The Way We Blog: Thinking about presentation

This is a “I’m thinking about a tricky decision and asking for help” post, which requires context.

Background

I’ve been gathering data for an “as complete as possible” overview of English-language liblogs (blogs by library people or about libraries, that aren’t official blogs) since early summer; several previous posts have referred to that process and asked for help in some cases.

The deadline for the last piece of help I’ve asked for is tomorrow (October 7, 2010). That means I could start the second half of the project–analysis and writeup–any time starting October 8, 2010.

“Other things” are pretty much in place:

  • I’ve submitted the manuscript for Open Access: What You Need to Know Now, and can’t do anything on that until/unless there are proposed changes to deal with.
  • I’ve submitted my first 2011 column for ONLINE Magazine; the next isn’t due until December, and I never get more than a month ahead of deadlines.
  • Most of the content for the November Cites & Insights is written. I need to edit the essays, write a Bibs & Blather (which will include some of the same musings as in this post), gather it together, re-edit, copyfit, and do the final production. Target: Around 10/15-10/17, but really less than half of my writing¬† time between now and then.

Reality: A Hobby/Obsession, Not a Realistic Revenue Project

None of the blogging books I’ve self-published has sold enough copies or received enough attention to be considered anything but failures. Consider:

  • Public Library Blogs – 80 copies sold.
  • Academic Library Blogs — 45 copies sold.

In these two cases, while I did an easy followup after one year and might do another easy followup, possibly for my remaining print column, after three years, I’ve basically given up on the projects. They just don’t interest me personally enough to keep working on them if nobody much cares about the results, and I continue to have the impression that only cheerleading is welcome in this area.

I think BSTB is the better of the two books. I’d had the suggestion that some people with blogs in one of the books might want to see where they stood, but couldn’t/wouldn’t cough up the humongous $35 (print) or $25 (PDF) I was asking. Maybe I could offer individual profiles for some nominal sum?

Well, I’ve tested that, in a way. I lowered the price of the two books to $10 PDF–no shipping and handling, and since they’re 6×9 pages they should look great on a Kindle DX or iPad or whatever ereader you have with a decent-size screen. I lowered the print price to $20 (which yields the same return to me for each book as $10 PDF, within a few cents).

Total additional sales so far of either book to any bloggers or anybody else: Zero.

And yet…I couldn’t just let this one go, curse a little, and abandon the field. So, at this point, I have to admit that carrying on this “universe of liblogs over time” study is a hobby or obsession; any fiscal rewards (or, hah, speaking engagements) are unlikely and secondary.

Second Reality: People Will Read If It’s Completely Free

Now let’s look at another set of figures:

  • Public Library Blogs: 2,244 (or 1,111) to September 30, 2010–and 2,902 (or 1,010) for a brief update.
  • Academic Library Blogs: 2,186 (or 1,053) to September 30, 2010–and 3,178 (or 1,286) for a brief update.
  • The Liblog Landscape: 1,424 to September 30, 2010.
  • But Still They Blog: 791 through October 5, 2010–and it’s been less than two months so far.

Those are the numbers for the partial versions of the books that appeared in Cites & Insights. (For the first two, the larger number adds HTML pageviews for the article to PDF downloads for the issue; the number in parentheses is just the HTML pageviews. The third and fourth are PDF-only full-issue articles.)

So, let’s see: I’ve reached about 28 times as many readers for public library blogs, 48 times as many for academic library blogs, roughly 22 times as many (so far) for the first liblog study and, even after only seven weeks, 46 times as many readers for But Still They Blog. (Issue and article readership for C&I typically starts with 400-500 full issue downloads and 200-500 [each] article downloads in the first week or two, then continues to grow…indefinitely.)

Third Reality: It Probably Works Better as a Book

The Way We Blog (if that continues to be a title) has a lot more data than the earlier projects. That data needs to be turned into summaries, graphs, and lots of descriptive commentary. The graphs–and particularly any correlation scattergraphs–work better in a 6×9″ book (where I use a 26pica wide body, 4 1/3″ if you don’t get picas) than in one column of a 2-column 8.5×11″ ejournal (where I use a 20pica body or 3 1/3″). I had to omit columns from some tables and make type in other tables uncomfortable small to fit them in three-quarters of the width.

And, let’s face it, even without the individual blog profiles that make up more than half of each previous book, this is going to be fairly long. The concise C&I version of But Still They Blog is an absurdly large 60-page issue; I’d expect the new one to be even larger, given an additional year of data, more than twice as many blogs, and a couple new and interesting metrics.

Possibilities

I see a couple of possibilities. I’d be interested in feedback or in possibilities I haven’t thought of (and don’t bother with “scrap it now, nobody cares”–if I was that sensible I would have scrapped it before I began).

  • The Insane Approach: Do it the same way I’ve done it before, as a 6×9 book priced reasonably, with some excerpts published in C&I–and, maybe, publishing a truncated version in C&I if when the book doesn’t do very well. (Why insane? Surely know the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”)
  • The Populist Approach: Do the project as a series of C&I articles (probably PDF-only, given the graphs) over as many issues as it requires. Maybe try to put together a summary that could be sold as an article in one of the “big trade journals” (LJ, AL, CIL) for a three-figure sum. Lots of readership, either very little or no revenue (barring sponsorship, which is still up in the air).
  • A Blended Approach? Do the project as a series of C&I articles that become a book, with the book planned as a limited edition. In that case, the “PDF versions” of individual articles might actually be 6×9 pages for easier reading on ereaders and better graph reproductions.
  • What else?

Either the second or third approach probably means using 10-20 pages of each issue over 3-5 months for this particular project. That might be good; it might not. (The future of C&I past December 2010 is sufficiently cloudy that it’s hard to clarify that more.)

Reactions? Comments? Anybody out there ready to provide overall sponsorship for this project? Anybody out there who forgot to buy the absurdly cheap copy of one of the two current books? (There’s still time–and note that none of these alternatives includes individual blog profiles.)

To Make Things More Complicated

Let’s throw in three other factors, things I’m certainly thinking about:

  1. If I continue the study in 2011, it would represent a half-decade investigation, which has some interesting possibilities. Might it make sense to hold my current title for that five-year study and treat the four-year nearly-universal study as a halfway point of sorts?
  2. There’s another interesting five-year anniversary coming up in early 2011–five years after the publication of by far the most widely-read C&I ever. I’m thinking about a major update and a possible five-year book edition; that may turn out to be a really stupid idea.
  3. I have a collection of columns that most of you haven’t read, the “disContent” columns from EContent Magazine, all of them now updated to match the published versions and with Update epilogues for each column. The whole collection includes a number of columns that I’d just as soon forget, cases that make it clear that I’m no better as a prophet than anyone else in the field–but it might be interesting to include all the columns in a strictly limited (and possibly hardback) “signed edition” book. The portion of the columns that I regard as still timely and still things I’m happy to have out there is going to find use somehow–possibly republished in future C&Is (if it keeps going long enough–there are either 37 columns and 43,000 words or 47 columns and 56,000 words in that category) or as a much smaller book.

I suppose I’d welcome comments on those factors as well.

Meanwhile, it’s time to edit three essays and write a fourth one…

2 Responses to “The Way We Blog: Thinking about presentation”

  1. Mark Says:

    Still haven’t returned to friendfeed so I hope some discussion happened there.

    Also, being one of the very clear minority who bought both books I doubt my saying that I would probably buy the new one as a book doesn’t give you much in the way of making a decision.

    Wish I could do more.

  2. walt Says:

    Mark: There has been absolutely no discussion on FF so far. As with some of my other questions/posts, it’s fallen flatter than a pancake.

    I’m starting in by not making a decision–building book chapters as I do analysis, but not assuming where those book chapters will wind up. I have, however, changed the working title to “The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010,” which reserves “The Way We Blog” for a possible five-year compendium.

    Thanks for your comment and for being one of the chosen few.


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