Bloggers have become established in the literature business and are meantime important contacts for publishers. What is more, many a blog can compete with the newspaper arts sections.
The number of literary blogs in Germany can only be guessed at meantime. Is it a thousand, or more? One thing is certain and that is that the number is increasing constantly. 400 bloggers had themselves registered for the 2015 Leipzig Book fair, in 2016 that number was already 800. For a blogger meeting organised by the publisher Bastei Lübbe in Cologne in 2016, the one hundred tickets were sold within an hour. These figures indicate that literary criticism is alive and well – and bloggers have become established as voices to be taken seriously in the literary business.
The is also confirmed by the publishers. For example the prestigious Suhrkamp maintains contact with 500 bloggers. And Carolina Lopez, spokeswoman for Schöffling & Co, emphasises that the times when bloggers could be ignored are past: “The classical media are being forced to save money, so for seekers of literature the importance of bloggers will surely increase,” she says.
Even established literary critics view this development positively: “Often enough, people in the arts sections lament how little public attention is given to literature. If new scope for a qualified preoccupation with literature is now emerging we can only welcome it,” says Uwe Wittstock, literary critic and head of the arts section of the news magazine Focus. As for the keyword “qualified”, Wittstock has certain reservations. “Most literary blogs deal with genre literature from the viewpoint of genre fans.” he says. “The most recent products of the fantasy, love, crime and horror story genres are presented with great enthusiasm, “but little critical distance, and so they are not analysed. That may be useful and nice for genre fans, but it has nothing to do with literary criticism in the serious sense of the term.”
It must be said that bloggers have repeatedly protested against that “serious sense of the term”. Uwe Kalkowski, for example, who has the web blog Kaffeehaussitzer, spoke at the bloggers meeting in Cologne about “two completely different jobs” and confessed that he did not have the “tools and expertise” for classical literary criticism. The blogger Caterina Kirsten presented similar theses in an essay for the Börsenblatt in 2015: “As a rule blogs are low-threshold and more personal, the bloggers are not afraid of emotions or of saying ‘I’, therefore it is in fact a conversation ‘eye to eye’.”
Bloggers as an open and integrative community
This eye-to-eye feature is one of the reasons why online book reviews are gaining ground. For the “low threshold” applies not only to the tone, but also to the very selection of books. Fantasy, love and horror novels only rarely get into the arts sections of the established printed media. Bloggers give them a forum, literally. There are often intense discussions on the blogs. Moreover, the bloggers see themselves as an open and integrative community who refer to the blogs of other literature lovers in the form of links.
One can argue about the standard of the reviews, undoubtedly. The lay critic fraction, who simply re-tell the story and make emotional judgements, is large. The same applies to the so-called BookTubers; the name is derived from the words “book” and “Youtube”. The booktubers set themselves up in front of a camera and speak about books they chose themselves. They then upload their deliberately semi-professional clips onto the net. They too are garnering more and more media space; their number is currently estimated to be 200 to 300, and rising.
#wirsindbooktube – a project with 40 German booktubers
A substantial further development
As for the blogs, there are meantime many formats that represent a substantial further development. The online magazine Tell, for example, is headed by the journalist and author Sieglinde Geisel, who has gathered translators, blogger, critics and writers around her. “Tell aims to bring together the aspiration of the arts section and the spontaneity of the blog,” Sieglinde Geisel explains. The blogs Begleitschreiben oder Culturmag are also among the ambitious formats in which well-founded literary analysis is given top priority. In his blog Kaffeehaussitzer Uwe Kalkowski has established another idea: under the heading “Textbaustein” he excises particular sections from different novel, lists them and comments on them.
These examples show how the forecast made by the author and blogger Frank O. Rudkoffsky at the start of 2016 has come to pass. He said, “Blogs will not replace the arts section, they will enlarge the literary discourse, the literary playing field.” As regards speed, space and availability, the printed arts section is already at a disadvantage. “What appears in daily or weekly newspapers is soon unavailable for ordinary, non-professional readers. In the net, it is available for a long time, says Uwe Wittstock from Focus. And how has the renowned critic responded to this fact? By setting up a blog of his own called Büchersäufer.