Thursday, August 10, 2017

Top Dogs Among Crime Blogs

After working for many years as an editor of magazines, newspapers, and online publications, I have developed a healthy skepticism toward “bests” lists of any sort. As you might suspect, most such inventories—whether they be of doctors, residential neighborhoods, travel destinations, hamburgers, beauty salons, or books—aren’t based on meticulous scientific analysis, but instead reflect the limited experiences of their creators. On rare occasion, a periodical will go to the trouble of sending a brief survey out to, say, local attorneys, asking them who among their peers they would recommend readers hire. However, that’s usually as far as the research goes. Much more frequently, editors and writers simply solicit their fellow employees, friends, and other contacts for recommendations, and then present the results as authoritative.

So when I read recently that the online journal produced by MysteryPeople, the crime-fiction department of Austin, Texas’ “largest independent bookstore,” BookPeople, had been featured among Feedspot’s “Top 50 Mystery Blogs and Websites for Mystery Lovers and Authors,” I was immediately suspicious—not because the MysteryPeople blog doesn’t deserve such acclaim (it most certainly does), but because I’d never heard of Feedspot. As I subsequently learned, it’s a newsfeed aggregator that collects the latest posts—in a wide variety of subjects—from blogs and other Internet sites. The selections are extremely uneven in quality, though that’s what you would expect from an aggregator. Feedspot’s “Top 50 Mystery Blogs” choices reflect a similarly arbitrary approach. While a number of them merited recognition, I’d never heard of others mentioned (and remember, this is my field of expertise!). Furthermore, there were only 41 sites included, rather than the headline-promised 50. What was to be made of all this?

I pay scant notice to most rankings of this sort, judging them to be vanity ventures. However, I was puzzled that The Rap Sheet had been excluded from Feedspot’s roster. I took advantage, therefore, of a “Submit Your Blog” button on the left side of the “Top 50 Mystery Blogs” page. It allowed me to suggest The Rap Sheet as a site worthy of Feedspot’s attention, and also supply my name and e-mail address. What the hell, I figured, let’s see if anything happens.

Well, the very next day I received an e-note from one Anuj Agarwal, who identified himself as the “founder of Feedspot.” He wrote: “I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog The Rap Sheet has been selected by our panelist as one of the ‘Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs’ on the web. … I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world.” Huh. This was a different Feedspot register on which The Rap Sheet had finally found a place (one listing 49, rather than the avowed 50 honorees), but that seemed just fine. Especially since the “Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs” index included more sites with which I was familiar, arranged in a manner that—while confounding to the rest of us—must surely make sense to that unidentified but purportedly discriminating “panelist” Agarwal cited in his missive. The Rap Sheet had won the No. 11 spot. So what if Feedspot misreported that this blog updates only once a week, instead of the four or five times it actually does?

Then within an hour after that initial message, a second one dropped into my e-mailbox, also from Agarwal. It led with flattery (“You have an impressive blog with high quality and useful content on Mystery”), and went on to inform me: “If you subscribe to Feedspot Gold subscription, we will feature your blog in our ‘Top 50 Mystery Blogs’ post”—the one I had wondered about originally. A subscription to Feedspot Gold, it turns out, would cost $23.88 a year, although the site was willing to provide me a 12-month trial free of charge.

Now, I understand that people today are quite obsessed with making money, and entrepreneurs are still searching for foolproof ways to turn a buck online. But trying to convince the general public that your Web site can be trusted to name only the “best” of anything, while simultaneously offering blogs placement on those supposedly exclusive lists for a price, doesn’t seem even close to kosher.

The Rap Sheet’s Feedspot listing includes the number of its Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and its Alexa ranking. (Click the image to open an enlargement).

What bothers me, in addition, is that other bloggers have not been similarly hit up for Feedspot subscriptions, yet their sites were awarded choice positions among the “Top 50 Mystery Blogs and Websites” or “Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs.” Steve Lewis, the editor of Mystery*File—which appears in the former inventory—explains in a note that he’d “never heard of this list. It’s news to me. I see I’m ranked number four, which ordinarily would be quite an honor, but most of the other [sites] I’ve never heard of.”

Asked about the process involved in assembling his “bests” lists, Agarwal tells me, “We have a team of over 25 editorials [sic] working on making the best list. … We consider social metrics, Google ranking, post frequency, and of course our editors personally review the blogs before featuring them.” And how does he defend his practice of selling subscriptions in exchange for spots on his lists? “Of course, taking a subscription is not mandatory,” Agarwal avers, “but it helps us covering the cost of the project. (We are not a funded company.)”

My point here is not to steal away the satisfaction MysteryPeople, The Crime Segments, and other blogs might have derived from being mentioned among Feedspot’s crime-fiction resources; we can all use greater validation of our online efforts. I also don’t find any joy in slamming Feedspot in particular, as it’s bit player on the huge Internet stage. Nor am I naïve enough to believe similar business practices aren’t employed elsewhere, both on- and offline. However, I do think it a disservice to bloggers as well as trusting readers that a site such as Feedspot should contend that its “bests” lists represent reputation, quality, and social-media impact, while simultaneously selling slots on those registers. Feedspot suggests, on the one hand, that it’s a credible editorial product, while making clear on the other that any influence it wields can be cheaply purchased. Caveat emptor? Sorry, but Web readers aren’t fools, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.

* * *

This brings up a question sent my way recently by an anonymous reader. He/she wanted recommendations of crime-fiction blogs and Web sites, other than The Rap Sheet, that I think are worth frequenting. As is obvious from the extensive blogroll on this page’s right-hand side, I have made a study over the years of just such compendia of knowledge, covering both classic and current works. And though I’m hesitant to single out the “bests” among them, perhaps that exercise could prove valuable, if only to counter Feedspot’s more dubious such endeavor. Below, then, are 66 Web pages—listed alphabetically, and all currently active—that I visit most frequently for news, reviews, and other information related to this genre.

Again, these are my personal choices. I would expect those of other writers and reviewers to differ, at least somewhat. Finally, let it be said that no site has paid a red cent to be included here.



Euro Crime Blog (and its parent site, Euro Crime)
Pattinase (home of “Friday’s Forgotten Books”)
Shotsmag Confidential (and its parent site, Shots)

Which other blogs and Web sites do you turn to for crime-fiction book reviews and developments in this genre? Please click the “Post a Comment” link below and tell everyone about them.

22 comments:

Mark said...

It reminds me of the book, Who's who among American High School Students. The basic purpose of listing people was to get them to buy the book and associated memorabilia. Like much on the internet, it's an old idea with new packaging.

Bill Crider said...

Glad to be on your list, Jeff. Thanks.

Kristopher said...

Thanks for including BOLO Books on your list.

And thanks for the research into this one example of many such lists I have seen online. Like you, I was always skeptical of them, but also know that the average person might buy into these so called "best" lists. Good to have somewhere to point folks when I get asked about such things (both your good list and the report about at least one bogus one).

Erin said...

Fantastic list! I'd add Pop Culture Nerd, http://popculturenerd.com/

GREG JOLLEY said...

Thank you!

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks for including Mystery Fanfare. Good post, too, on these types of lists.

Yvette said...

A great list. Thanks for including me, Jeff.
Yvette at in so many words...

Nancie Clare said...

Jeff's work reporting on the genre is second to none. I'm so honored that Speaking of Mysteries is on the list.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too although after 11 years I am running out of steam. And I think the "cool kids" discussion has moved over to Facebook and even more Twitter. Whereas I used to get 30 comments a day, now it is more like 10.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Thank you.

Johnny Longfellow said...

Tough has good stuff . . .

http://www.toughcrime.com/

Clea Simon said...

Great list. I know from the ones I do know (BOLO, Lesa's, Mystery Fanfare, Crimespree, RTE, and a few others) that the others would be of interest, so thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, and love your list of other blogs.thank you!

EK said...

Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke's blog about Irish crime writing. http://crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/
I've also started listening to Two CrimeWriters and a Microphone, the podcast by Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste--lots of good stuff, interviews with other writers, and those two guys are hilarious. And by the way, most of those best-of lists are based on paid advertising. I'm a (retired) lawyer and learned about that scam early on in practice. Thank you for this list--your recommendations actually have weight!

Eric Ellis said...

In addition to so many, including this one, here are four more I visit....Hardboiled Wonderland gives great notice to great noir and great forgotten noir or unrealized noir....

Black Guys Do Read also highlights a lot of stuff out there a lot of us may miss. This man has a very broad interest, too...

Col's also highlights a lot of obscure items that we should know about and Northern has one of the best, accurate ratings out there...

Col's Criminal Library - http://col2910.blogspot.co.uk/

Hardboiled Wonderland - http://spaceythompson.blogspot.com/

Black Guys Do Read - http://blackguysdoread.blogspot.com/

#northern #crime - https://northerncrime.wordpress.com/

Bill Selnes said...

Thanks for including my blog. Your post puts "best of ..." in perspective for me.

Gram Lynch said...

Great piece on the dodgy dealings of Feedspot - and thank you for your own list of crime book review sites. The Rap Sheet is always MY #1 site to visit for the best information on crime novels.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

The View at the Blue House is snother blog I always find interesting to read.

Gram said...

I know she reviews mostly cozy mysteries, but anything by Dru Ann Love.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Jeff. Now I have some more blogs to look into. Just keeping up with interesting crime fiction blogs is almost a full time job.

J F Norris said...

Six of those websites are not even about mystery BOOKS at all nor are they blogs! They are websites devoted to mysterious events: three websites and a YouTube channel about the exploration of paranormal phenomena, one site which looks like a New Age advice column, and the sixth is another YouTube channel for the old "Unsolved Mysteries" reality TV show. What a mess!

Feedspot used to show up in my Google spam referral links for months and that's the only way I ever heard of them. Until today I never investigated what it was all about.

Oh, and thanks for the mention of P.S.B. in your well deserved list of real blogs about crime fiction, both contemporary and vintage. I read many of them regularly.

J F Norris said...

Just to set your mind at ease (I know you're going to lose sleep over it) I've partially solved the mystery of the apparently arbitrary order of the list in which The Rap Sheet appears as #11 of "Top Crime Novel Blogs". It's arranged by Alexa ranking from highest or most frequently visited (440,466) to lowest or least visited (19,396,453). But that only takes care of #1 - #32. The rest have an N/A in that Alexa rating area, and I can't for the life of me figure out how they were arranged.