Friday, 9 December 2011

Reviewers vs Publishers, Round One

My friend, colleague and co-host at Bookmarked Literary Salon, Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads, brought up a rather interesting debate sparked by William Morrow in the States. William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, sent out this letter, indicating that they were tightening up on which particular individuals with an online presence would get free books. The Guardian jumped on this as a 'crackdown' on book bloggers, and then brought the debate into a whole new arena: that of snobbery against book blogs.

I come at this from a unique perspective, I think, and so I thought I would comment.

I am a blogger (occasionally about books), a book and music reviewer in print media, and a journalist who has reviewed everything else (from restaurants to holidays to nightclubs) besides. But I'm also a publisher.

The sentiment of the William Morrow's letter is entirely understandable. If someone asks me for a free book, I do a bit of research first. Do they have a decent audience? Do their audience read what I publish? Do their blogs get many comments? Will I make back that initial cost (book + postage + my time) either through sales or increased exposure?

There's also the other thing to consider: would it actually harm sales by sending out too many free copies? I.e., if my target audience for a book was composed entirely of book bloggers (a ludicrous example, I know, but bear with me), would my sending free copies to all those book bloggers then mean no one buys the book? Some book bloggers are basically just readers with a blog to chatter on. Which is fine. But if we sent everyone free books just because they're readers, then who's left to buy the books?

My rule of thumb is: if a blogger is popular, shares my book's target audience, and I think it'll either raise the book's profile or improve sales, I'll send out a review copy. I usually err on the side of generosity and send a book out anyway. But you do get some people who will request books to review just to get freebies, and then either follow up with very obscure reviews no one is likely to look at/care about, or don't follow up at all.

Personally, I wouldn't have sent that letter out (or anything similar). It made me cringe in a couple of places and was inevitably going to piss a few people off. The process doesn't need to be so formal, because that defeats the point of all those relationships publishing companies have worked for years to build up. I'd have just been more thorough in deciding where to send review copies in the first place, and if a reviewer kept asking for books and didn't follow up with a review, I'd remember not to send them anything in future again.

As a reviewer for a major national magazine, I get hundreds of CDs every month. I rarely solicit them from record labels, but occasionally I do. I always review the ones I ask for (just as I always review the press trips I go on and the restaurants I have asked to review), but feel no guilt about tossing the rest in the bin or putting them aside for a listen in future. I just wouldn't have the time to review all of them otherwise. But record labels and PR companies know that if they send me 10-20 CDs a month, and I review one of them, then 150,000 people might read that review. So it's probably worthwhile taking that risk.


  1. A very solid perspective! Thanks Adam.

  2. I'm glad you think so. It's a thorny issue, and I suspect most people are annoyed because of the tone/wording of the letter, rather than what it says.

    Although, as some have pointed out, the one-month deadline seems harsh. Makes it feel like an assignment. And since most reviewers aren't getting paid to do it, why should they have such deadlines?