I want to talk a bit about an article that I read via Twitter yesterday: Has book blogging hit the wall?. There was a little debate after the link was posted. Bloggers were cast as a whole, an amorphous blob of want and entitlement, satiated only by free goods. I got a little miffed, like I do. I responded that I've reviewed three free books here, one of which was offered to me on the blog itself. The other two are from the one publisher list I'm on. I'm careful to only ask for books I know I'll read even though many more are offered. This is only fair: copies are limited and the books should go to someone who wants them. I don't really understand that idea that if something is "free" it must be taken, especially since the books they send are ARCs, so it's not like they look pretty on your shelf or anything. Raj Patel says interesting things about "free" stuff in The Value of Nothing. Paraphrasing Marcel Mauss' The Gift he says
in sociology as in economics, there's rarely anything that comes free from expectations of reciprocity and respect.Patel is talking about companies much larger than Harper or Penguin, like Nestle or AT&T, but the concept is the same: companies are not your friends, they (probably) don't know you or care about you as a person, they are entering into an agreement with you. There isn't ever something for nothing. Yes, there is a sense of entitlement among some, and my Twitter pal did state that entitlement is definitely not limited to book bloggers. But it's also not a defining characteristic of all book bloggers. I can't be the only one out there who doesn't feel that my internet connection means I'm owed something. The article, however, makes it sound as if my pal's initial assessment was correct. Wow, these are unsavoury people!
I know a bit about how all this works. I've sent out free books myself, when I had the opportunity to do such things. It's a relationship, and it should be one of respect. To diverge a bit, in the days of Panic Yore, I was a club and college radio DJ. Those are pretty much the only venues non-top 40 music gets played, or were before the Rise of the Machines — er, internet — so genre labels would "service" DJs with new releases. However, the DJs had to keep playlists and send those back to the record label. As with book blogging and free books, you need to prove to the publisher or label that their investment in you is worth it. Further, it seems to me that if book bloggers want to be taken seriously they need to act professionally. If they want to treat their blog as a hobby, with no deadlines or professional courtesy, which is probably closer to what I do, then bloggers need to be prepared to pay for that hobby. If you wanted to be treated like a professional (from the article, "Can you imagine them sending this to Horn Book or The NYTimes?") then you must be prepared to meet deadlines and act responsibly. (Note, I say "be prepared" to do so: there doesn't need to be a deadline involved, but if one is provided, it should be respected.) The relationship William Morrow wants to have with its bloggers is sensible and reasonable, and it's exactly how the one publisher I deal with runs things now. You can't just send books out into the dark and hope they stick. Targeted and focused marketing just makes sense. Larry from the article just doesn't understand the concept of "relationship" or "fairness."
It's not enough that it is 'your job' to review their books within a one month span before or after its release date," wrote Larry at The OF Blog, "but they couch in sweet talk the threat to pull review copies because you don't want to play their game.""Play their game"!? Getting adversarial is no way to conduct a relationship, Larry. Perhaps publishers who operated like William Morrow, with a buffet style, have to shoulder some of the blame for not figuring out a better strategy from the get-go. Though maybe they were just optimistic about human nature. Fools!
It's really too bad the article has the tone it does. It does make bloggers seem whiny and entitled, where most of the ones I know are anything but. I wrote a garbled Tweet about the number of books I own but haven't read (I blame the head cold), which sounded a bit like I had no intention of reading them. What I meant was, I buy so many books, and have so many in the library queue, that I sometimes get a bit bogged down in the To-Read List. What I wanted to convey in that Tweet, was that I spend my money at readings, and launches, and indie bookstores (and the chains when all else fails) because it's important that I put my money where my mouth is.** I want those publishers and writers to have my dollars, because they are providing me with the thing I love the most: the written word. I'm saddened that there are bloggers out there that feel it is their right to receive freebies, especially in an industry with such low margins, where the producers of of the content almost always have a second, 40-hour a week job.
Update! I've compiled responses from other bloggers here. If you know of others, let me know and I'll link them. It's interesting, to me at least, how others have reacted.
From Pickle Me This: What I Hate About Book Bloggers
From Books Under Skin: On book blogging
From Bella's Bookshelves: The Book Blogger’s Responsibility: What?
Larry, of the OF Blog, responds to the uproar (and to me): Fallout from last week's posts on reviewing/William Morrow letter
*I've been the same with running, coincidentally. The year I don't set a goal or do any races is the year I have the best results, and most gains. I thought I worked well under pressure. Turns out, maybe not so much.
**I use the library system pretty extensively too. I wouldn't ever have enough space in my tiny apartment for all the books I want. But I want to.