In Michael Berube's case, the answer is no doubt yes. But what about us ordinary, obscure scholars? We esoteric medievalists?
In the Middle has been fairly successful, as far as blogs go, logging (on a typical day) upwards of a hundred visits, and attracting about fifty or sixty regular readers. Are blog readers book purchasers? Capitalist obsessive that I am, I wondered if instigating a moderately well known blog or annoucning books on such a blog might impact sales of scholarship published in conventional media. As regular readers know, I've spoken about many scholars' work here, often in relation to my second and not very lucrative job as professional blurbiste. I have no way of knowing, though, whether this publicity inspired any readers to purchase one of these volumes.
I just received my royalty statement from the University of Minnesota Press, where I've published three of my books, and the results of my twenty minute long investigation into blogs and books are ... impressively inconclusive. Seems that Monster Theory continues to do well in attracting people willing to pay for permission to reprint pieces in coursepacks (the book itself is just back in print, having sold out its initial run of 1200 several years ago). Medieval Identity Machines sales are down, a meager 35 for a whole year (44 the year before that, for a total of about 450 copies). But here is the weird thing: Of Giants is hot, hot, hot! Seventy five copies sold, as compared to a mere thirty-nine during the same period last year. It is verily flying out of the warehouse at the rate of a book every three days. Must be the blog! How else to explain the reinvigoration of a tome that is seven years old, steps away from the nursing home and doddering oblivion as far as academic publications are concerned (total sales of the book are now approaching those of Monster Theory, quite amazing considering how specialized the volume is).
To be honest, the royalty statement covers a period from June 30 2005 to June 30 2006, so I cannot be certain that this blog catalyzed anyone's desire to read about sex, giants and the Middle Ages. For all I know, the books were given as gag holiday presents before the forum even launched. But it is very strange to think that something so hoary (it was my dissertation, for loud outcrying) could gain a second lease on life. Gives us all hope as we likewise dodder towards oblivion.
Just to give an idea, any academic book that breaks the sacred 1000 barrier is doing quite well. Most volumes sell 200 copies or fewer, generally the library run. I don't say that to brag (look at how modest the sales of MIMs remain), but because these are the kinds of things academics never speak about: the sheer mercantilism sullies the purity of the scholarship, I suppose. Yet I know that when I was thinking about my first book I wish that I had had access to some general information on audience and publication numbers.