Blogs have been around for a long time, but the trend of publishers coming knocking to offer bloggers book deals is still relatively new. In fact, since about 2005, publishing houses have been routinely scouring the internet for the next "it" blog, and this trend has changed the landscape of both the internet and the publishing industry.Why Are Blogs Getting Book Deals?
Quite simply, the reason publishers are looking towards blogs for topical ideas is not because they're fresh out of new ideas (though some would argue that they are), but because they're banking on popular blogs having a large, established, and devoted fan base. Publishers want to sell books, pure and simple, and if they find a website that is drawing in millions of readers every month, they want a piece of the action.
Sites with a built-in fan base already have two elements that are necessary to sell books: readers who are loyal to a brand and eager to support said brand, and a ready-made marketing platform from which to sell those books.Built-In Publicity
As one literary agent puts it, "Publishers are notoriously lazy when it comes to publicizing their books." Though publishing houses have marketing and publicity departments in-house, they tend to concentrate on the front-end of the deal; signing the author, working through the editorial process, proofing, and finally, manufacturing the product and shipping out to distributors. After that, it's largely up to the author to market and promote their work as best they can. This is a big reason why many authors choose to hire independent publicists to promote their work, rather than relying on the publishing house's in-house publicist.Banking On A Brand
Large, popular blogs like Matthew Inman's The Oatmeal, for instance, are likely beating publishers away with sticks. Not only does this blog bring in millions of readers per month, but thanks to a few well-publicized legal and media battles, Inman has become a sort of "David and Goliath" figure for many fans.
By taking on the bad guys (and winning), his fans have developed a fierce loyalty to his particular brand. When presented with an opportunity to help him out in any way, they are ready and willing to support him. You just cannot buy that kind of brand loyalty.If You Write It, Will They Come?
The problem, however, is that not all blogs are book material. Some blogs, for example, cooking blogs like the aforementioned Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, work well in book form, and may even translate well into a successful motion picture some day. However other blogs, for instance, I Can Has Cheezburger?: a LOLcat Colleckshun, by Professor Happycat, leave fans wondering why they wasted their money on material that can be had online for free.It's A Gamble
It's a slippery slope for publishers. Like every other deal that they make, offering a book deal to a website is a gamble. They're counting on the audience enjoying the subject matter so much that they will shell out their hard-earned dollars to buy a copy of it, they're counting on the blog writers to hold up their end of the bargain by promoting and marketing their book heavily on their website and social media pages, and they're counting on the blog's subject matter staying fresh, relevant, and popular over the course of a typical year-long publishing process.
Still, there's no shortage of blogs out there whose authors are ready and willing to sign on the dotted line. Having a book out lends a certain amount of credibility to a website, and many of the humor books based on blogs are pretty funny. Even if the book is not very good, it's still a wise choice for the blogger to hop on the publishing bandwagon. Whether it's a good deal for the publishing houses remains to be seen, but with book sales waning in general, it seems that this is one risk that they are more than willing to take.