With the recent drama about how Avon had the temerity to say that online folks didn't really influence the sales of books much in the long run, I hesitate to say this, but I think I can understand where the Avon folks are coming from.
A few authors have shared with me some publishing stories (dead tree, not electronic) and it seems to me that when it comes to dead tree books - and this is an important qualifier, because ebooks are obviously a different story altogether - that the biggest determinant of what makes a book sell great is the stocking of those books in chain stores like Wal-Mart. As increasingly widespread and vocal as the online community can be, I have authors telling me that online sales are still very small compared to sales in stores. For example, an author told to me that she made about 400-500 online sales, but she sold over 70,000 copies in real life. And out of those, easily half are sold in chain stores. And conversely, good online viral marketing won't help you if for some reason those stores don't stock your books.
We have no actual (numerical) evidence that reviews and online blog viral marketing helped pushed those sales. We have instead anecdotal evidences about how a number of people claimed to be influenced by this blog to read a certain book, but when you look at the scheme of things, what's an extra 50 copies sold via an upbeat promotion by Beatrice the Blogger compared to 70,000 books sold off-line?
And Avon is no small press where an extra 50 copies sold could be good news for an author whose books have limited distribution. Avon doesn't need that much promotion. They have a brand name, they have a solid hold on the historical market with loyal readers (although I suspect Berkley who is swallowing every other author in the universe is fast catching up, if it hasn't beaten Avon to the punch already). Naturally, it makes sense to me that Avon would concentrate the bulk of its marketing budget on advertisements aimed at getting those dead tree books in the hands of readers who shop at Wal-Mart, Borders, Barnes and Noble, et cetera, as opposed to worrying about whether people are talking about a book online. If they want to, hey, that's nice, but Avon doesn't have to. If I'm a businesswoman and 90% of my sales happen off-line, you bet I will focus the bulk of my advertising efforts off-line.
And are they unwise in not seeing the importance of online blogs and such? Well... I guess it's up to us to show them, and right now, I don't think we have the evidence to back up our presumed worth. We may be getting there, but we don't have solid evidence to prove that we're there. And without those evidences, Avon can't be blamed for believing that they should focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on tried-and-true methods.
That's the way I see it anyway.