I wish I had a dollar for every person who sent me a link to the New York Times article about paying for book reviews. You know the one, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” from August 25. There’s a slight irony in the NYT publishing it, since no one really knows exactly how they compile their bestseller list, but I digress.
The things that keep circling in my mind about the whole “paying for reviews” thing go like this:
1. It feels like there are more books out there than ever
2. It is definitely harder to get people’s attention for anything than it used to be
3. Most people pick the next book they are going to read because they’ve already read that author (96% based on the Goodreads May Newsletter) so how does a newbie author get on readers’ radar?
4. Book Blogging is a labor of love, getting the blog to pay for itself (hosting fees, giveaways, etc.) is difficult enough, and blogging takes a lot of time and energy
Two things happen. (Okay, a lot more things happen, I’m only going to deal with two).
One of those things is the one that the New York Times article highlighted. Maybe low-lighted is a better word. Todd Rutherford made a tidy living for a while selling rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to authors. Not just authors whose names no one ever heard of, either. It turns out that part of John Locke’s self-publishing success is owed to purchased reviews.
Although the Times made a big deal about “exposing” this pay-for-play company, it’s a)out of business and b)not the only game in town.
Two companies, Blue Ink Review and Kirkus Book Reviews both offer a paid review service for independent/self-published authors. The difference is both cost much more (approx $400) and they each send the book to one reviewer who provides one review. Neither guarantees a good review. What they both offer is that if the author doesn’t like the review, the author has the option to not have it published. How often that happens, who knows? Also, they don’t blanket Amazon and Goodreads with multiple five star reviews.
(As a librarian, I will say that Kirkus has a lot of history behind them. They’ve been in the reviewing business for a long, long time. Since 1933. I used to get their reviews when they went into a three-ring binder, which dates me as much as it does them. Their reviews were always long and thorough. What selling their services in this way does to their street cred in the long run remains to be seen. Their newsletter is available free online and for anyone interested in books it’s definitely worth a read.)
And then there were the ChicklitGirls, who are also out of business. After all, if Kirkus Book Reviews can charge $400+ for a book review, why shouldn’t a book blog charge a much more reasonable fee, oh say $95 for a book review? Just like Kirkus (well, sort of) they did disclose in their reviewing policy that there was a fee for a review. Unlike the more reputable publication they cited as their excuse, the “Girls” threatened to sue an author who complained about their practices. For a full report, take a look at the terrific summary over at Dear Author.
But isn’t what happened over at ChicklitGirls (minus the lawsuit threat, that was just bad behavior) part and parcel of the same thing? They saw a way to make money, same as the New York Times article exposed (no pun intended) by charging authors for reviewing their books. And they tried to make money off what is otherwise a very labor-intensive what, hobby, addiction, drug-of-choice for most of us? Yes, I’m talking about book blogging. Which doesn’t otherwise pay.
We often get the books we review for free. But not always. Some of us buy them. Some people borrow them from the library. Often it’s a mix. Many blogs have affiliate links from Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and/or The Book Depository. If we’re lucky we take in enough to pay the hosting fees for our sites and the cost of any giveaways. We probably all spend way more time than we ever imagined. Book blogging should probably be the dictionary definition of a labor of love. We love sharing what we read, so we blog.
But what happens when you get paid for reviewing a book? If you blog and you sign up for a tour, you might have faced a piece of this dilemma. You’re part of the advertising for the book, even though you’re not getting paid. You hate the book. You know the author doesn’t want a bad review as part of the tour. What do you do when it happens?
If you’ve been paid to review the book, then what? You really are part of the advertising. Your review is an ad. Ads are supposed to be positive. So, if a review is paid for, is it a review, or is it an ad?
And when you read one, how do you know?