exploring the book-blog nexus 01.07.2006, 8:36 AM
posted by ben vershbow
It appears that Amazon is going to start hosting blogs for authors. Sort of. Amazon Connect, a new free service designed to boost sales and readership, will host what are essentially stripped-down blogs where registered authors can post announcements, news and general musings. Eventually, customers can keep track of individual writers by subscribing to bulletins that collect in an aggregated "plog" stream on their Amazon home page. But comments and RSS feeds -- two of the most popular features of blogs -- will not be supported. Engagement with readers will be strictly one-way, and connection to the larger blogosphere basically nil. A missed opportunity if you ask me.
Then again, Amazon probably figured it would be a misapplication of resources to establish a whole new province of blogland. This is more like the special events department of a book store -- arranging readings, book singings and the like. There has on occasion, however, been some entertaining author-public interaction in Amazon's reader reviews, most famously Anne Rice's lashing out at readers for their chilly reception of her novel Blood Canticle (link - scroll down to first review). But evidently Connect blogs are not aimed at sparking this sort of exchange. Genuine literary commotion will have to occur in the nooks and crannies of Amazon's architecture.
It's interesting, though, to see this happening just as our own book-blog experiment, Without Gods, is getting underway. Over the past few weeks, Mitchell Stephens has been writing a blog (hosted by the institute) as a way of publicly stoking the fire of his latest book project, a narrative history of atheism to be published next year by Carroll and Graf. While Amazon's blogs are mainly for PR purposes, our project seeks to foster a more substantive relationship between Mitch and his readers (though, naturally, Mitch and his publisher hope it will have a favorable effect on sales as well). We announced Without Gods a little over two weeks ago and already it has collected well over 100 comments, a high percentage of which are thoughtful and useful.
We are curious to learn how blogging will impact the process of writing the book. By working partially in the open, Mitch in effect raises the stakes of his research -- assumptions will be challenged and theses tested. Our hunch isn't so much that this procedure would be ideal for all books or authors, but that for certain ones it might yield some tangible benefit, whether due to the nature or breadth of their subject, the stage they're at in their thinking, or simply a desire to try something new.
An example. This past week, Mitch posted a very thinking-out-loud sort of entry on "a positive idea of atheism" in which he wrestles with Nietzsche and the concepts of void and nothingness. This led to a brief exchange in the comment stream where a reader recommended that Mitch investigate the writings of Gora, a self-avowed atheist and figure in the Indian independence movement in the 30s. Apparently, Gora wrote what sounds like a very intriguing memoir of his meeting with Gandhi (whom he greatly admired) and his various struggles with the religious component of the great leader's philosophy. Mitch had not previously been acquainted with Gora or his writings, but thanks to the blog and the community that has begun to form around it, he now knows to take a look.
What's more, Mitch is currently traveling in India, so this could not have come at a more appropriate time. It's possible that the commenter had noted this from a previous post, which may have helped trigger the Gora association in his mind. Regardless, these are the sorts of the serendipitous discoveries one craves while writing book. I'm thrilled to see the blog making connections where none previously existed.
Posted by ben vershbow on January 7, 2006 8:36 AM
tags: Blogosphere, Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press, amazon, amazon_connect, atheism, blogging, blogs, book-blog_experiments, books, god, publishing, religion, writing
bowerbird on January 7, 2006 1:32 PM:
> A missed opportunity if you ask me.
an intentional decision to maintain maximal control, if you ask me.
and not all that atypical of blogs, either, where the "two-way"
"communication" is typically relegated to a comments section.
(when there even _is_ a comments section, that is...)
dave munger on January 7, 2006 4:43 PM:
Mitchell had better watch out. We started Cognitive Daily as a way to keep research notes for a book we were planning, and have received over 600 substantive comments, along with hundreds more links from other blogs. We're having such a great interaction with our potential book readers that we may never get around to the book itself.
Bowerbird, a couple of years ago, I shared your attitude about blogs: too elitist, too in-crowdy. It's definitely got a steep entry curve (unless you're already famous or have a famous sponsor). But I've had the most success blogging when I made no effort to join the in-crowd, and instead simply wrote about what I was thinking about. Suddenly, a "conversation" started -- interested, interesting people found me.
Back to the topic of this post -- apparently the author blogs aren't for everyone. I've written a couple of textbooks that are still sold on Amazon, but I have yet to figure out how to get my blog. It's not a big deal, since these books are pretty much out of date, but I'm curious as to what criteria Amazon uses to determine which authors get blogs.
bowerbird on January 7, 2006 5:42 PM:
i've been a longtime supporter of "the internets"
as a place where artists can _finally_ engage in
direct communication with their audience,
free of any requirement for intermediaries,
be it publisher, recording studio, or whatever.
so i don't necessarily think blogs are "elitist".
on the contrary, i think they are egalitarian.
but i'm not sure bloggers are "artists" either. :+)
still, i genuinely admire that people can now
express themselves and find an audience,
not by spending a lot of time, money, and
energy doing the groundwork to _build_ it,
but by having it just _materialize_ for them,
without much effort, seemingly out of thin air.
that is truly amazing.
and it bodes well for a creative future.
what does bother me about blogs, though, is
they seem to me to be a bad throwback to the
unidirectional nature of the mainstream media,
the one-to-many form of "i talk and y'all listen",
the one usually used to control people, not free us.
with the many-to-many format of listserves
(which, in spite of a very long history already,
haven't gotten any of the spotlight blogs have),
or the "let's all pitch in" philosophy of wikis
(who are now in the shadow of blog's spotlight,
at least until wikipedia powers up its own kliegs),
it is a wee bit disappointing to me that _blogs_
seem to be all that anyone talks about these days.
right on this site, it's becoming blog blog blog.
but perhaps it's just the comfort people always feel
when they have the sense of being on solid ground
given by "a little bit of the old way" in a revolution.
we're used to being the "listener" to a monologue
-- rather than participating in a dialog -- because
that is the form of media that we grew up with.
so even when we _do_ decide we can speak up too,
we feel most comfortable doing it from a soapbox
-- even if there isn't anyone listening to us at first --
when joining a conversaton might be more _human_.
so maybe blogs are not so much a "throwback",
but rather an "intermediate step" on the journey
from one-way monologues to a two-way dialog.