So, this is me pondering the need to keep on running a review-blog.
Since September 2010 I’ve witnessed a steady decline in visitors to the blog, for whatever reasons that may be. From around May 2009 until August 2010 the log was averaging 7000 hits a month, and since September the decline has been so drastic that in the past three months the blog is averaging around 2000 hits.
Now, I’m not usually a guy that follows trends and keeps an eye on numbers, but lately it’s been so in-my-face that I can’t exactly ignore it. There are probably many reasons, which I’ll spend some time going into here, but the fact of the matter is that this blog’s day is done and I’m seriously considering ending this particular ear in my life.
Now to the reasons: Content.
I’m a SFF lover and reader from South Africa who is also a bookseller who is also a struggling (emphasis on the struggling) writer. The main point, though, is that I’m in South Africa. Lemme explain – our industry supports an average of 60000 readers. That’s it. Our publishers must source books from the Uk, primarily, and then the US (if UK publishers don’t have rights); because of where we source books from we have to deal with a general lag of around 3 months. Sometimes we get lucky and are able to luck in with world-wide releases (Harry Potter, Dan Brown) and sometimes we wait 2 months or even only 1 month, but books aren’t available in SA when they’re available in the UK. FACT. That means that we’re behind, and since we’ve got so many readers in SA, we don’t get to see a fraction of what UK and US markets get to see and enjoy and sell.
Because we source from the UK, books are incredibly expensive – we have (as close as can be counted) just over 50 million people in the country, the vast majority of which don’t pay taxes because they are unemployed or can only get part-time work; this means that tax is king. Which makes books more expensive, year after year. Which means less people read, year after year. Which means less books come to SA, year after year.
What bearing does this have on the blog’s content? Well, I started this blog to give South African SFF readers somewhere to go to get their information, and I tried to provide that information. Let me put it this way – if I’ve had 2000 South Africans visiting this blog since I began it in 2008, that’s plenty. In fact, I’m probably being very generous with that number. So, tailoring the blog’s content to South African readers (those who, by absolute chance, stumble upon the blog) means blogging old, outdated information, which means losing readers from the UK and US and everywhere else because the information is old and outdated. BUT if I keep the blog’s content fresh and constantly updated I lose South African readers – because I’m ahead of the industry here. Not in any substantial, incredible way, not even in a measurable way, probably, but when you have to tell the publishers here that Brandon Sanderson was chosen to finish The Wheel of Time, you’re ahead. And if I’m ahead of the publishers, what does that say about the public? The public that can afford an internet connection, that is. 😛
So, I sit with problems – tailor the content to a South African readership (which hardly exist) and I lose; tailor the content to an international readership (which exists in an AWESOME way), and I lose the few South African readers I do have. But that’s not all:
If I completely forgot about South African readers and concentrated on international readers, how do I keep up the content? If someone posts info about George RR Martin’s marriage before I do, should I still post the news? If someone posts the latest cover art for a eagerly-awaited novel, should I go ahead and post it, too? Let’s say that I don’t; let’s say that I post my thoughts on Smallville, for instance, and how I think the show will end on a high-note because Tom Welling will finally be putting on the suit. I’ll get a minimum amount of readers, that’s what will happen. Because, in my honest opinion, I’m going against what SFF blogging has become – a “I’ll post it as soon as it hits my RSS Reader!’ pass-time. Why do people still visit Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, even though there’s been pretty vocal gripes against him and how he does things? Because HE GET’S THE SCOOPS . Plain and simple. Argue all you want, but it’s a fact. So why is anyone else blogging?
Because they offer their opinions, that’s why. And most opinions in SFF are well-informed; they are the opinions of fans, people who have been reading SFF for decades, at least, and each and everyone knows what they’re talking about even if they say different things. Here’s the thing – and probably the reason I’ve seen a decline in readers / visits: I’m too behind (news-wise and connection-wise) to keep up. Everything you see on the blog you’ve seen somewhere else first. That’s a fact. So, what if I give you news from the South African SFF scene? Hehehehe I made a joke. It doesn’t exist. The scene is trying to exist, though, trying it’s damndest – there are plenty of SFF-authors that are South African, I won’t argue that at all. BUT THEY DON”T GET SOUTH AFRICAN PUBLISHER-SUPPORT. And when I do post news about South African SFF authors almost no-one readers the posts: international readers haven’t heard of these authors and local readers can’t read their work because South African publishers don’t carry / distribute their work. 😦
So do I carry on blogging and 1) hope that SA SFF readers / fans will start using the internet to find out about SFF (because, and let’s be honest, booksellers in SA don’t have a clue), or 2) try and get a blog-post out before anyone else? My point of view doesn’t even matter, if we’re all being totally honest – I’m a fan / reader that is too far away from the scene to have a point of view that actually has merit.
So, the logical conclusion? Become a reader again. Stop blogging. Or agonize over what to blog so that I can try and tell myself I’m actually contributing something. Either way, I’ve got some deep thinking to do about the future of the blog.
And I’m also not the only SFF blogger in South Africa – Lauren runs an excellent blog. 🙂