At 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.
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.
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.
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.