Receive and You Shall Review?

There’s been some discussion on Nijay Gupta’s blog about what he calls a discouraging trend in the world of book reviewing. “Some publishers,” says Gupta, “are becoming more picky about who they send books to, and also some are refusing to send out print books at all to reviewers…” He also laments the practice of sending ebooks with expiration dates. I find the latter to be deplorable. Always have. I forget what book it was that I received years back that had an expiration date on it but it never got reviewed.

Gupta and those who have commented on his post have all pretty much expressed the desire for hard copies over ebooks. I’m with them. One hundred percent. The general consensus is that reviewers should receive some sort of compensation for the reviews they’re providing because each review is publicity for the book and the publisher. I’m not opposed to such thinking. I’ve commented plenty of times on the symbiotic relationship between publisher and reviewer. We get books, they get reviews. Works perfectly.

Now let me quickly say that some people prefer digital books these days so they’re quite happy with books coming to them in PDF, mobi, or epub formats. That’s good and well. It’s great that publishers have the books available in such formats. I’m still all about hard copies but I have about two dozen important works on my iPad in PDF (thousands of PDFs on an external hard drive). It’s great to have them all available to me at once in a searchable format. I can’t envision myself ever making the switch to all digital but if I did then I’d be very grateful to receive an ebook.

But I’ve meandered long enough. The thing I wanted to comment on was something that Jennifer Guo said in her comment on Gupta’s post. She said:

I agree. I’m old fashioned as well and prefer print by leaps and bounds (what kind of book nerd does not need to mark up their books? not to mention smell the pages wink emoticon ). The bigger point is what Christopher mentioned. While I do review an ebook once in a while from the publishers that refuse to send print, I refuse to review a “disappearing ebook.” Reviewing takes time, and it’s also free publicity for the publisher. A free copy is fair compensation, but if you don’t get to keep even an ebook, I do not see it as fair compensation. We might as well just get a library copy and not spend the time to review then!

I understand the concept of fair compensation. I do. I even agree with it. It’s a bait and switch to send a book for review that later gets taken away. Not cool. It’s the last sentence that stuck with me. Is the idea that we should only review the books we’ve received for free from publishers? If so, why? Why wouldn’t we want to take the time to write about the books we check out of the library (not that I’d ever check a book out of a library)? Why not write about the books we purchase with our hard earned cash?

Some might argue that those reviews could/would be better since the reviewer feels no obligation towards the publisher for sending them a gratis copy. For my part I reviewed the books I bought before I ever knew that I could contact publishers and ask for free copies. Reviews have been a part of my blog since its inception. I continued to review books that I bought well after I started receiving them for free. Now I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, but when I get back to it I’ll continue doing what I’ve always done. But who cares about me?

My point is that I don’t think book reviews should be contingent upon receiving free books in any format. If all the publishers in the world suddenly formed a union and decided to no longer provide free copies to interested reviewers would that mean the demise of the book review? That would be most unfortunate. Would we all of a sudden stop thinking about the things we read and consequently stop having the desire to share those thoughts with others? I would hope not!

Receiving free books is a wonderful benefit of reviewing books but I don’t think it should be the primary goal. In my opinion the main goal should be the dissemination of information. Having the means and ability to inform others about works in their fields of interest is a great privilege. I can’t count how many reviews I’ve read over the years that helped me determine if a book was worth my time, or informed me about the contents of a book I couldn’t get my hands on. I wouldn’t say that it’s my duty to return the service, but I’ve long felt that it’s my honor.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject; especially those of you who review books for internet or print publications.

B”H

5 thoughts on “Receive and You Shall Review?

  1. All the reviews I have done on my blog, are ones I have needed to read for personal study or college requirements; and the odd occasion someone has given me a book to read. I’m with you, reviews should be done on everything; and not just freebies.

    However, if someone wants you to review a book, and gives it to you, I don’t believe they should give an expiry date on an E book, that is a little bit rude.

  2. Well, now I’m rather embarrassed!! First of all, I have also reviewed books that I’ve purchased. They were stellar and important contributions to their fields and I felt everyone should know about them. So guess I myself am contradiction to what I said in that comment!

    Given that you have also written about the symbiotic relationship between reviewer and publisher, I’d say that my comment and those of many others were emphasizing that point given the nature of Nijay’s post. Reviewing a purchased book still feels very different from being given an expiring ebook as a review copy.

    We’d probably all (I know I do!) agree with the flip side you’re emphasizing, that reviews aren’t primarily for the purpose of getting a free book but for disseminating information. The rare times when I get comments from readers about how a review helped them are very gratifying, and I try to let other bloggers know when I find one of their reviews particularly helpful as well.

    I’d never stop interacting with books i read if review copies disappeared altogether! μὴ γένοιτο

  3. Craig: I’m with you. It’s incredibly rude and self-serving. I’d like to call it dishonest as well but they do let reviewers know up front that the books have expiration dates.

    Jennifer: No need to be embarrassed. I know you’ve reviewed books that you’ve purchased. But the comment got me thinking and I think that there are many who do feel that way and wouldn’t review books at all if they weren’t receiving them for free. Quite honestly, there are a few people who don’t really review the books they’re “reviewing” anyway. They just write glorified blurbs or poor summaries for the purpose of getting free books. For them, it seems, it’s all about the free copy. I know of one individual who has gone so far as to sell the volumes he’s received for review after faking his reviews!

  4. I’m somewhat surprised that publishers are starting to prefer giving out PDF/epub formats of review books. What I mean is, wouldn’t it be possible for a reviewer to make copies of the electronic file and distribute them to friends/family if they wanted? Whereas this option wouldn’t be available if publishers were only giving out print copies of the books.

    Out of curiosity, in the last comment, you noted that one reviewer has sold volumes that he received for review. I don’t see what is wrong with that. If a publisher gives a book to a person in exchange for a review, then isn’t that person free to do with the book whatever he wants (the same as if you purchased the book with money at the bookstore and then sold it at a later date). I would have assumed a lot of book reviewers would sell the books they received after reading them (especially those expensive volumes), but maybe not?

  5. Brent: I’m guessing that publishers are trusting their reviewers to not freely distribute the digital copies they receive. As for selling the books one receives, I wouldn’t take issue if they were really reviewed. But you’ll notice that I said the reviewer in question had been faking reviews of books they had not actually read (I know because I had read many of the books in question and many of the reviews showed no familiarity with the authors’ arguments). That seems like quite the deceptive practice to me.

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