Should Book Bloggers Work For Free?

Image courtesy Molly @ The Bumbles Blog

So the other day, I was perusing the job boards. I subscribe to a variety of Freelance Writing sites and receive messages with links to all kinds of writing work. Usually they are things that I am not qualified to do. Or they are so bizarre or specific that I have no interest in tackling them. But every now and then I see something that looks like it might be enjoyable to do and so I apply – along with a gazillion other writers receiving the same job lists, mind you, but that’s a topic for another day. What does any of this have to do with being a Quirky Girl who reads, you ask? Well, I inquired about an opening for a writer of book reviews.

What Are They Paying For?

This particular ad stated that they were in need of someone to provide reviews for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other such sites. It offered payment to bloggers but not to book clubs. Because I was intrigued, I followed the inquiry instructions and sent an e-mail with my contact information. But I must say, I felt this particular role would be less for the types of reviews we provide here at QGR and more along the lines of pumping up titles in exchange for cash.

This position was being offered by a new publishing outlet. My guess is that they need bookies to read their catalog and write up “customer” reviews online lauding the works as terrific. I have no idea how much payment would be or what their guidelines are, but it got me thinking about the ethics of paid reviews.

In my message to them, I explained who I am and the experience I have in writing reviews, both personally and as a part of this more formal group effort. I also asked what genre the books would fall under, since I have no plans to devote limited reading time to a style I dislike. But my most important question was to find out if they expected positive reviews in exchange for payment, or if they expected honest reviews in exchange for payment.

Are Book Bloggers Killing Off Book Critics?

I fully understand how someone promoting a book, in need of reviews, would not be interested in paying for ones that were not overly flattering. But I don’t have it in me to write up glowing words about something that I think is a piece of crap. Even if I get paid to do it. That just feels icky.

I suppose I am looking to be a paid critic, not a paid reviewer. Are there such opportunities anymore? With the demise of the newspaper, book critics seem to be in less demand. Are book bloggers such as ourselves helping to put paid critics further out of business? Is our forever willingness to provide free press keeping us from being able to use our review talents in a paid capacity?

If someone gave me the choice to write honest, critical reviews in exchange for cash versus a free copy of the book, I would take the cash. But no one ever offers me cash. I think it’s because they know they don’t have to. There are tons of other book bloggers out there ready to provide a review for free.

It seems to me, that as the book blogging community continues to grow, and as bloggers in general are gaining more respect across all industries, our options and structure should improve. If we are providing reviews for publishers or PR firms on a regular basis, drumming up business and attention to their titles, shouldn’t we be more highly valued in that process?

Does Cash Influence Honesty?

It seems sketchy to get paid to write a review though. It implies the thoughts are influenced by the dollar signs. I don’t think this when I read a review in a magazine or newspaper. Because the paycheck isn’t coming directly from the book industry. But if I read a book blogger’s review and then discovered through their footnote statement that it was a paid (although still honest) review, I would still wonder if it was REALLY honest.

I have a hard enough time writing something honestly about a book I have read when I have any sort of relationship with the author. It is very hard for me to be critical of things I dislike when the person who created them is someone I like very much. It’s probably why I usually review books written by people long dead and buried! Now, if someone was paying me to read a particular book and then write a review, would I be able to stick to my guns and express the negative points? Or would I just gloss over them, trying not to hurt feelings or reputations in order to continue to have the opportunity to provide paid reviews?

It is an ethical issue I’m sure all book bloggers have an opinion about. Would you take a job reviewing books for cash payment? Would you pretend to be a reviewing customer on Amazon if your true opinion on the book was positive and someone was paying you to post it? Do you think book bloggers should try to be a legitimate professional part of the publishing community? Or would that create a conflict of interest if money were involved?

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About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
This entry was posted in Bookish Thoughts, Posts by Molly. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Should Book Bloggers Work For Free?

  1. Nerija S. says:

    โ€ฆ I donโ€™t think this when I read a review in a magazine or newspaper. Because the paycheck isnโ€™t coming directly from the book industry.

    I think that’s the key — where’s the money coming from? If it’s coming from anyone connected with the book, that feels too sketchy. If it’s from a truly independent source, like a journal or newspaper whose purpose is not to promote, but to critique, that’s better. And I generally prefer reading a critique vs. a promotion.

    In terms of book blogs, more specifically, I’m generally more interested in the ones that include books the blogger disliked. I feel like I can see the blogger’s personality better in those cases — and the books themselves seem more interesting, because you have a basis for comparison. I guess it’s fun to see a little rage or “meh” to balance out the more praising reviews ๐Ÿ™‚

    • thebumbles says:

      I am the same way – I am drawn right to those reviews that the blogger did NOT like – not to hear them bash or throw a tantrum – but to read real thoughts. Anyone can gush about something wonderful. It takes talent to convey criticism.

  2. I’d love to hear what kind of response you get from the publishing company. This is quite a tricky issue indeed.

    • thebumbles says:

      As of yet – zero response. Either they were swamped with inquiries because their listing was picked up by the job board notices, or they didn’t want to address my questions – meaning it was indeed “sketchy.”

  3. Emma says:

    Hmm, book bloggers are not expected to get paid for reviews, though my father is always telling me to start charging ๐Ÿ™‚ If a newspaper hired me to write reviews, that’s a different story. It’s a professional job whereas blogging, for most of us, isn’t.

    • thebumbles says:

      But I wonder why we so easily accept this blogging for free business? I blog because I wanted an expressive outlet for my thoughts and to network with other book lovers. And I do so willingly during my free time. But if I did a book blog where I reviewed books daily – books that PR firms/publishers/authors encouraged me to read and hounded me for links to my reviews, to schedule in blog tours or take time to participate in panels/event sessions – I’d begin to wonder if there was a way I could receive compensation for all of that effort. Just because you’d do it for free doesn’t mean you have to.

      • Emma says:

        There must be bloggers out there charging for reviews. As long as the reviewer is free to provide an honest review, that should be fine I guess. There are just so many book blogs around that authors and their publishers probably don’t have to pay for a review.

  4. izzybella says:

    I think compensated book blogging for a publishing company might more honestly be called “marketing.” I think it’s one thing for newspapers and magazines to review books from an independent perspective, but something else entirely to work for the publishing company as a book critic reviewing on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It seems like they want a Harriet Klaus who favorably reviews everything. It doesn’t feel right, if that makes sense-at least it doesn’t fit the “book critic” label to me.

    • thebumbles says:

      That’s how I felt too. I believe they wanted to pay for positive press – or to ensure positive press. Without a response from them however, I’ll never know.

  5. Amy says:

    I wish and would love to be paid to review books but I could only do it if I was free to write what I really thought and felt about the book. I feel the same as you do about getting paid to write glowing reviews about books I don’t like…Icky!
    I think there are still some paid book critic jobs but not many. Sure, it’s possible to write good, honest book reviews even if a person is getting paid for the reviews, some reviewers can do it and some can’t, it really depends on the person. A good book reviewer could write a negative review of a book in a way that gets their point across without being unkind.
    I’d hope an employer paying for book reviews would want honest professional work. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

    I also find it difficult to criticize a book if I ‘know’ the author but I would feel almost more uncomfortable with the author if I wrote a dishonest, fake review. Part of being an author is getting reviewd by professional critics and readers. There has to be respect for each other. So long as their’s respect on both sides, things should go okay with reviews. It’s unfortunate when the reviewers or the authors don’t understand that.

    I think many bloggers know quite a lot about books and could be a real asset to a publishing company.

    A wonderful, fascinating post, Molly! Much to think about….

  6. kaye says:

    I enjoyed reading this article and the responses. I’ve never been sure but I’ve felt like a lot of book blogs I follow get free books in exchange for reviews. I’ve never known if they were actually paid. As for me my book blogging is a record or a journal for me to keep track of books and what I think of them. When I was young I kept lists. Blogging has been fun for me and I enjoy browsing through my posts. Good luck on finding that “writing from home job”. I have a daughter that is graduating next year with an English Lit degree–what kinds of jobs are available for someone with that degree?

  7. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) says:

    From a personal point of view, I’ve lost faith in the objectivity of newspaper reviews – I rarely read a bad review. In fact I rarely read a review at all, most are simply reiterations of the plot with a few general points tacked on along the way. This is not to suggest that professional critics are ingenuous with their reviews, but rather that it’s mainly positive and watered down criticism that gets published. The publishers might not be paying the wages directly, but the newspapers are invested in the whole industry, not to mention that most professional critics are also writers/authors who rely on the publishing companies to have their work see the light of day. Book bloggers are one of the rare bodies of reviewers who are genuinely independent. Whilst the quality of reviews is variable, finding a good critique from an intelligent blogger is a delight.

    Great post ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    I used to write book reviews for a website and I still remain on friendly terms with the creator and last year he started offering authors a ‘fast service’ meaning that for some cash a reviewer would have the review posted within 2 weeks. He offered me a chance to jump back in and it was very tempting, but I decided what little time I did (and) do have to read should be spent on books I want to read. I think this means I will continue to use my blog as a book/movie/baby journal for many years to come. It’s been a few weeks, have you heard anything back from them?

  9. Pingback: How to Get Paid Peanuts to Review Books You Don’t Want to Read |

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