UPDATE: Jordon Cooper adds another post to this conversation, The Christian Book Whore.
Forgive the long title but this post has been brewing since I read Jordon Cooper's Theological Debate As Blood Sport. His post was written early in the "debate" around McLaren's new book. Jordon said this near the end of his post, in regards to the marketing of books like Brian's;
(We) have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses. In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores. You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free, cheaply produced review copies. We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs. Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith. [emphasis added]
BRIAN McLAREN'S new book A New Kind of Christianity is getting lots of reaction. That was certainly his goal.
I WISH that Mark Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith￼ would get as much attention. The whole postmodern cultural shift discussion that McLaren and the emerging folks want to lead is so insular and so Western — while so much of what is shaping the church in 2010 is so global. [emphasis added]
Jordon's point and perhaps Brad's is that we bloggers are getting played by, at the very least, the publishers and in some cases, the book authors. HarperOne (ANKoChristianity's publisher) doesn't care whether I slam or sing the praises of Brian's book. In the market place of idea-based books, any PR is good PR. In fact, they probably love that I discuss Brian's book over and against McGrath's Heresy – another HarperOne book.
Their site trumpets, Booksneeze Gives (BOOKS) to Bloggers for Free. But that would be free ONLY from Thomas Nelson's perspective. Since they place ZERO value on the time of the Bloggers reading their books.
Let's have a bit of fun with math, kids, shall we.
We will use Brian's new book as an example even though it's not a Thomas Nelson book.
ANKoChristianity is 320 pages in total length (according to Amazon.) With the preface and main body text and excluding the endnotes, index, title page, etc, the book is about 260 pages. Average word count per page is around 350 – 400 words. We will use the lower number.
Now considering that the average reading speed for an American adult is in the 200 words per minute range, with Brian's book being approximately 90,000 words – it will take the average reader about 7.5 hours to finish the book. Basically, an average working day.
Now to get a book from Thomas Nelson, you need to promise to write a minimum 200 word review of that book and post it on your blog AND a consumer website (like Amazon). When you provide links to prove to Thomas Nelson you've done so – you get another "FREE" book.
Forgive me, but this is almost Pavlovian.
Let's say you only take 30 minutes to write your review – you've still spent 8 hours of your time on a book that publishers want you to help them market.
There is no way in the world that the real costs of the books publishers and their PR and Marketing Firms are shipping you cost more than 10 dollars including shipping (and I'm being very generous to the publishers with this figure).
Are you really willing to work for a publisher for a little over a dollar an hour?
Where I Stand on This
I remember being flattered when I was asked to join the Ooze Viral Bloggers a couple of years ago. Wow. My blog is important enough that they want to send me free books. (Gullible is my middle name.)
But the books really aren't free folks.
The expectation was that I'd read them and then write something about them – the unwritten contract. When a book Oozed it's way to me I would commit my time to reading it, shortly after it hit my doorstep – and at least say something about it. Even if the book was crap – which far too many were.
And human nature being what it is, most of us don't want to say bad things about "gifts" from anyone, even publishers – whether they're oozing or not. No doubt publishers are very aware of this basic reality of human nature. They aren't in the gift-giving business – they are in the book publishing business. As Jordon says, their bottom line is making a profit – and I do not begrudge them that.
I'm just not willing to work for them for free.
With much of this in mind, I opted out of the Ooze a year ago in terms of asking for books. (I officially asked not to receive anymore emails about the Ooze books in January.) I've never opted in to Booksneeze and won't.
With shipping and taxes, I paid just under $28CDN for McLaren's new book. I chose to spend the time I did reading the book and critiquing it – not feeling like I was beholden to the marketing efforts of the OozeTV team & Mike Morrell, HarperOne or anyone else. (BTW Mike, though I'm sure you really do like Brian's book, when you comment on people's blogs about said book, it would be good if you noted you were paid for your efforts in the Ooze viral marketing campaign for it. There probably are one or two people who don't actually know that and it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.)
I still receive the occasional email offering to send me a book. Some I accept – but with no promise to review the book one way or the other. And I mention in the review that the book was provided for free – even though there is no law in Canada to force me to do that.
But to my fellow bloggers.
Your time really is worth something.
If publishers want you to join them in their efforts to market their books – it's only fair they pay you – and that you tell us you are being paid to read and review their books.
They can ACTUALLY send you free books – without stipulating anything.
If the books you receive really are great, you might just write something about them.
(And can people please go read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This old school marketing stuff is getting old.)