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Out With the Old, In With the New: New Versus Vintage Treasures

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

secret-history4At the end of every month, I write up a brief report for Team Black Gate, the loose confederation of geniuses, experts, and oddballs who volunteer to blog here. Without these folks, you’d be looking at a whole lot of white space on the Black Gate website every morning as you sipped your coffee.

I usually take a few minutes to look over the traffic stats as I’m preparing the report. It’s interesting stuff. (Some day, for example, I’ll tell you about some of the more bizarre Internet searches that bring people to our shores… believe me, you have no idea).

There’s always a few things to ponder, though. And that’s exactly what I did last night, as the rest of my family got tired of waiting and started watching Thor without me. This time, what I pondered was the disparity in readership numbers between our New Treasures articles, and Vintage Treasures.

I first started writing New Treasures posts in October 2010, as a way to showcase the most intriguing new fantasy crossing my desk every week that I wasn’t able to cover with a full review. The first one was Tachyon Publications’ The Secret History of Fantasy, and so far I’ve written 262, or about 1-2 per week. In March 2011, I started doing the same with vintage titles (which I loosely define as anything 20+ years old), initially just as an excuse to write about James Van Hise’s marvelous Science Fiction in the Golden Age. As of this week, I’ve done 164 Vintage Treasure articles, or slightly more than one per week.

Long enough to build up an audience, in other words. I understand that the same folks who enjoy reading New Treasures may not always be interested in Vintage Treasures, and vice versa; but I certainly enjoy discovering both promising new authors and exciting older titles, and I expect I’m not the only one. So I’ve always assumed that as the audience for one grew, so would the other.

That hasn’t happened — at all. In fact, if the traffic stats for blackgate.com are to be believed, New Treasures has become the most popular feature on the blog, while Vintage Treasures are read by slightly fewer people than our legal disclaimers. Here’s a snapshot of the number of times those respective links were clicked anywhere on our pages in the month of June.

New Treasures 10,807
Vintage Treasures 174

That in itself is something to ponder. Are our readers that much less interested in older fantasy? Are we doing a poor job of promoting, and featuring links to, Vintage Treasures articles? Or am I just selecting boring titles?

But that’s not the only relevant stat. And here’s where it gets interesting.

Here’s a look at the total number of comments left by readers on those same articles in the month of June.

New Treasures 29
Vintage Treasures 104

Well, that is interesting. And perplexing.

So what’s going on here?

Near as I can figure out after looking more closely at the traffic stats, readers are dropping by the New Treasures section to get a sense of what new books have arrived — and they’re doing this by the thousands. They’re not reading the articles so much as skimming them, looking for anything that catches their eye, and then moving on.

And that’s certainly okay. Anything that brings over 10,000 readers to the site is helping drive traffic to every section of the blog.

The Color out of TimeOur Vintage Treasures posts, however, are enjoyed in a completely different way. For one thing, people are actually reading them.

This is borne out by our traffic stats — Douglas Draa’s Vintage Treasure article on Michael Shea’s The Color Out Of Time, for example, was one of the most popular pieces we published in June (#4 on our Top 50 list), and his Vintage post on Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural was #12.

The highest ranked New Treasures article, on the other hand, was my look at The New Yorker Fiction Issue, which clocked in at #26.

Those who enjoy the Vintage pieces seem to be our most loyal readers, the ones who check in every day, sometimes several times a day. They’re also the ones who are clearly most comfortable leaving comments. In fact, no other section of the blog receives nearly the same level of feedback.

This is the conclusion I came to last night. New Treasures seems to be doing a fine job attracting new readers and keeping them entertained. I’m sure we could — and should — make improvements in the number and diversity of the titles we examine, but overall it’s best not to mess with success.

Our Vintage Treasures are a success as well, although in a less obvious way. These are the articles that help keep and attract serious readers — in many cases, readers who blog on their own, and whose opinion has weight in the industry.

While this audience clearly isn’t as interested in skimming articles (hence, far fewer clicks on the links to our Vintage Treasures section), they are reading the individual articles in very significant numbers — and taking the time to comment on them, and return to the blog and engage in discussion. In short, these are the readers we want to keep.

That’s my theory, anyway. You could probably make a case that I’ve just rationalized a way to keep on doing exactly what I’ve enjoyed doing for the past three years: writing about fantasy old and new, with no regard for what’s being read and what isn’t.

And maybe you’d be right. But on the off chance that you can prove it, keep it to yourself for now. Because I’m having too much fun to stop just yet.

19 Comments »

  1. Concerning the readers of Vintage Treasures, you’ve perfectly described me. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I would love to become more involved in New-er Treasures. I’m working towards that trying to become more familiar with the contemporary fantasy field.

    As far as your theory concerning the readers of New Treasures, your guess would be better than mine. I have no idea how this demographic goes about reading and scanning the internet.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - August 1, 2013 2:07 pm

  2. You were one of the ones I was thinking about, James. :)

    In fact, it was your comment in THE BEST OF ROBERT BLOCH thread that got me to thinking of the disparity in traffic, and was the genesis for this article.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 1, 2013 3:39 pm

  3. As soon as I started reading this, I thought, “Sure, ‘New Treasures’ are getting more hits, but ‘Vintage Treasures’ have more discussion.”

    Glad I was right.

    There is also the simple matter of time & age – the vintage stories and books have had more time to have been read.

    The new stuff probably lacks discussion because most readers haven’t gotten to reading them and/or want to avoid spoilers, perhaps.

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - August 1, 2013 3:44 pm

  4. I tend to do my commenting over on FB, rather than here, but please do keep doing Vintage Treasures!

    Those are the posts that I always read.

    BTW, what are the RSS stats for the site like? I always “skim” via RSS before diving into articles these days.

    Comment by akomins - August 1, 2013 7:07 pm

  5. I’ve bought quite a few items that were featured here on Black Gate. I know about the old stuff so I like to check out the crowd that read the same thing. I also like to see new stuff featured here because there is a lot of good things out there but people just don’t get the word. I keep track and like some of the old Black Gate writers and I try to buy their books to support them.

    Sometimes I skim but that is because I read this on the way to work in the morning. You guys are always good for posting several things a day and this sight is always fresh with new stuff to read.

    Comment by Wild Ape - August 2, 2013 8:37 am

  6. I read both and I tend to skim most of the ‘New Treasures’ to see if it interests me. If it does, I still won’t read the whole column but will just buy the book since I don’t like reading full reviews before reading a book or seeing a movie so my perception of it is fresh and relatively unbiased. If I think you have something interesting to say about an ‘Old Treasure’, I will read the whole thing.

    Comment by Tyr - August 2, 2013 1:24 pm

  7. I’ve only posted a handful of reviews on my own blog; but those reviews have received the most traffic. Since my blog gets very little day-to-day traffic overall, my assumption is that people are reading the reviews because they’ve done searches on those particular books.

    Basically, a new book comes out and many people will do an online search of reviews for that book before deciding whether or not to purchase it. Most won’t leave comments because they haven’t read it yet. Once they’ve read it, they probably don’t think to go back to the review they read before purchase to leave a comment.

    Of course, regular site followers will likely at least skim through the New Treasures reviews as well, but they probably won’t comment much for the same reason: they haven’t read the books yet.

    Comment by MichaelPenkas - August 2, 2013 2:26 pm

  8. > There is also the simple matter of time & age – the vintage stories and books have had more time to have been read.
    >
    > The new stuff probably lacks discussion because most readers haven’t gotten to reading them and/or want to avoid spoilers, perhaps.

    Paul — that makes a lot of sense. I should have thought of that.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 2, 2013 6:40 pm

  9. >BTW, what are the RSS stats for the site like? I always “skim” via RSS before diving into articles these days.

    Rich,

    Another great point. The RSS stats are roughly comparable to our HTML numbers. For example, in June 63,632 readers visited our home page using a web browser, and 55,997 used an RSS reader instead.

    I don’t use an RSS reader, so I often forget to pay much attention to those stats. That’s a dumb thing to do, considering how much traffic they represent.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 2, 2013 6:46 pm

  10. > I keep track and like some of the old Black Gate writers and I try to buy their books to support them.

    Ape,

    A man of discriminating taste! That’s what we like to hear. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - August 2, 2013 6:50 pm

  11. > I don’t like reading full reviews before reading a book or seeing a movie so my perception of it is fresh and relatively unbiased.
    > If I think you have something interesting to say about an ‘Old Treasure’, I will read the whole thing.

    Tyr,

    Something else I hadn’t considered. Thanks for sharing that.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 2, 2013 6:51 pm

  12. > A new book comes out and many people will do an online search of reviews for that book before deciding whether or not to purchase it.
    >
    > Regular site followers will likely at least skim through the New Treasures reviews as well, but they probably won’t comment much for the same
    > reason: they haven’t read the books yet.

    Michael,

    Yeah, this seems to be the prevailing theory. I should have thought of that.

    Still, online searches for individual titles doesn’t explain how the NEW TREASURES section gets 10,000 visits per month. That number counts only people who click on the link.

    Our readers are scanning and enjoying that section in a way they aren’t with VINTAGE TREASURES. Still not 100% sure why.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 2, 2013 7:01 pm

  13. Could it also be a matter of fandom? Or the type of reader?

    Perhaps the VINTAGE TREASURES posts draw in those who are better read in the fantasy genres, those more familiar with older works and classic authors, while NEW TREASURES draws in those newer and/or less familiar with fantasy?

    Comment by Ty Johnston - August 3, 2013 9:26 am

  14. Ty,

    Just speaking personally, that doesn’t fit my reading. I’m drawn to the VINTAGE TREASURES posts because I’m older–they’re nostalgic for me. I’m actually much less familiar with the NEW TREASURES authors.

    But perhaps I’m an anomaly and your theory fits what most are doing.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - August 3, 2013 10:20 am

  15. James, maybe I worded it incorrectly, but that’s actually what I meant … older, likely better read (in fantasy, at least) readers being drawn to VINTAGE TREASURES.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - August 3, 2013 10:32 am

  16. John,

    Your description of the typical Vintage Treasures commenter fits me to a tee. While I don’t always comment, I love these posts and hope they continue for a long time. I scan the New Treasures to see what’s current and keep an eye out for things I might like to review on my blog, but I rarely comment there. The thing I like about Vintage Treasures is that these posts give me something I didn’t have when I first read the stories you write about. A group of people who love them as much as I do and with whom I can discuss them. I’m one of the readers who return to see what’s been added to the conversation. As long as that’s there, I’ll keep on reading and commenting.

    One request, though. Would it be possible to allow those who comment to get emails notifying them of further comments if they so desire? Other blogs and sites have such a feature, and it’s a real godsend as far as keeping up with the conversation is concerned.

    Comment by westkeith - August 3, 2013 10:04 pm

  17. > Perhaps the VINTAGE TREASURES posts draw in those who are better read in the fantasy genres, those more familiar with
    > older works and classic authors, while NEW TREASURES draws in those newer and/or less familiar with fantasy?

    Ty,

    That’s certainly possible. But I hope not – especially if it means that those in our audience who are well read are outnumbered by those who aren’t by more than 60 to 1.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 4, 2013 1:38 pm

  18. > The thing I like about Vintage Treasures is that these posts give me something I didn’t have when I first read the stories you
    > write about. A group of people who love them as much as I do and with whom I can discuss them.

    Keith,

    Makes sense.

    Of course, I’m agreeing with a theory that says the reason that there are so many comments, is that readers are drawn to the comments. Good thing I don’t write a lot science papers any more. :)

    > One request, though. Would it be possible to allow those who comment to get emails notifying them of further comments if
    > they so desire? Other blogs and sites have such a feature, and it’s a real godsend as far as keeping up with the conversation is concerned.

    Also makes sense. I’ll investigate to see if WordPress will allow us to do that easily.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 4, 2013 2:21 pm

  19. I should have commented on this when the post first came up, but may have missed it somehow. My usual pattern is to drop in every day, see what’s new since the day before. I read what’s before the jump, then decide if I’m interested enough to want more. That means I read at least part of all the articles.

    I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for 60 years, so for me “vintage” covers a lot of time, and I have my favorite periods, authors, works. I tend to comment on the Vintage posts because that’s my patch, while I have many sources to alert me to new or newer works. And as has been pointed out, less comments on unread works. What can one say beyond “Looks interesting” or the opposite?

    But with the old stuff…so much can be said; perhaps to point out other works, or covers, or viewpoints then and now, or just to recount the memories!

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - November 16, 2015 4:48 pm


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