Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!
To anyone who's starting a book review blog, here's one piece of unsolicited advice: the challenge isn't in putting up your first book review, but rather sustaining those book reviews. Despite being a book review blog, I don't read a lot of book review blogs myself, but the few that I do read have significantly changed over the past few years. (And my blog has changed over the months as well. Tabletop RPG Podcasts links used to be a core feature here but I eventually had to drop it.)
For example, one of the blogs I'm envious when it comes to the number of visitors is Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. A few years ago, I did find it an interesting site to visit, especially with all the interviews and book reviews Pat has been conducting. These past few months, it's not as appetizing to me as it's transformed into a glorified catalog, with majority of the content being contest giveaways and novel excerpts. Not that the "blog-catalog" is a bad thing (there's certainly a market for it), but it's a stark contrast from what Pat was previously doing. There's still the occasional book review and interview, as well as personal blog entries, but they're the exception rather than the norm.
Compare that to Fantasy Book Critic, which while also having this "catalog" vibe to it, has for the most part transitioned more seamlessly. I attribute the catalog-vibe to Liviu Suciu's review format, which notes down where to buy books from the author, as well the occasional notes from the publisher/author. This format however is an evolution of the initial review template and retains an editorial slant. While the site also runs contests and giveaways, editorial content is still the dominant aspect of the site.
Another site I like to bring up is OF Blog of the Fallen. Like Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, digging through the archives, you'd run across lots of interviews and book reviews. Larry's current content however is anything but (although there is still the occasional review and interview). What makes me come back to his site however is that he's made his site appealing to me via the new content he's posting (and this is subjective--there are obviously people who enjoy the catalog-blog evolution of some sites). It's transformed from a book review blog to more of a column, where Larry writes his opinions, throws a question to readers, reacts to a news bit on the Internet, etc. What both Pat's Fantasy Hotlist and OF Blog of the Fallen proves is how you can gradually change the type of content you're showcasing and still retain your existing audience.
I started taking notice of Grasping for the Wind when it carved for itself a unique niche: catering to the book reviewer audience. John did this late last year by creating the Book Reviewers Linkup Meme, listing all the book review blogs in the genre. Currently, along with Diana Pharaoh Francis, they're assembling The Speculative Fiction Book Reviewer's Database. These aren't innovative features (other industries certainly have similar services) but somebody had to make the effort to start them and in this case, it was John. One might think of it as a niche within a niche, but it's a niche that has a sustainable audience (there'll always be new book bloggers popping up). For example, while the number of successful self-published authors using print-on-demand are few, print-on-demand services continue to thrive because of the sheer number of people (other aspiring authors) utilizing their services. That was also the case with the California Gold Rush, where the ones making the most money tended to be the merchants rather than the gold diggers themselves. And while I focus on this fact, that's not to say John doesn't maintain consistent editorial content.
Why all this change? Well, there's honestly few barriers to entry in the blog book reviewing field, and majority of us don't get compensated. For some people, the book review blog is just a phase, perhaps something that initially caught their fancy and later find out that it's actually work. For others, developments in real life get in the way (family, work, finances, etc.) which can cause an abrupt shift. What I really dislike however was this period of whining, with excuses thrown around "I'm not getting paid for this" or "I do it just for fun of it." Which is true, mind you, but in the case of the former, did you really think book review blogs would be profitable? While there are certainly attempts to monetize blogs (BSC Review and SF Signal for example), most book review blogs aren't set-up that way (where's your metrics, advertising rates, and advertising pitch? Solely depending on Google Ad Sense is folly). And while there's nothing wrong with reviewing books "for the fun of it," don't expect to have a consistent audience if your output is inconsistent (SF Signal for example similarly does it for the fun but they're as consistent as a daily newspaper).
As for my own blog, I honestly don't know what the future has in store for me. I certainly plan on delivering consistent content and I've changed the blog features over the past few months (the daily Links & Plugs wasn't there a year ago for example) but who knows what monkey wrench (or opportunity!) I'll run into?