Things can seem obvious, without necessarily being true. Places will sell advertising, so you might assume advertising there would be effective, right? And site reviews books, so they must have readers who look at those reviews and whose purchasing choices are influenced by them, right? In many cases, I suspect, not so much.
I think the following from Romancing the Blog might be an example, the blogger opens their post by saying:
"I think you would be hard pressed to find a romance reader who doesn’t have at least one promo item from an author."
"I do like the promo items, but they are not necessary."
"I don’t buy books based on promo items..."
"I don’t have any promo items, nor does anyone I know offline. I don’t want ‘em..."
A swerve back to:
"I love receiving promo goodies"
"I don’t really like promo items like pens or bookmarks"
"I don’t have a single promo item from any author."
"When I was *just* a reader (aka, before I joined RWA) I had no idea author promo stuff existed."
"I don’t buy books based on author promo materials."
"You know, give me a good blurb and I’m there. That’s all I need, all I want."
"Before I was published, I didn’t have promo items from authors - I was missing out! Now that I’m pubbed, I like creating new things..."
"I don’t pick up–or toss if I somehow end up with them–bookmarks and pens. I have nice bookmarks that I’ve selected over the years; I’m picky about my pens. As promo, they don’t work for me. Ditto cover flats"
I am beginning to form the impression that swag is a ritual that has more to do with being an author (and doing what small press authors are apparently meant to do) or just being part of the churning online or convention-based romance community, than being effective promotion. I have picked some swag up at cons or received it from author friends. I don't recall ever buying the book after getting it. Do we really think these things work, hope they do, or just doing them for fun and need to stop pretending otherwise?