Posted December 9, 2011 9:18 am by with 8 comments

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One of the perks of being a blogger is you often get free items in return for a review. DVDs, food, gadgets, new tech — a good review is an excellent marketing tool, so most companies see these freebies as part of the cost of doing business.

Book publisher, William Morrow, however, is looking to reduce that cost and they want to see a bigger return on their investment.

Earlier this week, the LA Times published the text of a letter that was sent out to book bloggers. It outlines a new system where, instead of getting random books in the mail, bloggers will be asked to choose their review titles from a list.

Nothing wrong with that. It’s more work on the publisher’s part, but it’s targeted so it should make for more and better reviews.

Now here’s the part that got everyone in an uproar:

If it isn’t already clear, WE LOVE THAT YOU LOVE OUR BOOKS!  And to allow us to continue to offer free copies and free shipping to you committed book reviewers, we will be tracking how many reviews we receive from you.  If we notice that you request books but aren’t posting your comments or sending us the link, we may suspend your ability to receive review offers from us.  We know you’re busy bloggers -– if you don’t think you’ll be able to post a review within a month, please pass on that offer so we can continue to offer you free books in the future!

Still sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The blogger gets a book of their choice for free and in return they have to post a timely review. I’ve been reviewing DVDs for years and that’s always been the agreement, in print or implied. But according to the LA Times, bloggers are angry that “their hobby was being treated like an obligation.”

Am I the only one who thinks that’s crazy? Hobby or not, if you agree to take on a free item (I’m not talking about items sent randomly without prior permission) you should review it within a reasonable amount of time.

The bloggers are also angry because they see this step as a slap at blogs.  “Can you imagine them sending this to Horn Book or The NYTimes?” said Pam Coughlin, a blogger for MotherReader.

Well, no, because first of all, the NYTimes book reviewer probably turns in reviews on time and second, I imagine more people see a NYTimes review than one on MotherReader. (If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me.)

Maybe the real issue here isn’t unreliable book bloggers, but blogs themselves. Blogs are slowly getting pushed into the background thanks to Facebook and Twitter and even Tumblr which is more graphics than text. eMarketer’s stats show that Fortune 500 companies have slowed down on blogging. Mommy blogs are still going strong but how many people are reading them?

Personally, I believe that blogs are still the best place to find news and information about whatever it is you want to know. A blog post gives you room to deliver all the facts and your opinion about them. You can’t do that on Twitter or Facebook. But I’m a writer and a reader, and I fear that I’m in the minority when it comes to the love of words.

Which brings us back to books and book reviewers. The publishing business is running on a thin margin, so it’s understandable that they need to insure better returns on their investment. And that could mean more rules and passing on “hobby” bloggers in favor of professionals.

Do you offer review items to bloggers? We’d like to hear about your experiences.

  • I’m a member of Thomas Nelson’s (TN) Book Sneeze program. If you request a book from them, you must post the review on your blog and a public review site (such as Amazon or GoodReads) and then send them the links to those posts before you can request another book. I think this is perfectly reasonable – and it appears that’s what William Morrow is doing here.

    I don’t recall TN having a time limit; but, a month seems rather reasonable to me for a book review.

  • I get books all the time and review about half of them on my blog. If the publisher required me to publish the other half of reviews, they may not appreciate the impact on those books’ sales. 🙂

    • Cynthia Boris

      I actually thought about addressing that issue – but thought it would muddy the point. Maybe that’s an idea for another post – what’s a marketer to do when a reviewer doesn’t like the product.

  • Sounds totally reasonable to me. I used to get sent a lot of books for review and, by accepting them, it was implied that I would review them. Of course, I don’t have the time now so I tell publishers they can send them, but I cannot promise a review. Strangely, I don’t get sent as many books these days. 😉

  • Pam

    Bloggers should be able to make an editorial pass. Period. I don’t review everything and I won’t and now any influence I have will not be used to sway people to buy a WM book. The time constraints keep me from being able to work with them.

  • I have been asked to review books through the years and on most occasions I have failed to produce the reviews. This looks like a practical business decision.

    Then again, as a hobby Website operator, I don’t want to be seen as a tool for some business to use at their leisure.

    The model probably needs to change and in the end maybe everyone will be happier but perhaps some experimentation is needed until we get to that new happy medium.

  • I’m glad to see your post because it does represent the other side of the argument started in the Twitter discussion. I agree that the publisher doesn’t have to keeping sending books to people who don’t review them, though as a rule I am wary of a conditional relationship. I also know that since more people will see a review in the NYTimes, publishers will approach them differently than a one-person-shop book blog. Personally, I don’t accept many review copies because I can’t cover many titles and generally want to free myself of obligation.

    I wish that you had linked to my blog post on the topic – which I’ll include here – because I did go over some of the points you discuss. The most important of which is whether book bloggers are to be treated more like print reviewers or marketing partners. The language of the letter implies the latter, while more book bloggers prefer the former. Here is my link:

  • This is completely reasonable! We have this system in place with the Canadian publishers already. One a month they will send a list of books to review and I request them. This gives the bloggers the ability to choose from the list. That way if a publisher sends you a book you’re not interested in, you’re not obligated to review it. It’s win win on both sides. The publisher gets the book out there to the masses and the bloggers get the free books!