On My Dissatisfaction with Blogger Review Programs

I noted the other day on Twitter that I think I’m done with blogger book review programs as well as book review blog tours. There was some demand for an explanation so I’ll offer one below.

I began reviewing books for publishers in August 2007. I credit Ed Komoszewski with getting my foot in the door initially. He contacted me personally and asked if I’d look at the galleys to the book he co-authored with Rob Bowman called Putting Jesus in His Place: A Case for the Deity of Christ. Eventually I’d receive a hard copy from Kregel, which would be the volume that I’d actually review on the blog.

But I credit Chris Tilling for giving me the advice to contact publishers directly and request titles for review. I began to do so in late 2007 and I was met with a very positive response from a number of publishers and books started flooding in. I wouldn’t be the only blogger to take part in the reviewing festivities as a number of others got involved shortly thereafter. So in 2008 I saw an explosion of book reviews on blogs by undergrads, grad students, scholars, and laymen. Prior to this I had only really seen senior scholar/bloggers reviewing with any regularity.

It became clear that many publishers were willing to send all manner of books, popular and academic alike, to interested bloggers in exchange for reviews. This isn’t surprising as this has been a common practice for centuries. Publishers have been sending books out for review to printed periodicals for as long as there have been periodicals willing to write about them. The only thing that has changed is the medium.

Initially there were no restrictions. Some publishers who were used to sending their titles out for review in journals would ask for a roundabout date when the review would be published, but there were no firm deadlines. No word limits were set in place. No specific type of review was expected. The only thing that seemed to be expected across the board was an honest assessment of the title under review.

In late 2008 Thomas Nelson Publishers would form the first (as far as I know) blogger review program. Originally it was called Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers and then in 2010 it would change its name to the horrid Book Sneeze. 2009 saw a couple of other programs pop up, namely the Bethany House Blogger Review Program (February 2009) and the Tyndale Blog Network (May 2009). Crossway would follow suit in 2011 and Kregel Academic is the latest publisher to take the plunge as far as I know.

As far back as 2009 I have noted my dissatisfaction with certain features of such programs. One of the major gripes is the desire for truncated reviews. This is directly correlated with the stipulation that the review be cross-posted on a bookseller website. I have had Amazon reject certain reviews I’ve attempted to post because they have been too long. Amazon is looking for a pithy review that their potential customers will glance at while deciding on their purchase. Apparently book review programs follow a similar model.

But most recently I’ve become bothered by the deadlines. Now I’ll grant that the deadlines are made known before the book is sent out for review. The reviewer consents to reviewing the book within a specified amount of time in order to get it in the first place so there shouldn’t be any room for complaint and yet I still find myself ready to complain. It’s not that a deadline in and of itself irks me. It’s that the deadline is what has opened my eyes completely to the fact that these programs are very much about marketing and little else.

I’ve long known that reviews were marketing tools—and rightly so—publishers deserve something in return for sending out free books. But it seems to me (and trust me, I’m not alone) that these programs are concerned with getting the word out about new books and not quality reviews. This is evidenced in the widespread lack of quality reviews on file for so many of these new books! I could name names and link to literally hundreds of insipid reviews but I’ll leave it to the reader to discover these on their own (assuming that they aren’t already intimately familiar with that of which I speak).

I think I would be more satisfied if blog review programs were done away with altogether and instead publishers just asked for bloggers to notify their readers about new publications. Let’s make the marketing straight marketing and stop pretending that quality reviews are the goal. I wouldn’t see the problem in that at all. But if reviews are the goal, then please, allow the reviewer whatever time and space they need to complete the review to the best of their ability.

A good book will be good a year from the time of its receipt (and likewise, a bad book will still probably be bad). I’ve received books recently that were published decades ago. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading and not worth informing my readers about. And I’ve found most publishers to be quite happy to have their older titles reviewed in recent times. I’ve also found most to be quite happy to wait for solid reviews.

My dissatisfaction isn’t really with publishers (e.g., I love Kregel Academic and the books they publish), but rather with the nature of such programs. It’s a general dissatisfaction with a “now” culture. I personally prefer a slower home cooked approach to reviewing books rather than the drive-through approach engendered in these kinds of marketing campaigns. But at this point I’m just repeating myself. I’ve said all this to say what I’ve already said on Twitter: I think I’m done with blog review programs… This isn’t to say that I think anyone else should give up on them; but they’re no longer for me.



8 thoughts on “On My Dissatisfaction with Blogger Review Programs

  1. I gave up on those programs a while ago…one program started with the “top review.” The top reviewer wasn’t based on quality, but quantity.

  2. I think it also points to some of the complaints you had in a previous post. On said site, the top reviewer has 145 reviews. I can’t remember exactly when they started keeping track, but it was sometime in 2010. So this person is pumping out about a review a week! And that’s not even figuring in shipping time. How much engagement do you think they are giving each book?

  3. most reviews are worthless, anyway. a good review critically engages in what is good and bad about the book. a review, which is most, that simply regurgitates talking points with gusto, is one I ignore.

  4. I got deactivated from one for not making making the deadline. Once I submitted the review it was all good. :-). I look at it economically too, I can’t usually afford most of the books most of the time, so I am happy to have them for free in exchange for a review.

  5. Oh yes, I think I remember corresponding with you back in 2007. I’m sorry to see you go, Nick, but I understand.
    I will note that one aspect of the deadline that isn’t purely for marketing purposes is that any attempt to foster a conversation about a book (such as among bloggers) is greatly helped if the readers have read the book within a relatively close time period.

  6. Craig: My biggest pet peeve when it comes to book reviews is reading reviews that have been written by folks who haven’t read the books they’re reviewing. If someone is reviewing a 700 age book every other day then the chances are that they’ve skipped over quite a bit.

    Doug: I hear ya. There’s a trend these days of blurbing books rather than reviewing them. Blurbs are fine if they’re supposed to be blurbs. They’re not so fine when they’re supposed to be reviews.

    Brian: Without question. The symbiotic relationship between publisher and reviewer is one that I love. We get free books; they get honest reviews (or at least they should get honest reviews). But that’s always going to be the case whether a program is in play or not.

    Laura: You were with Tyndale House back then, right? I think you sent me the NLT Study Bible. Just to be clear; I’m only departing from the programs; not from reading/reviewing books published by the publishers who run the programs.

    And your point is duly noted. I’ve always seen that as one of the chief aims of blog tours.

  7. Yes, I was at Tyndale then and the NLT Study Bible was one of the first review books I sent out. Maybe the first–that was 2008, so maybe we didn’t correspond in 2007 after all.

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