opinion Carrie’s comment was one of those diversionary tactics in which she tried to get us away from the original issue by accusing us of not loving the genre enough because we fail to protect it.

    I have been appalled lately to find out how much authors are expected to do in terms of publicity and other issues that to my mind are the responsibility of the publisher. I see Carrie’s ‘you should do something’ as another effort to say that it’s really not their job and I resent that on behalf the authors.

    As to ‘something’ needs to be done: what exactly would that be besides what Jane and Sarah have been blogging about? I don’t think anybody who frequents either DA or SBTB is in any doubt about the seriousness of piracy and its adverse effects.

  76. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:05:20

    @Kat: If Avon had data, wouldn’t that be the place to use it, instead of throwing out words like “anecdotally”? Harlequin has a reputation for conducting more market research, but even if you look at the question of covers, they know those covers sell. So here’s what I wonder: do they go beyond that question to determine why? Is it because readers now recognize them and the code, such that it’s easy to pick up a book? Is it because they appreciate the humor? Is it because they love putting them in their shopping cart and showing them off to other patrons? The “why” is even more important, IMO, because just because something sells doesn’t mean it’s beloved by the consumer. Sometimes consumers adapt because they are getting a product they recognize; sometimes it’s because they don’t have a choice; sometimes consumers purchase items they don’t like at all, but the manufacturer never knows.

    Bottom line for me with the Avon thing: as Jane said, she has a good relationship with Avon and with Jaffee, so obviously, views at the publisher are not monolithic. Beyond that, though, I think Avon is missing the boat if they aren’t studying the market and using social media more effectively. NOT because they want to see if an online venue can sell books — IMO that way lies madness and failure — but because building the goodwill of genre readers builds loyalty. Doing that by reaching out within the community, and not just as a publisher being beneficent with ARCs, for example, can create a laterally-linked recognition and trust factor for Avon as *part* of the community, establishing connections that have benefits way past the bestselling status of one book. For one thing, it would mean getting to know readers and their diverse wants in an immediate, candid way.

    If Avon doesn’t want to do that then they don’t have to, and as I said in my earlier comment, my life and my reviewing interests remain what they are regardless of Avon’s view of me as an online reader worth noticing (or not).

  77. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:10:58

    Robin,

    I buy romance novels *in spite* of the titles and covers, not because of them. I know, it’s only anecdotal evidence…

    And I’ve gotten some of those Harlequin research questionnaires in the past. If the choice is between ‘do you want green feelers to stick out of the hero’s eyes’ and ‘do you want a clinch cover’, it’s not surprising that we see clinch covers (slight exaggeration, naturally, but their questions were so leading and offered so no choice, they could have asked a question like that).

  78. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:22:23

    @GrowlyCub: Exactly!

  79. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:27:40

    This link outlining six false assumptions about social media was posted on Twitter today, and I think it’s extremely relevant here, especially #5:

    5. Social Media is optional

    It doesn't matter what the demographics of your customers are. It doesn't matter what industry you're in. Your customers and prospects are talking about you online. Your company needs to be part of that conversation. Today. Online is where many people do their talking, so that's where you need to be. If barber shops were still driving consumer sentiment, I'd be writing this post about barber shop marketing. Be where your customers are.

  80. Jane
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:31:12

    I just want to reiterate what Robin said and that is, I do have a good relationship with Avon publicity department. They have always been responsive to my requests for books and interviews. I don’t have any relationship with the editors and wouldn’t know them if they passed two inches in front of me at RWA.

  81. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:45:14

    don't have any relationship with the editors and wouldn't know them if they passed two inches in front of me at RWA.

    We haven’t talked much about the fact that it was editors who made these comments, but it makes the whole thing particularly sad, IMO, because editors are the gatekeepers of what is and isn’t published, which influences what is and isn’t written. You’d think editors would be *especially* interested in knowing as much as they could about all aspects of the market, especially online where reader views are free, available, and plentiful. As blogger Jill noted here, even if, as these editors insist, online readers aren’t the “average” or “casual” reader, our status as loyal genre readers means that we may be smaller in number (and I use the word *may* there, since no one seems to have done the research to know how many readers are hooked in online), but we’re mighty in book buying/reading.

  82. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 19:57:52

    @Robin:

    Bottom line for me with the Avon thing: as Jane said, she has a good relationship with Avon and with Jaffee, so obviously, views at the publisher are not monolithic. Beyond that, though, I think Avon is missing the boat if they aren't studying the market and using social media more effectively.

    Okay, but I don’t understand. Jane’s post uses statements from 2 editors at Avon to to say that “I've come to understand that you don't have much of anything good to say about the “online world”.” We can’t have it both ways: either Avon as a whole is crap at social networking and the editors are just reflecting this, or the editors were talking crap and aren’t aware of what Avon’s publicity and marketing dept is up to. (There’s a middle ground, which is, as I keep mentioning, that the question-answer interpretation is ambiguous, but whatever. Let’s assume it’s not.)

    Anyway, it seems clear to me that even though Avon may not be at the forefront of online marketing, they’re doing a decent job. Their publicist seems to have good relationships with independent review blogs (or one, DA, but it’s a pretty significant blog). They have a Facebook group, they have mailing lists for readers, etc. Yes, maybe their focus is on selling books and not entirely on creating relationships, but you know what? As a consumer, I don’t really mind that. I know their main objective is to sell me books. But as long as I feel they’re genuinely enjoying the process of socially interacting with me (even with the goal of selling in mind) then I’m not bothered.

    So here's what I wonder: do they go beyond that question to determine why?

    And what I’d like to ask back is, Has anyone asked them?

    And finally, is the online community being overly defensive? Can’t we listen to someone saying, Well, it hasn’t reached critical mass yet, and stop to think that yes, maybe they have a point, instead of feeling like we have to defend our legitimacy every single time? (And on that note, I thought Laura Kinsale’s comment at the SBTB thread was very interesting.)

  83. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:03:38

    Robin, I agree.

    I find it very depressing that these are the folks who get to decide what I will or will not be able to read. They are totally clueless and from the comments in the AAR thread and the reply by the PR person also unwilling to be educated or interested in their reader feedback. They say they are interested but their comments show that to be so much hot air.

    But the bit that really got to me was the reply by Jaffee. That was a glaring example of PR 101, how NOT to do it.

    Readers were already feeling (correctly or incorrectly) that Avon was disparaging and dismissing them and the online sites/communities they frequent. Instead of clarifying and/or doing damage control Jaffee comes out accusing AAR of misquotation and ‘invective’. Way to go… NOT.

  84. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:11:03

    instead of feeling like we have to defend our legitimacy every single time

    This is not about legitimacy to me (I don’t blog). This is about a publisher saying out loud that they think their readers are idiots, by their actual words and by their behavior. I felt insulted by the whole editor and then publicity person interaction.

    I’m still waiting for somebody to explain to me where all those traditional print media outlets are that review Avon romance and how they track the sales they make through ‘traditional’ advertising.

    I have no love for AAR, I’m not partisan, I reacted to what I saw officials for a publishing house say in public. I felt they were condescending and when called on the carpet, they compounded their gaffe by insisting it was a conspiracy. Right…

  85. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:14:41

    @Growlycub, I was shocked when i saw that comment personaly, but after reading more I can’t help but wonder if Jaffee wasn’t a little shocked when she saw that interview, and out of loyalty to her people figured that AAR was to blame, I can’t help but wonder what was said between her and the editors afterwards, while I agree it was in poor form I have to imagine that as someone in marketing it must of killed her to see someone who doesn’t do that for a living make her job a little tougher, by basicly ofending a whole group of readers.

  86. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:21:50

    Kat I think the problem with the mindset of the editors is that they aren’t really doing the best job of making the reading public happy, and if they aren’t pleasing their target audiance they aren’t really getting as many sales as they oculd. I mean how many people complain about historical accuracey and have decided never to read Avon again because they don’t think they provide it, or how many people want a contemparary but since Avon doesn’t have too many out will just go order some HQs, or how many people want to read a new book but they just don’t care for anything being sold so they buy used, these are all being done because I’ve heard people talk about, and at the end of the day if Avon’s editors were to start demanding a little more history, or pay a little closer attention to what readers want or accept more contempararys then maybe they’d raise their sales, the online world readers would be happy and the poor saps who apparently will read anything with a nice cover will still get the cover.

  87. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:25:26

    Sorry for all the errors in my typing, I didn;t get a an edit thing after submitting it, and when I reread it well, someone obviously just showed her lack of editoting skills.

  88. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:38:44

    @GrowlyCub:

    This is about a publisher saying out loud that they think their readers are idiots, by their actual words and by their behavior.

    Really? Well, we read it differently, then. I do agree that the reply from the PR person wasn’t well thought out. But the original interview answers I found to be candid. Just because they said something I didn’t want to hear doesn’t mean they didn’t have a point. And again, I felt the way the questions were phrased was part of the problem.

    @ldb:

    I think the problem with the mindset of the editors is that they aren't really doing the best job of making the reading public happy, and if they aren't pleasing their target audiance they aren't really getting as many sales as they oculd. I mean how many people complain about historical accuracey and have decided never to read Avon again because they don't think they provide it

    Well, certainly quite a few people online, but I wonder if that translates to the majority of readers/buyers? At ARRC, there was a very similar discussion, and I have to say that most readers in the audience sided with the comments regarding how blogs inflate issues and get fussed over silly things like champagne flutes and even sometimes question historical accuracy when in fact the author was correct. A LOT of readers read historical lite. That’s why publishers are still publishing them. (Not to mention there are readers like me who wouldn’t know if something was historically inaccurate to begin with.)

    Put it this way. How sick am I of romances with Aussie characters who sound nothing like people I know? Or plotlines where a computer hacker breaks into a highly secure website without even breaking a sweat? Or contemporary heroines who’ve never heard of the morning after pill. Very sick of them. Will they ever disappear? Hardly.

  89. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:50:19

    @Kat: Every time someone from Avon speaks publicly in an official capacity, they speak for the publisher; this is just a PR reality. And as I said before, I would expect editors to be much more savvy about readers, since they are, supposedly, most in touch with what readers want. They are shaping the market in an extremely hands on, direct influence sort of way. So I don’t understand, really, the charges of “you’re trying to have it both ways” when some of us find those editor comments patently offensive. What two ways?

    But beyond that, Avon isn’t selling widgets; they are selling books, and they, like most publishers, keep pushing this line that the reader is driving the market. But what readers? I have long believed that it’s about what publishers *think* readers want, and that they largely base those decisions on what sells, but what sells isn’t necessarily beloved by readers (certainly not universally) — and certainly doesn’t necessarily recognize the pinnacle of the genre. Further, just because readers like book A doesn’t mean they won’t like book G, the one that isn’t like any other book. Which is, by the way, another pet peeve — the line that editors are always looking for something fresh. And yet we hear stories about, for example, how Adele Ashworth took her Avon editor’s “suggestion” that she make one of her heroines a virgin widow. Because the genre clearly doesn’t have enough of those. And yes, I realize that I’m pushing all editors into a big old generalized pile when I say that, but hey, since those Avon editors put all of us online readers into one big pile . . .

    So one more editor from a house that publishers *very* traditional Romance wants to marginalize online readers by convincing us we’re too small a contingent to be important as far as sales go. Forgive me if I find that a might self-serving with a big old side of “anecdotal.”

    Anyway, as for Laura Kinsale’s comments, chalk that up to the hundredth time or so I disagree completely with her view on something book related (I’m seriously so much better off not knowing what she thinks about a lot of this, lol, especially with a new book coming out finally). And I still don’t get how anything Chen and Macro said suggested “data.”

  90. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 20:54:20

    But the original interview answers I found to be candid.

    I thought they showed the editors to be lacking in understanding, but it wasn’t the original interview that made me remark what you commented on. It was Jaffee’s response and the further comments made in the threads by Avon personnel.

    I went over to SBTB to read Kinsale’s comments and I replied there. As far as I’m concerned the big question about these mythical numbers the editors have that we don’t, where do they come from, what do they mean and how do these editors know they mean what they think they mean?

    Unless you look for something to have an effect, you cannot see that effect. It’s like when somebody falls ill. Unless you test for X virus, you won’t know that X virus caused the disease and if there’s no test for X virus, you may never know that it caused the disease.

    I thought Kinsale’s Walmart argument was especially poor because just because the assumption is that a Walmart sale is generated by one of those average harried housemom readers throwing any old romance novel in her shopping cart among broccoli and frozen pizza, that doesn’t make it so.

    I have no kids, nor do I buy indiscriminately. And the last Walmart sale was generated solely by DA and their twitter bookclub. So, if Avon or the publisher of that Ashley novel now assume this was a fly-by-night purchase, they didn’t look in the right place and I submit that the whole idea that a publisher can know how a Walmart sale came about is fallacy in and of itself.

  91. ldb
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:05:04

    Robin another author story I’ve heard, similiar to the “suggestion” is that readers won’t read long books, so they have to cut books to 330 or 380. As a reader unless it’s published by HQ I only buy 380+, I can TELL when a book is missing it’s middle.

  92. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:31:26

    @Robin: The contradiction I see is that on one hand we’re saying Avon as an entity is dismissive of online communities, yet there are people in Avon who interact well with that community. So which is it? The reality is that it’s both, of course. But it gets all jumbled up in the discussion.

    And yes, readers drive the market through sales. Everything else that the publisher does? It’s designed to sell books. You can have a million online voices that talk about how terrible certain kinds of books are, but if you have 2 million people buying those books, then guess who the publisher will listen to? (Or the other way: 1 million online people asking for weredoves but only 500,000 buying the book, and the publisher might question how well the online community reflects book buying preferences.)

    I think what you’re talking about, though, is risk. And yes, maybe they can and should take more risks. On that we agree. But maybe that’s not their business strategy. Not everyone is out to be the market innovator. Maybe they’re happy for others to find a trend that they can then run with.

    @GrowlyCub:

    Unless you look for something to have an effect, you cannot see that effect. It’s like when somebody falls ill. Unless you test for X virus, you won’t know that X virus caused the disease and if there’s no test for X virus, you may never know that it caused the disease.

    I’m no expert on statistics, but I don’t think you need to know the cause-effect relationship to determine what can affect something. Sometimes correlation is enough. Using a similar example, if 15 people working in a facility get breast cancer over the long-term, and it translates to a rate that’s 11 times higher than the national average, then even if you don’t know for sure what caused it, it’s a fair assumption that there’s something about where they’re working that caused it (and that’s a true example, by the way). More importantly, you’re not going to wait for cause-effect to decide to move those people out of there. Similarly, if I consistently sell 5000 copies of each book with a clinch cover at Walmart, then I’m going to keep using similar covers whether or not I can definitely prove cause-effect.

    Now, I agree with you and Robin that the why/cause would give more of an insight into what readers want. But still, it’s not essential to getting those sales.

  93. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:33:25

    @ldb: Yup; how much of that is an attempt to shape the market by claiming such-and-such is the only thing readers will accept?

    And let’s not forget the famous ‘it all starts with “The Virgin”‘ vision of Romance from Avon, either.

  94. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:40:57

    @Kat: I would say that if it’s both, then we can have it both ways. ;)

    ut maybe that's not their business strategy. Not everyone is out to be the market innovator. Maybe they're happy for others to find a trend that they can then run with.

    Then *say that*, for heaven’s sake, don’t make it a matter of “it’s what readers want.” That’s what galls me. Just say, ‘hey, this and this sells, and that’s what we’re interested in, so we’re happy doing what sells.’ And if you don’t want to be that crass about your intentions, then maybe soft pedal the dismissive comments, at least publicly.

  95. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:44:35

    Kat,

    as far as I’m concerned we are back to the chicken or egg question.

    If there are no books published that I like, I have two choices:

    I can either buy no more books

    or as an addict to the written word

    I can buy books that aren’t what I really want, but are the closest approximation to what I want that’s available.

    If there are only books with horrid covers and idiotic titles, but the content therein is what I want to read, I may still buy the books, but I bet you Avon’s marketing department now says, ‘look, shiny, those covers SELL and we have PROOF’.

    And if I don’t buy the book, they don’t say anything at all, because they don’t *know* I didn’t buy the book because their horrid title and even worse cover insulted me.

    Yes, we buy, but we can only buy what’s out there. Is that our fault? I don’t think so.

    They go around telling us ‘readers don’t want historical accuracy’ and they tell us ‘readers have short attention spans, they don’t want 400+ page books’ and they say ‘the word billionaire and mistress in the title sell loads of books’. And I say, any set of statistical data can be falsified to tell you what you want to hear.

    I’m sure it’s just totally accidental that publishers are perfectly happy to have editors spend less time editing and doing other related jobs, and that publishers had no vested interest at all to sell fewer pages for a higher price and that millions of customers have told them they hate those titles and covers, because they have data they can massage any way they want to do justify their shoddy business practices.

    Your breast cancer example doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to me and I have no clue what you were trying to say.

  96. Sybil
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:48:47

    @robin
    Couldn’t “it’s what readers want.” and ‘hey, this and this sells’ pretty much mean the same thing in their minds?

    I mean I haven’t heard too much from them since they are not back until Tues but I agree with a lot of what Laura Kinsale said and still wonder how much of this has been blown up to more than it should have been.

    When harpercollins laid off lots of people… most of my avon contacts stayed the same. I don’t know about you guys but it looked to me like the Romance div did ok. So they are doing something right at least for them.

    And they are online, they are trying to change and do things differently maybe not at the speed we would like or in the ways we want but we can hope that will continue to change.

  97. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 21:52:49

    @Robin: To me that just seems like the author pitched the book to the wrong editor. Sure, maybe the editor is wrong, but if she can manage to sell her virgin books without fail each time, then why would we question her preference for acquiring them? (I do take issue with the condescending way it was phrased, though.)

    Then *say that*, for heaven's sake, don't make it a matter of “it's what readers want.”

    That’s just semantics to me. I always translate that in my head to: “it’s what OUR readers want”. And really, most companies won’t say they don’t want to be the market innovator. Even if they don’t.

    @GrowlyCub: I’m saying that not everything in statistics needs cause and effect to get you a result that you can use.

    Furthermore, using your individual buying habits is misleading because publishers don’t care what your individual habits are–they care about the behaviour of a significant sample of their target market.

    I’m not quite as cynical as you are of the publishers’ market data. Sure, they could have flaws in their methods, but it would be stupid of them to skew those numbers so WE READERS can be pacified. That’s not what market research is about. They want to sell those books. And it serves no purpose for them to stuff up the method intentionally.

  98. GrowlyCub
    May 25, 2009 @ 22:03:39

    And it serves no purpose for them to stuff up the method intentionally.

    Sure it does. They don’t actually have to do it, they just have to say they have the data that show that readers don’t want to read longer books forex. Voila, saved 20-40k worth of ink and paper but let’s raise the price by a buck. Or let’s talk about those novellas that are printed with unbelievably large margin and super large fonts and thrown on the market in HC for 25 bucks a pop…

    Cynical? You betcha. I’ve been watching the romance industry for 25 plus years and their shenanigans are getting worse with every year that passes. And I resent, deeply resent, the quite obvious assumption of these PR folks and editors that they can serve us any old crap and that we will be too dumb to catch on to their tricks.

    Btw, I’m not only talking about the Avon thing any longer, but what I’ve seen throughout of which the Avon PR debacle was just a more obvious offshoot.

  99. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 22:17:44

    @GrowlyCub: Sure, it may serve them some purpose from a PR point of view to talk about the data in a favourable light, and yes, they probably do it. But at the end of the day, I do believe that market researchers are trying to find market trends. They might not be very good at it if they’re not conducting the research properly, but I think they have an honest desire to get an understanding of what their readers want.

    I resent, deeply resent, the quite obvious assumption of these PR folks and editors that they can serve us any old crap and that we will be too dumb to catch on to their tricks.

    As to that, there are a lot of dumb people around, including myself, who are willing to buy books that you don’t seem to like. When I stop liking them, I stop buying.

    One thing, though. I wish we knew who edits each book, so we can make book choices based on the editor. I think that info would be just as valuable as, say, knowing with DA reviewer likes/dislikes similar books that I do.

    Page count inflation and hardcovers…well, that’s a totally different issue. (Yes, I paid $55 for a hardcover book. I AM DUMB!)

  100. Robin
    May 25, 2009 @ 22:43:20

    @Kat: Here’s what I think. I think we’re in the middle of a generational shift in Romance readership/authorship (one that does NOT correspond necessarily to the age of readers/authors), and that it’s becoming increasingly clear where people and publishers lie on the gamut between very old skool and very new skool.

    In the next couple of years, IMO you’re going to see the influence of online communities — not necessarily in terms of sales, but in recognition that collective of voices is not coming from the margins — as much more easily discernible. But even now, if you don’t consider the fact that the Walmart buyer might have browsed online for reviews, even if it was just RT, you’re ignoring and/or missing out on the implications of the increasingly close relationship between online communication and off-line life for so-called “average” people. And I think that view is as distorted as the one that would insist online communities rule.

  101. Kat
    May 25, 2009 @ 23:32:33

    @Robin: Generational shift, yes. But critical mass? Not yet, I think. And while I expect publishers to be trying new things and testing the waters, I don’t expect them to commit significant resources until they can foresee a reasonable payoff.

    Anyway, I appreciate that the editors were honest and said what they thought about where the market is currently. Personally, I rarely buy based on cover quotes, but when I glance through them, I never think to question author endorsements. I do raise an eyebrow when there’s a quote from a review site/magazine I’ve never heard of. I always wonder if that’s because DA/SBTB/Some other site I frequent didn’t have anything good to say about it. So it can go both ways.

  102. George
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 12:07:13

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Some companies go overboard with social media and it can be lame at times!Change is good though.

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