Realized Fears

Jim West asks Are Biblioblogs Losing Their Souls And Becoming Little More Than Publicity Tools? In the spirit of Jim’s post I’ll offer a disclaimer:

I too love to review books. Many folks might not realize this, but I was reviewing books on my blog long before I ever got them for free. I still review books that I purchase with my own money. So my love for books and reviewing books is in no way linked to my love of getting them for free. Having said that, I do love me some free books! It’s a wonderful thing to be able to see a book that looks interesting, contact a publisher, and then find said volume in the mail a few weeks/months later. Sometimes the books are fantastic and I enthusiastically recommend them. Sometimes they’re awful and I warn readers to stay far, far away. And like Jim I’ve found certain publishers to not appreciate the latter. Oh well. Their loss.

Now back to Jim. In the body of his post he says:

But I’m beginning to become a bit worried. Are bibliobloggers becoming nothing more than publicity tools for publishers? Are reviewers forthright in their reviews or do they simply say all the kindest things simply so that the flow of free books remains unimpeded? Are publishers using bloggers and are bloggers using publishers, not to disseminate worthwhile volumes but to line their shelves?  Are books even being read?

This is a subject I’ve tackled a few times over the years. In answer to his questions I’d say:

  1. Certain bloggers have sold out in order to become nothing more than publicity tools. I won’t name names but we all know who they are. You can’t blame the publishers for this (unless of course they refuse to provide review copies unless favorable reviews are written in return).
  2. Many bloggers are not forthright in their reviews and rarely, if ever, say anything critical because they don’t want to get cut off from the source of free books. Like I said, I’ve had one or two publishers (who shall remain nameless) refuse me additional review copies once I reviewed certain of their titles negatively.
  3. The relationship between blogger and publisher should be mutually beneficial. If publishers are willing to send out books for free then they should get some free publicity out of the deal. But bloggers have to realize that the press can be both good and bad and that they shouldn’t feel obligated to say only good things. What’s that old saying? Any press is good press?
  4. But—and this is what irks me more than anything—many bloggers are not reading the books they review, hence the shallow reviews that do nothing but heap praise upon the book in their glorified blurbs. But this isn’t limited to only positive reviews. I’m sure we’ve all come across negative reviews written by people who hadn’t so much as cracked the cover of the book they were reviewing.

I’d add that I think certain review programs have contributed to the decline Jim has been noticing. Offering a free book with the stipulation that it be posted within a relatively short period of time and not be too long so that it can be cross-posted on a retailer website does not encourage sustained interaction with the text in hand. Now to be fair, not every program is like this, and some of the ones that are don’t offer books that actually merit sustained interaction, but it would seem that publicity is the main goal over and above substantive reviews.

So I’m sorry to say that Jim’s fears are real and they’re most likely here to stay. Thank God for all of the thoughtful reviewers out there and all the publishers seeking honest reviews of their titles.

B”H

5 thoughts on “Realized Fears

  1. I’ve actually stopped requesting books from those publishers who shall not be named that push the spit them out quickly and reward people who write the most reviews.

    I will admit, a few of my reviews have fallen, in some way or another, into one of your comments. And I fully fealize that that is my own fault. Luckily, it’s something I’m working on correcting. The time I have dedicated for reading review copies is being eaten away by other things.

  2. It takes me quite a long time to read a book properly so I’ve reviewed very few, all of them books I bought myself. It would be a shame to see book reviews disappear, but if they’re unreliable people will learn to ignore them – and that would be a shame too.

    I will probably continue to review books I like, maybe two or three a year. But I prefer to be independent so will not be signing up for any publisher free book programmes. Sometimes I write about a book without reading it fully but I will always say so in the blog post. For example this one I wrote back in October – http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2012/10/doggerland.html

  3. I give more credibility to reviews where the author did not receive the book for free. I know that it is my policy to buy my own books (although, I did once receive a free copy of the CEB translation — and I regret that.)

  4. Craig: I phoned a few reviews in back in the olden days. It happens. But I purposed long ago to write the best review that I’m capable of. If it falls short it’s not for lack of trying; it’s just for lack of competence (of which I have plenty!).

    My time for writing reviews has diminished over the last year or so since I have so much more to do these days, but the quantity of review books has remained pretty steady. I’m down to like 3 reviews a month from anywhere from 4 to 8 previously. But publishers can rest assured that I’ll get around to reviewing, or at least mentioning, the books they send at some point. I like to think my existing body of reviews is evidence of that.

    Chris: I think you’ve touched on an important point, namely full disclosure. I too have reviewed books that I have not read fully, but I always try to mention that fact in the review. Some have been reference works that are not expected to be ready completely; others have been collections of essays that contained chapters that haven’t interested me. Whatever the case, I think it only fair to let the reader know that you’re reviewing only what you have read.

    Laura: If we’re talking academic books then I think 90 days is appropriate. Given the fact that many bloggers are working through multiple books for review, plus whatever leisure reading they might be doing, and all of this on top of regular day-to-day responsibilities (family, work, etc.), then 90 days seems fair for a book that is expected to instruct and stretch one’s mind. But even this would depend on the length of the book and its level of difficulty.

    I’ve participated in blog tours that gave me set deadlines because the books in question were relatively light reading and I knew it wouldn’t be an issue to finish on time. Other tours I’ve declined to be a part of because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give the book as much attention as it deserved in time for the tour.

    Also, keep in mind that I’m lobbying for substantive, critical (in a good way), interactive reviews. I’d venture to guess that most bloggers could skim a book and offer some general comments in a month’s time. And I suppose that’s cool in certain situations. I don’t expect the same from am Amazon review that I do from an RBL review. But Jim’s post, to which I’m adding my two cents, has in mind the type of audience interested in scholarly literature, and I think that deserves something more sustained.

    Hope that helps!

    Theophrastus: I hear ya. In general I’d say that I do as well.

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