Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Are book-reviewing bloggers duping readers?

There's an interesting post over at Metaxu Cafe about bloggers who accept "free" books in exchange for reviewing them. The author maintains that bloggers should always take care to disclose that circumstance to their readers:
We’ve all heard of the saying ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Well, I’m sorry to tell you, there’s no such thing as a free book either, especially if it comes to you direct from an author, publisher or marketing department.

When I received my first solicitation to review a book via my blog back in June 2005 I was ecstactic—someone wanted to give me a free book and all I had to do was post a review. At the time I was naive enough to think I was the only book blogger being approached in this way, but then my journalistic training came into play and I figured that even if I was the only blogger being asked to review a free book, didn’t I have a duty to tell my readers that the book had been given to me for nothing on this basis?

I don't see the logic there. Agreeing to review a book does not prevent a blogger from panning it. And while it might be argued that a tenderhearted individual may feel pressured to write a glowing review, I don't believe any reasonably honest blogger would gush about a book he didn't actually enjoy.

I don't review books here at NRJW, but when my second book was released, I did offer a free autographed copy to any blogger who would write a post about it. I think I ended up giving away nearly fifty books in exchange for some bloggy buzz, and part of the reason so many people were eager to accept my "free" book was that I assured them I was looking for honest reviews, not ego-stroking. Yes, a few bloggers gave my book less than flattering reviews, but if you were reading my blog in February and early March of this year, you saw me link to all of the reviews, good and bad, and thank the bloggers for their time.

The way I figured it, any review was good publicity for my book, because who among us believes every word of every book review we read? Maybe "Bob Blogger" didn't care for my book, but surely a few of the people who read his post--people, by the way, who would never have heard of my book, otherwise--were intrigued enough to check it out for themselves.

Insisting that a blogger is morally obligated to disclose the fact that he's reviewing a book he didn't pay for is silly--unless he has accepted the freebie in exchange for a favorable review (and I've never heard of such a thing). Surely a blogger's integrity is a thread that runs throughout his blog; why should he make a point of it every time he reviews a "free" book? Also, bloggers tend to be deeply interested in building their own readership, so any suggestion that a blogger would risk alienating readers by posting a bunch of smarmy reviews in exchange for free books is ludicrous. On top of that, most bloggers have very healthy egos and would rather die than pretend to admire a book that doesn't meet their usual standards.

I contend that blog readers aren't idiots; they know how the game is played. And any blogger who would give a positive review merely because the book in question was free (or was written by a friend) is a blogger who has no doubt displayed his flimsy backbone in other ways on other posts. So I really don't think we need to worry about readers being duped.

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BJ said...

Good points, Brenda. But some don't necessarily apply over the board. I receive more free books than I can ever read--probably 99 percent of which are entirely unsolicited...only a few are in response to my saying "yes, sure, I'd like to read it." Very, very few get a mention on my blog, and only then if I think the book *deserves* mention.

When a book gets a "rave review" on Grace Notes, it's not because I received a free book--it's because the book deserved a rave review. For the record: I've called attention to as many books that I've purchased--probably more--than freebies.

I don't pretend to know every single blogger who "features" a book on their blog--impossible. But I do know several who wouldn't even consider a good "review" just because the book was free. Especially since so many of us are really limited when it comes to the time we have for reading--much less reviewing.

Overall, I agree with everything you said. But then I usually do.


Susan Kaye said...

It wasn't the free book that induced me to sell my soul and give A Family Forever a good review, it was the nifty purple pen that pushed me over the moral edge! ;-}

As an aside, when I signed my book contract I used that pen.

Carolanne said...

How come I haven't been offered any freebies???!! - I'd love to review books for free... well it would probably depend on the book.
But then again, my friends would probably say I don't need any more enticement to read even more books...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Carolanne, come over and join the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. We''l keep you in reading material!

Brenda, we really enjoyed touring your "A Family Forever" and I'll always have a place for any of your future books. Our reviewers just love you!

So not that we're biased or anything..LOL...but cream always rises to the top!

btw...I left that guy a comment. So since it's moderated, I'll wait to see if he posts it! :-)

Brenda Coulter said...

You know, I really expected to take some flak for this position. But then the wise and wonderful B. J. Hoff left the first comment and said I was mostly right, and who's going to argue with her?

Susan, the beauty of my eeevil plan was including that snazzy purple pen in everyone's book packages. You are just one of many who gave me a favorable review out of sheer gratitude.

Carolanne, stick around. Your time will come.

Bonnie, thanks for saying all that gushy, flattering stuff. ;-) But for the record, it's not the author of the post I quoted who's moderating comments at MetaxuCafe. Litblogger Bud Parr runs things over there, and he moderates all comments from nonmembers. (Members may post articles and comment freely, without moderation.)

Marianne McA said...

As a blog reader & idiot, I'd be more wary of friendship reviews - if an author participates on various blogs, and is a likeable person, I've always a mental reservation about the reviews those bloggers then give her books. You'd have to be honest to the point of depravity to say: 'Well, we all remember how carefully Mary plotted her characters, how thrilled she was to sell her book, how the launch was nearly over-shadowed by her father-in-law's illness - but at last, I've a copy of 'The Silent Treatment' in my hot little hands, and frankly it's poorly written tripe.'

Brenda Coulter said...

Honest to the point of depravity, Marianne? Thanks for the chuckle.

Reviews like that don't scare me--and I did get one from a good e-friend who carefully enumerated the faults she found in my book. But I don't think a review needs to be unequivocally positive in order to boost a book.

Even though it was "riskier" than collecting reviews from friends, I cheerfully put my head on the chopping block by posting this on January 24:

Putting an offer like this on the internet is sure to attract a few crazies, so here's a disclaimer: A Family Forever is a romance novel meant to appeal to individuals who espouse traditional Christian values. If I suspect your intent in requesting a book might be to ridicule those principles or make fun of romance novels, I'm not going to waste my time and money on you. That said, if you're a fairminded individual who is honestly curious about inspirational romance novels and would like to try one (and blog about it), please let me know.

Making that wide-open offer netted me some very interesting reviews. A Jewish lady read my book and adored it. A physician who admitted that he'd never read a romance novel read mine (or at least, tried to) and hated it. I sent more books to strangers than I did to friends, and in retrospect I think that was a smart move. My book got a much wider exposure than if I'd sent it just to my friends, many of whom read the same blogs.

All right, the vast majority of the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but that wasn't because I sent people free books or because I asked my buds to write me some good reviews. It was because I wrote a darn good book. If you don't believe me, just ask Bonnie.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yea...what she said!

LOL...I have seen some of our CFBA reviewers dislike a book and really let go, but as a Christian I always pray that they are not mean spirited about it...so far, so good.

Any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right...can anyone say DaVinci Code!

The only time I cringe is the few times I've seen a reviewer give away the ending...that really tends to make authors testy...LOL!