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So I managed to catch up with the All About Romance Avon interview, (Yeah, yeah, 100 years later, whatever.) and the subsequent outrage that the Avon editors’ responses caused.

Let me go through some of the quotes that people seemed to be most upset over – actually, let me start with the first question from AAR’s Lynn Spencer:

In our 2002 interview, you felt that the online world didn’t have much of an impact on sales. Much has changed in the intervening years, and more and more people – including more women – are online now and use reviews as a helpful guide to the buying process. Has Avon changed its thinking in this area? Avon, also, seems not to include many online reviews in books. Are there any plans to change that policy?

Seems a reasonable question to me.

Here is the first response by editor, May Chen:

In my opinion, the online world still doesn’t have much impact on sales as, anecdotally, I’ve seen books get horrible online reviews but have done well. As far as I know, we still don’t include online reviews on our books, but that can certainly change if we see them start making a difference. Right now, the best endorsements for us still seem to be from NYT bestselling authors and from major traditional print reviewers.

You see, I have no problem with anything that Chen has said here. Not really.

I don’t think it would particularly serve an author well to use one of my review quotes instead of those of a well-known author.

Jane Average Reader doesn’t have a clue who Karen Scott is. I know, hard to believe isn’t it? What planet have they been on?

The mistake that Chen made here as far as I’m concerned is not acknowledging that although this may be true now, the landscape is changing, and that more and more people are heading to the internet for their book-buying missions.

On a personal level, I hardly ever notice book-quotes, and I certainly wouldn’t buy a book on the basis of a quote, no matter who they were.

One of the comments that seemed to piss people off the most was from Lucia Macro:

…We are all very plugged in, but many casual readers are just picking up a book at their local Walmart and barely have time to watch tv, much less wrestle the computer away from their kids. So an author quote might carry more weight with them.

She is generalising quite a lot here, especially with the whole computer usage comment, but who’s to say she’s wrong? Quite a lot of my female friends and associates do go online, but this is generally limited to Facebook. I don’t think I actually have a female friend who buys her books from the internet. Seriously, not one. But this isn’t always going to be the case, that I’m sure of.

Once again, for me, the refusal to acknowledge the potential for change and growth is what really let this comment down.

The internet is a factor in marketing. We do “browse inside” on our books, post our covers early, and have author microsites on the main Harper Collins Server. However, we aren’t seeing that any review driven website has the power to “make” a book. Yet.

Another comment that I don’t entirely disagree with. Of course bloggers are good at creating awareness, but most of that buzz seems to be limited to reaching the people who are on the net already, and then those same people are probably involved in the community anyway. If you go into Asda or Walmart and ask the people buying the romance books, if they’ve heard of Dear Author, The SBs, TGTBTU etc how many of those people would say yes?

For me, the answers that the Avon ladies gave were bird-on-a-wire type answers, and they seemed to have a bit of a beef with online reviews and reviewers. To this end, I think a lot of what they said, may have come across ass-backwards.
In my opinion, their casual dismissal of the online romance community seemed to be a defence mechanism, rather than them decrying the impact of internet buzz on sales.

They really should have acknowledged that things are changing, but I still think that anything they said would have still been a major talking point, because after all, they are Avon.

Here are a couple of other sites with opinions on the interview:

AAR Blog

Monkey Bear Reviews

Mrs Giggles

Dear Author

Avid Reader AKA Keishon


  • Lori
    June 3
    8:24 am

    I don’t think I actually have a female friend who buys her books from the internet. Seriously, not one.

    What am I, chopped liver? LMAO. You know I love you.

    Jane Average Reader doesn’t have a clue who Karen Scott is.

    You’re shitting me, right?

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you or them, either. But I also agree with you that at some point in the future, this is likely to change, and Avon should be aware of this. However, they may also have a slightly older average demographic given the huge number of historicals they publish (is that generalizing? I’m just going by what my mom & all her friends read), so they may be right in that their readership might be more swayed by author quotes than any online activity.

    Is that stirring the pot?


  • I don’t so much disagree with what they say as the way they say it. It lacked a certain tact towards the very people the article would be read by – online readers. And I also think they showed a certain amount of short-sightedness towards the future.
    And *g* you may not know many people who buy romance books based on ‘net buzz, but there are very few people in my everyday life who buy/read romance so just about everyone I know who loves it is online and is influenced by buzz.


  • M E 2
    June 3
    2:40 pm

    I am going to have to second what KristieJ said. It’s not necessairly WHAT they said but HOW they said it. Or I guess to be correct, HOW it came across.


  • … there are very few people in my everyday life who buy/read romance so just about everyone I know who loves it is online and is influenced by buzz.

    ‘sactly so.

    Really, I’ve corrupted a few people 😀 my s.o. among others, but it starts with online recommendations and reviews from people whose tastes I’m familiar with.


  • So do they think that people on the internet don’t have a life outside that? I can’t count the number of times I’ve glommed onto a book I heard about–let’s say the Brent Weeks fantasy that was a $1 special from Orbit–and then raved about it to every friend/family member I can think of who reads fantasy. None of those people have heard of DA or SBTB (where I first saw the special posted), or if they have, it’s because I sometimes talk about them, not because they go there. The sales generated from that word of mouth originated on the internet, not from reviews, but from online promo.

    And as far as books that get negative blogger reviews, but still have strong sales–I’d argue that a negative review–if I know the reviewer, or if the review is detailed enough–can be just as useful, if not more, in telling me I’d like a book, than a positive one.

    If I’m actually in a bookstore, covers really matter to me, but author quotes don’t impact me at all. Often they’re vague–“Sandra Greatauthor’s prose is blah blah blah,”–not even specific to series, let alone the actual book. And I know that a lot of the time, the quoted author may not have even read the book. And I was aware of that before I became an author and had the chance to look at the promo side of the business from the inside. And I can count the number of times I’ve been in a bookstore in the last decade on one hand–the nearest one is a five hour drive from where I live.

    I picked up Sherry Thomas’ Delicious off the rack at the drug store–but only because I’d seen all kinds of buzz about her online. I’ll be introducing my mom to her work when she visits, and you have no idea how many romance readers she knows…


  • It’s also the quality of online reviews that can be influential, not just the quantity or “volume” of buzz. Herd-mentality, fangirl squeeing that evinces no critical thought leaves me cold. But a heartfelt response to a book, backed up by intelligent commentary, can be mighty persuasive.


  • FD
    June 3
    8:11 pm

    Objectively, they did have points to what they’re saying. But on the other hand, the way they phrased things was a giant own goal in terms of PR, and revealed a rather behind the curve attitude to online interaction and failure to understand the dynamics of reviewer / reader.

    Incidentally, I also felt the bad responses possibly stemmed from the fact that the questions they were being asked conflated different things, which is not helpful if you want your interviewee to come across clearly.


  • I thought the editor comments were impolitic. Just not smart PR, but what really got my goat was the PR director’s reaction:

    I am astounded that AAR would post such invective online about Avon, misquote our editors* and make assumptions about our online marketing and publicity platforms, without attempting to reach out and contact Avon’s publicity or marketing director about issues pertinent to our positions.

    Invective? Misquote? Assumptions?

    That kind of attempt at spin really made me think a lot less of Avon, because if you are a PR director who knows what she’s doing and you encounter a negative reaction, you don’t go around accusing folks of impropriety and make it worse. Quite honestly, I hope Avon takes a really close look at her continued employment because she blew that one, big time.

    The whole thing was a PR debacle. Whether or not Avon ever uses online review sites for their quotes is pretty irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. I find, if anything, author quotes make me less likely to buy a book because of what I know about how they come about. My immediate reaction is to wonder if the quoter even read the book.

    Quotes from online reviews wouldn’t make me any more likely to buy a book either. Only full reviews might decide me one way or another.


  • @GrowlyCub: IIRC, your quote was made by Pamela Jaffee, Avon’s PR director. Once she checked the facts, she was obliged to retract her assertions. Which, of course, made Avon look even worse.

    I agree with Karen that cover endorsements from online review sites are less likely to influence potential buyers than, say, a quote from Nora Roberts.

    My beef with the Avon interview was their portrayal of ‘the casual reader’: a harassed mother, too busy to go online, randomly picking up a man titty cover at Walmart. That’s narrowing down the demographic quite a bit, don’t you think?

    All in all, it was a missed opportunity for Avon to reach out to their readers who participate in the online romance community. I was left with the distinct impression that they felt our numbers were too insignificant to bother with. Even if that is the case, it wasn’t a clever PR move.


  • SarahT, that was exactly my point, that their PR person was even worse than their original comments. I found the bit about ‘you should have asked the PR folks first’ incredibly ironic in light of her utter failure as a PR director who should have done everything to ameliorate the editors’ missteps and instead made matters a magnitude worse.

    Yeah, that ‘mother’ stereotype really bit my ass. I buy all my books at Walmart because Walmart is it in our town and I only go looking for specific titles, titles that I found out about online in the communities that have no influence…

    Avon PR fail.


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