This very excellent interview with Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books provides plenty of insight into book publishing today. Of particular interest is what he had to say about the role of the Internet and bloggers.
The practical uses it offers in the editing and production of books aside, in the current reality, the Internet is a tremendous tool for publishers to reach those readers who want something besides the designated book of the season. This will become even more the case so long as review inches are shrinking in the print media (which I fear will be right to their complete disappearance). And as the influence of the literary bloggers grows — as I think it will once they convince those readers who are not bloggers that the blogs are the source of information about What to Read — that is, once readers recognize that bloggers have an authority that the reader reviews on Amazon do not — then the Internet will be an even more powerful tool for publishers.
[Bold emphasis is mine]
This is not just what literary bloggers have to do. It is especially true for political bloggers. In 2004, Dean showed how you could organize and raise money over the Internet. The 2006 elections showed the influence of bloggers in keeping certain issues at the forefront of the news cycle, debunking slanders or myths, or getting information out to the public ignored by the MSM. (Bloggers have often highlighted where the MSM has failed to do its watchdog job in the political arena.)
Most of the audience for political blogs are those people who are activists, over-informed, or all-around political junkies to begin with. The next step is to convince the public that blogs are a source of information about who to trust in a given debate or campaign.
In both the literary world and the political world, blogs are picking up the large amount of slack left by the MSM (for an innovative example, see the litblog co-op.) Book review pages have shrunk in newspapers. (Don’t even get me started on the lack of authors on television outside of the Designated Book on Oprah and the occasional Today Show appearance.) Political coverage has shrunk too. Or should I say, meaningful political coverage has shrunk. There are plenty of partisan shoutfests on cable TV. But even those shows that attempt at being informative and meaningful, like Meet the Press, have been compromised as the Libby Trial has shown. From Tim Rutten’s column in the LA Times [hat tip to Transient Reporter for this one]:
[Tim] Russert came off looking particularly bad when, under cross-examination, it emerged that he made a public show of resisting a grand jury demand that he testify about his conversation with Libby, while secretly providing information to the FBI. Maybe that’s how sophisticated Washington journalists navigate “the system,” but an ordinary person with no more than the sense of right and wrong that they learned at Mother’s knee would call his conduct what it is: sleazy double-dealing.
The picture that emerges here is of a stratum of the Washington press corps less interested in the sort of journalistic privilege that serves the public interest than in the kind of privileged access that ensures prominent bylines and good airplay.
Bloggers wear their biases on their sleeves. We might not claim objectivity, but we’re not making any attempt to fake it either. Most bloggers write out of an honest passion for their subjects, be it literature, politics, sex, cooking, science, economics, entertainment, you name it. A passion that I hope will poke through the blogosphere and out to the general public someday soon. And then, who knows what changes will be brought to our political system or publishing? Given the dissatisfactory state of both, I have to believe the net effect will be positive.