Buzz Marketing–Not Here!/Undertstanding the Other

June 10, 2006

Buzz Marketing—Not Here, Never!
Yesterday I received this RSS feed from book critic John Freeman with the Book Critics Circle's Critical Mass. He makes an important point regarding lit blogs or any type of blog that warrants me quoting him in his entirety, which I rarely do. He wrote, “A reporter mentioned the other day that some lit blogs get a cut of sales generated from their site traffic. I presume she was speaking of online bookselling affiliate programs. Perhaps it's that old print background rearing its head, but isn't this a (rather large) conflict of interest? How can you actually claim to blog blindly if the chances are, a positive or salesworthy blog might generate some extra income? And how can the reader follow you if this motivation is (even a small) part of your day-to-day job. Am I the only person who feels like this could come
right out of a William Gibson novel? And why stop there. Why not do some cross-promotional blogging, like this fellow, who runs 17 of them out of his home in Australia — recommending everything from cameras to Olympic coverage? It's one thing to accept advertising money: that's what has kept papers afloat for years. It's quite another to make a commission off the very object you are purporting to criticize. Poynter has set one possible example by simply declaring they are part of the Amazon program when they put up book links. In the meantime, here's our promise to you: we won't be profiting by recommending one title or another; and certain, absolutely, no buzz marketing.” I'm naïve. After working as a journalist for more than a quarter of a century, it never would occur to me to accept money for what I was passing as objective information or opinion. But when you read the links provided by John Freeman, it becomes rather clear that I am naïve. SNReview nor I will ever accept payment for what we have written in the zine or the blog. It seems like a stupid promise, as does Mr. Freeman's—akin to promising your spouse that you will be faithful. With so many individuals misrepresenting their position, one seems compelled to make his intentions known.

Understanding the Other Thru Fiction?
In his essay, “Under Western Eyes” for the New York Times Book Review, Rachel Donadio asks, “How far the Western literary imagination can take us into the minds and motivations of Islamic terrorists[?] For a writer with no Arabic and a limited understanding of Islam, is literary skill enough? What kind of research is needed. What's the best way in: focusing on the mind of the terrorist, or the society from which he emerges.” These literary questions have always puzzled me. The greatest American Civil War and anti-war novel is Red Badge of Courage, written by a man who was too young to witness the war itself and who never served in the military. Shakespeare was never in Denmark, and Dante never in Hell. Spencer never saw a dragon, Tolkein never a hobbit. Never mind the author of Beowolf never seeing a Grendel, Grendel modor, a dragon, or even Beowolf. Would it be difficult to step into the mind of an individual with a different paradigm? Yes, but not impossible. The paradigm though has its own system of logic and illusions that the individual starts absorbing at an early age. Mix that with adolescence angst, repressive home governments, presumed single-mindedness about one's particular faith to the exclusion of others, including those who share that faith, anger about invaders returning again to your land compounded by the anger of invaders taking that land and giving it to someone else. Can a writer understand that individual? Yes, and if he cannot he/she should not write.


4 Responses to “Buzz Marketing–Not Here!/Undertstanding the Other”

  1. Maxine Says:

    Hi, I came here via Books, Inq., but talking of rss feeds, yours doesn’t seem to be working — I wanted to add your blog to my Bloglines list but can’t.

    All best

  2. I apologize for the inconvenience. The feed address is . The site address is . If this does not solve your problem, please let me know. Also make sure that I’m listing your site, and if I am not, please send the address to

  3. Ron Says:

    “With so many individuals misrepresenting their position…”

    Really? Name one bookblogger that’s misrepresenting his or her position vis a vis bookstore affiliations. The person John Freeman cites isn’t even blogging about books.

  4. Damn, I hate it when I over-react. Ron's right. I presumed Freeman was working with a knowledge that he fails to demonstrate in his column.
    Freeman does address an old issue in publishing though. When does reporting (or not reporting) or critiquing become promotion? I have encountered it many times. Have publishers, editors, or writers promoted an individual in print, television, and radio merely because they were friends? Yes. Have publishers or editors killed stories because they conflicted with their interests? Yes. There's a fine line writers, editors, and publisher–regardless of their media–should take care not to cross. While some bloggers, such as GalleyCat, have always made their affiliations clear, instinctively I say that some bloggers–just like their counterparts in other media–have not taken care. Who? I don't know. I'm writing mere, and I emphasize mere, opinion. Since I wish to avoid speculative opinion as this in this blog, I should not have published the above piece about Freeman's column.

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