Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Cash-for-reviews: thanks, we don't want them

Now that the cash-for-reviews hubbub has died down a bit, I wanted to bring together the opinions of the more than 6,000 of you who read the original article.

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What do we think? Without wishing to speak for the entire book community, it's clear from the blog comments and tweets that at least 6,000 of us find the idea of book blogs charging for reviews distasteful. But there are many nuances within this general reaction, and important definitions to think about.

Book blogs are different from marketing sites
What's in a name? Well, quite a lot actually. A book blog reads and reviews books because they love to do so. A marketing site reviews books because they are paid to do so, though they may also love reading. The book blogging community was nearly universal in its outrage that a blog would charge to review books. It's "disgusting", lots of you said, and the sites that do it make the whole book blogging world look bad. It seems that much of the ire is based on the fact that some cash-for-review sites appear to be book blogs, not paid-for marketing sites.

And marketing sites are different from paid reviewers
Book reviewers for magazines and newspapers are paid by their employers to review. They are different from marketing sites for two reasons. They are 1) professional reviewers, not amateurs and 2) paid by their company, not paid by the writers. Several people pointed out that who pays you makes a difference. Ross Golden-Bannon put it well: "Would you trust a review of a new car, play or film if you knew it was paid for by the very people who produced it? What about a new surgical procedure or drug?"

Paid-for reviews are seen as biased by the book community
Paid-for-reviews are those that are paid for by the writer, and the book community was united in its judgment: these reviews are influenced by the cash received. Lots of the outrage that poured out in tweets and comments focused on this. One example in particular got everyone up in arms, with the site promising a "favorable/good or even an excellent review". The site owners later clarified that if they can't give a good review, they return the writer's money. Is it possible for that decision not to be influenced by the direct loss of income that would result from not being able to write a favourable review?

Marketing sites that don't clearly disclose their policies are misleading their readership
If your readers don't know that you're a paid-for marketing site, then you are misleading them, says the book community. Kirkus, for example, is very clear about its policies on its front pages. It segregates its paid-for reviews from its regular reviews, and posts a link on the paid-for review page to its full disclosure policy, including prices and conditions under which reviews are written. If sites don't disclose clearly on their front pages and in their reviews that those reviews are paid for, how will readers know that they are? Including vague policies on a back page doesn't disclose clearly to readers that there is explicit payment for reviews.

Writers do not need to pay marketing sites for reviews
This is critical. There was a lot of concern for readers who are being dupped, unaware that the review they're reading and perhaps basing their buying decision on, is in fact paid-for advertising. There was also much concern for writers, particularly new writers and independents, who may feel they need to pay for reviews. The sheer number of book bloggers who expressed their dismay at the paid-for model should assure writers that they need not pay for reviews. There are hundreds of book bloggers in your genre who accept books for review without payment*. Charging for reviews is a practice that is, thankfully, still fairly rare, as a few people seek to make money out of what has been a mutually beneficial blogger/writer relationship.

So, the conclusion? Websites, if you are charging writers for reviews, you are not a book blog, you are a marketing site. Please call yourself that, because to do otherwise muddies the waters, confuses readers and gives book bloggers a bad reputation.

If you don't disclose a detailed policy on your front pages (including pricing), and ensure that your readers know that you are a marketing site posting paid-for reviews, you may be following the letter of the law, but not its spirit. Readers deserve better than that.

And writers, you don't need to pay for reviews. In fact the readers, bloggers and writers who've commented on the issue are saying that they don't trust paid-for reviews and think that writers who pay for them are wasting their money. The word "trust" came up again and again. If you don't trust a recommendation, would you follow it?

Finally, book bloggers. it might be worth putting a prominent statement on your review page saying whether you accept compensation for your reviews. I know many have it in their policy section but given the existence of of marketing sites, readers may begin to question all reviews.

I want to stress that our discussion isn't about individual review sites. It's about whether we want this business model (for that's what it is: business) to be part of the book community. My personal view is that if marketing sites aren't completely clear that they charge for reviews, that's bad for readers, writers and bloggers alike, because we follow recommendations based on trust. If we can't trust (or don't know if we can trust) those recommendations, then they become meaningless.

Together we get to decide what we want our book community to look like. We are the producers and the consumers. Marketing sites need us, writers and readers, to exist. Without us, they disappear in a puff of smoke.

* To find the right blogs, google 'blog' and your genre. To find more blogs, have a look at the 'favourite blog' links on some of the bloggers' websites. To see if a blogger gets a lot of web traffic, go to www.alexa.com and put in their website - that gives you their global website ranking. Also look at how many followers they have on the site, and look for any stats that they might provide, which is usually in their review policy.


  1. Brilliant summary Michele. :)
    I'm also going to say check out book forums as well as blogs - see if they do give aways, author interviews etc, it all helps get your name out there. :-D

    1. Thanks Michelle - writers, Michelle is one of the many lovely book bloggers out there. As you can see, they are a very helpful bunch!

  2. Excellent post! Considering putting up a disclaimer somewhere stating that I don't charge.. though not sure if it's needed.

  3. I hope it's not needed, but if there are readers (particularly in US where practice is taking place), better to let everyone know. Chick Lit Club has already posted on their Facebook page.


  4. I've just put together a page for my group blog, hopefully covering all areas!

  5. Thanks for this (and the previous post)! I'm in total agreeance with the conclusions here. #cicada

  6. I'm happy you posted this. That book blog wouldn't be in trouble with the reading community if they were just honest about being a marketing site. And oh yeah, not threaten with the internet lawyer, a creature that is about real as a unicorn.

  7. I was a bit horrified by all the hubbub--both the notion that bloggers would charge for reviews and deliberately avoid negative reviews in a strange extension of Thumper's mom's advice to avoid saying anything unkind (great advice for children, not always applicable to adults) and the explosion that followed--but I love what you've done with this post. It is actually possible to speak up and clearly communicate your point of view without a hearty helpin' of vitriol, and you've proven that here. Thank you!

  8. I have a book review site, just sort of growing at the moment. I would be happy to review your book, for what it's worth. Sounds interesting. And I am really sorry that you had to deal with that review hoopla.

    I mean, as much as I'd LOVE to get paid for reviews, I just don't think I want to go the ad route, if that makes sense. You call something by it's name, and no matter how well they are placing it, it's an ad.

    1. Thanks very much Nicole, for both your views and your offer. What's your blog called? You can email me on michelegormanwriter@gmail.com

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  10. Thank you for shining a light on this particular problem. LOL, if it is not one thing it is another.

  11. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. The cash-for-reviews issue is obviously one that has struck a chord within the book community.

  12. This seems to be such a HOT topic lately. I honestly am a little on the fence about it. I love to read and would love to able to make an income doing it or hell anything book related lol. Not because I want to gouge authors but because I would love to not go back to work and dedicate my time to reading and reviewing. I want to help spread the word but cannot do it full time unless I make some money. Is that wrong? Authors write books and hope to make some money selling them so that many of them can quit their jobs and write full time. I think it's quite similar really in the sense that you're trying to live off of the something you are providing. Now in saying this of course a self published author or smaller indie publisher doesn't have the major cash flow to pay for reviews and I understand how it can be debatable about the quality of the review it's self. If you pay will it affect the review? My answer is it should not! It should be treated like a job and what's wrong with it being a job? I won't get into the whole blogger quality review to professional reviewer review but can understand the pros and cons of both. I tip my hat to all the bloggers and all their effort they put in for their pure love of reading and to all the generous authors who provide the free books!

  13. There certainly is a difference when a reviewer is paid by an employer vs being paid by the author. I think you've made the distinction very well. I don't know why you redacted the name of the blog. It was a true and honest communication between you and them. I imagine you have every right to reveal such communication. They sound like very immature people. Why anyone would only want to read reviews that they know ahead of time, are only going to be positive is beyond me. Plus, it's boring as hell...lol...

  14. The original "offending" blog (plus the twitter feed and Pintrest page) have been taken down. I don't know if that's due to the outrage I've read here (and on other blogs, e-lists, tweets, etc.) or for some other reason but still...

    Perhaps the best thing that can come out of this is that readers of book reviews look a little more carefully at blogs/sites that only seem to have good reviews, and that authors are not afraid to say "no, thanks, I'll not pay for a positive review and take my chances with a 'meh' or negative one".

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