Bloggers Need to Invoice Publishers for Their Marketing Efforts on Publishers’ Behalf

kinnon —  February 19, 2010 — 12 Comments

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]

Brad Boydston, the king of great random links, wrote this last night,

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.

Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson CEO sings the praises of his company's Book Sneeze program. He's got all kinds of bloggers who've signed up to be "sneezers" for Thomas Nelson.

BookSneeze---Bloggers-get-free-books-in-exchange-for-a-review.jpg

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.

MathSymbols3D.jpg

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.

BookSneeze---Bloggers-get-free-books-in-exchange-for-a-review-1.jpg

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.

Or.

They can ACTUALLY send you free bookswithout 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.)

kinnon

Posts

A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

12 responses to Bloggers Need to Invoice Publishers for Their Marketing Efforts on Publishers’ Behalf

  1. Don’t disagree, but at least with the Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program, I choose which books I want or none at all. In my case, I only pick books that I intend to purchase, so I’m out just the time it takes to put together the review.

  2. I’ve been reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. I paid for it, by the way! He makes the point that Microsoft Encarta employed huge amounts of people, in contrast to Wikipedia which paid nobody. And yet it was Wikipedia that prevailed.

    I think it’s the same in this case. The motivation is probably something other than money.

    I do like your idea of accepting books with no promise to review them – although if someone never reviews books, they would probably lose the privilege.

    Good post. You’re making me think.

  3. Once I started getting books for free, I stopped getting books at the bookstore. What was once a passion turned into a chore. Books I felt strongly about went by the wayside as my time was consumed with books by the particular publishers with whom I was signed up. And blogging culture being what it is, the free copies by the authors I really, really want to read are snapped up within 30 minutes of being offered online. Frustrated, I’m now simply doing fewer book reviews than ever.

    What is wrong with this picture?

  4. This is why I appreciate some of the publishers out there. IVPress, for example, does not pay me to review their books, but I get to decide which ones I read & review. They openly hope that I will review the books, there is no stipulation that it will be positive or even that I MUST review every book I receive. For me, that has been a fair trade.

    Another publisher has approached me to help get the buzz out about one of their new books. They have even offered to pay me for the work I will be doing, which is exactly as you suggest they should. Here’s the rub: if I disclose that I am being paid to promote a certain book, it makes my review instantly suspect to many readers. Even though I asked for the privilege to review the book and even though their reasoning for paying what they do was in part because they believe in my ministry, people have said that it colours their reception to my review. I would really like to hear your thoughts on that, Bill, as it is a tension.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  5. Jamie,
    I agree that IVPress is particularly impressive. I've enjoyed dealing with them – and IV is a ministry at its heart.

    As to being paid, ff you are going to help someone market their books then I really don't think you have any option but to be straight about it. Your reputation is worth much more than a little cash.

    That being said, I think you can frame it in how you got involved with them, you liked what you saw and when they asked you to use your communication skills to help them – you agreed – and they are paying you to help them get behind the book.

    You don't ever want anyone to come back at you in the future and say you were writing positive reviews simply because you were being paid. That's called PR – and that's not the biz you are in, bro. (As you are not in a biz at all.)

    Hope that helps.

    Anyone else?

  6. Do they stipulate anything about the quality or accuracy of the review? I mean in theory could someone post a review of, say, McLaren’s new book that just talks about how disappointing it is that there is not enough material on 19th Century accordion construction and that the final battle scene between the sasquatch and the yeti seemed unrealistic. I mean you would still mention the book and claim it was review, it would just be a comically useless review.

  7. Dan,
    I resent you making fun of “19th Century accordion construction and that the final battle scene between the sasquatch and the yeti (seeming) unrealistic“. I’m sure the competition with their book on “Jar Jar Binks and 14th Century Apocalyptic Literature” sent you over here to cause trouble.

    (Your comment almost caused me to snort coffee out my nose. Too funny.)

  8. Darryl,
    I’m quite willing to have any publisher send me a book they think I might like – which assumes they’ve actually read my blog to ascertain what I’m about. They need to win my attention just as much as the attention of potential purchasers. But to provide me with their product (which costs them next to nothing as the books are written off as marketing materials) with an expectation that we have entered into a contract for me to promote (whether positively or negatively) is bizarre.

  9. I agree, but want to add alongside the celebration of IVP, the suggestion that all books from small Quaker publishers based in the Pacific Northwest should get as much coverage as humanly possible by all and sundry.

  10. I completely agree, Bill. Disclosure was always going to happen. It was framing it in a way that wouldn’t weaken a very real endorsement. Thanks!

    Peace,
    Jamie

  11. It’s interesting to read about the various lines that different PR firms and publishers make on this issue. My publisher just gave my book out to bloggers and one guy posted a review without even reading it, while others read it and offered solid critique.

    My take on blog reviews is they have a limited amount of value. They don’t replace book tours. I tried it. It doesn’t work. Authors need to get out there and talk about their books. Lesson learned.

    As to blog tours, I think there’s something of value to getting a book for free that you would otherwise read, but once conditions are added the whole review becomes murky. I ran my own blog tour by myself and gave readers complete freedom to disagree with me. In fact, those are some of the most valuable reviews in my eyes. I wonder if an author’s personal touch removes the corporate/PR feel or if it adds a personal layer that may make bloggers less willing to say something negative?

    I’m personally considering moving away from reviews and hosting interviews with authors on my blog. That removes some of the drawbacks of a review. I don’t have to read the book if I don’t want to, I don’t have to feel bad about giving a bad review, and I don’t have to worry about tarnishing my credibility. Unfortunately I have 2-3 books left in the ole’ review pile…

  12. Hi Bill,

    I appreciate your feedback here. The difficulty that you noted with the first incarnation of our blogger review community – “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” – is why we changed the way it worked in March 2009. Before last Spring, we simply didn’t have the technological capacity to enable bloggers to select exactly what they want, and no more. I had to rely on my instincts of what I thought given bloggers would enjoy reading. I was right much of the time, but I was also wrong – some books bored some bloggers. And you’re right: It sucks to feel obligated to review a book you feel ‘meh’ about.

    Enter ViralBloggers.com – now you only select books that you think you’ll be interested in. But you’re right again, with the greater power of choice (to quote young Peter Parker’s uncle Ben) comes greater responsibility – publishers want you to review books you hand-select. While it would be nice to clue(train) ‘em in that no-strings-attached would actually make them seem cooler, it’s simply not possible in the current technological climate. There are too many hard materials costs involved in printing, shipping, administrating, analytics, etc., for publishers to be that hands-off. However, I do have hope that in a year or two, once e-readers are a bit more ubiquitous, that we’ll be able to run more open-ended campaigns with far larger quantities of digital editions. We’re constantly learning.

    As for me writing some spirited McLaren defense posts, I know what you mean. That’s why I usually don’t blog about books I’m running campaigns for (even though by definition the books we accept are ones that we find interesting – so sorry that you found an intolerable amount to be ‘crap’) – no one wants to come across as a corporate shill.

    Even so, I took a calculated risk in voicing my personal feelings, and I did those posts totally ‘off the clock.’ This campaign will last three months max, whereas my friendship with Brian and appreciation of his ideas has ran eight years now. The latter certainly trumps my ‘business’ responsibilities.

    But I will say two things about this: First, TheOOZE makes no attempt to manage the tenor of reviews; Daryl Dash (f’r instance) is a Viral Blogger and has written a scathing blog review – which is the first review you see on Amazon! And that’s totally his right. Secondly, as I have time I’ll delve into the substance of my actual engagement with the book – my initial posts were simply responses to what I felt were the overly acerbic, pointedly-personal attacks on Brian rather than critiques of the substance of the book. I do indeed have some constructive criticism for the ideas presented, three points in particular which I preview here.

    And that’s all I gotta say about that.

What do you think?