Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blog Readers

Dan had a spirited discussion with an informed reader of our blog about the fact that many of the best blogs have relatively few readers while the "sound bite" blogs are rakin' em' in.

On a parallel note, one of my favorite writers, the science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, died recently. Lem was Polish and fought the Nazis in WW2 and lived under communism. As a result, his themes were often oblique compared to the typical science fiction "shoot 'em up" themes. His most famous book, Solaris, is a fascinating novel about a distant planet that is one sentinent organism that plays with the sanity of explorers above its empty ocean. Do not be put off by the not-so-good movie with George Clooney, the book is much better.

When I was growing up I worked in a bookstore. The bookstore only hired people of college age but when I turned 16 I kept applying, over and over, until they finally had pity on me and took me in. I loved books and still have shelves of them creaking everywhere.

Prior to working in the bookstore I had dreams of being a writer. I read my favorite authors such as Lem and many others and really thought that someday, if I worked hard enough, I could be one, too.

However, what I saw in the bookstore totally dashed my hopes. Even though the bookstore was a high-end bookstore (for its day, prior to the Borders / Barnes and Noble superstore world) whenever a diet guru came on TV the place was flooded with suburban housewives craving the latest tips in the form of the inevitable bestseller. We sold an amazing number of books about astrology, romance novels, and terrible "action" and "western" series books.

The books I liked, the authors like Lem, gathered dust on the shelves. Though I tended to them well, turning the face of the jacket to face the aisle (not the spine), no one bought them, and ultimately we sent them back to the publisher in a big box (or tore the cover off if they were paperbacks and the publisher didn't want to pay the freight - I ripped apart many, many books that way. Don't even get me started on the economics of that insane industry).

What did I learn? Commerce isn't art. If you want to make a living, you need to give the people what they want, and 99 times out of 100 that means you are generating, well, crap. The good books gathered dust, and the topical diet and fad books sold like crazy. Danielle Steele, I can still see her garish covers when I close my eyes today.

So what does this have to do with anything? Blogs are the same as my bookstore. Most of the superficial, flashiest, emptiest stuff rises to the top because they spend time on the equivalent of a bodice-ripping cover starring Fabio rather than worrying about crafting an interesting and unique piece.

Because that is what the vast majority of people want.

It is easy to digest and it goes down smoothly. You don't have to think a lot, all of your pre-conceptions are met, out of the box.

Thanks to the web, however, we can publish what we want, for free. I don't have to worry about the economics of this process, because I am not relying on it for my livelihood. This is what freedom is about, freedom of speech, and freedom to have a solid discourse with those that want to join me.

Or you can just click back to the big blogs and I won't miss you, either. Posted by Picasa


Frank Borger said...

To me the classic example of people's rushing to buy books was the classic joke that Jean Shepherd (writer of the movie "A Christmas Story",) pulled when he was a late-night radio racontour in NY.

He and his listeners dreamed up a ficticious book titled "I libertine" a fake author (with an unbelievable background,) and his listeners started asking for the book all over NYNY.

The whole thing snowballed. Lots of stores were trying to buy the book, it was reportedly banned in Boston, and a prominent NY interviewer reported he had lunch with the author in his newspaper column.

When news of the hoax finally broke, they finally wrote the book anyway, (Theodore Sturgeon wrote it, Kelly Frease did the cover.)

Look up Jean Shepherd in wikipedia for the whole story. Follow the links. It was hilarious.

Dan from Madison said...

I struggle with this. I think it may be a general dumbing down of the populus as a whole. At least that is my initial hunch - if you don't understand half of what good blogs are referring to when they make historical references, you can't follow along. If you asked 100 people who Stalin was, I would wager you may get a correct answer from 10% of them, depending on where you are.

When a blog like Little Green Footballs has a post three words long titled "Islamic Killers" it is simple, to the point, and everyone can understand it. Like you said, nobody is challenged there. Well, they are what they are, those big blogs, all of the good quality be damned. Just like your bookstore.

Keith said...

The Cyberiad is one of my favorite books. Stanislaw Lem was amazing.

The blizzard of crap like He's Just Not that Into You makes me want to set fire to most bookstores.

Jim said...

What's worse, is the McBookstore ninjaettes, all dressed so very seriously in black and somber tones; severe and humorless, be they clerk or client.

Or the Seattle Grunge Wannabees, crowding the in-store Starbucks like so many lemmings in the cliff-dive holding pen.

Pseudo intellectuals, whose collective grasp of the literary world on the shelves around them wouldn't fill the magazine rack in a suburban bathroom home.

But do I complain? Hell no. I wish you could enjoy with me the sheer delight of reading an Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin book in the midst of the rabble, chuckling derisively at the living examples of the author's words in my hands.

Or, of equal merit, when perusing the memoirs of for example; Churchill, and fielding the inquiry of a curious leftie.

One can relish some amazing reactions when they see that history didn't begin with Abbie Hoffman, or the Clinton years.

But as for writing, and the "big dog blogs?"

As long as the link-aggregators point me to a worthy writer; a Whitlte or a VanDerLeun, then all is well. They've served their purpose.

But the real fun is chasing the lesser links down the rabbit hole... never know what lies in the Wonderland of the 'net.

Happy Hunting!

Sloop New Dawn
Galveston, TX