I got an e-mail this morning from a floral wholesaler who seemed surprised and outraged that I had "become the new spokesperson for the floral industry." It’s not the first time I’ve heard some version of this comment. I know that some people in the flower business were a little surprised to see a book written about their business for a general audience, and I can understand that.
So I wrote him back and told him to check the blog–I said I’d post a response here.
The fact is that I don’t speak for the floral industry, I speak about the floral industry. There’s a big difference. I’m a writer; my job is to observe things and write about them.
Think about the movie industry. Every newspaper in the country has a movie critic. This is someone who does not speak for the movie industry; he or she speaks about the movie industry, and about individual movies. A movie critic speaks to the general audience of moviegoers, helping them to understand Hollywood and decide what movie to go see. Some movies are better than others. I think that the movie industry probably considers it a good thing that there are movie critics, even if they sometimes criticize their movies (or their larger practices as an industry, such as violence, smoking, drug use, etc in movies.)
Or look at wine. There are wine critics, people who write about the wine industry, people who write wine-related travel articles, and so on. There are lots of wine magazines. Right now, a book about Mondavi is on the bestseller list, and it’s not the first–there have been many great books about the wine business. These people don’t speak for the wine industry–they speak about the wine industry.
The same is true of the music industry, the book industry, the computer/tech industry, the real estate industry, the fashion industry, the automobile industry, and just about everything related to food (chocolate, cheese, restaurants, etc.)
So it’s not that unusual for there to be a whole crew of outsiders commenting on an industry. Consumers often find it helpful to have someone from the outside standing on the sidelines, offering criticism, insight, and analysis. The fashion industry might not like it when reporters criticize their sweatshops, but they sure do like it when reporters line up along the runway to write about the new fall fashions. You can’t have one without the other.
Frankly, I think it would be wonderful if more people wrote about the flower industry, each from their own point of view. What if reporters came to the trade shows and wrote about the hot new flowers just coming on the market? What if floral design competitions were covered in the popular media, with in-depth interviews with the winners? What if travel writers wrote about flower tourism? People come to northern California and wine-growing regions around the world to visit wineries–why not expand the few "flower tourism" opportunities that are out there? Why not cover flower farms with the same enthusiasm and interest we apply to vineyards?
Is it a little scary or uncomfortable to have outsiders speaking about your industry? Maybe, but it’s too late. We’re in the era of bloggers, online product review forums, and YouTube. The customer is taking control of the conversation. If anything, these "outsiders"–these critics and reporters and reviewers and writers–are speaking for the customer as well as speaking to them.
In the flower industry, who speaks for the customer? I wrote Flower Confidential as a customer, and I speak about the industry as a customer. I hope more people will join that conversation. I would love for there to be dozens of people writing and commenting on every aspect of this fascinating business, from the inside and the outside, long after I’ve moved on to my next book.