There are times when I read things on the net or in newspapers and I just know, straight away, that I had better not post anything about it for a few days. You know the line "Never drive when angry"? The same thing applies to writing for the internet. Once written and posted it never disappears. Far better to walk away and let it lie.
And sometimes a piece just sets up a slow burn that doesn't seem to fade.
In her "Overflow" column in "The Australian" over this past weekend, Rosemary Sorenson made a number of points regarding book reviewing and the blogging world, none of them complimentary.
Sorenson's main point is the following: "It turns out many publishers solicit reviews from bloggers by sending them free books, who then write effusive reviews about them. 'Viral marketing', the kind some bloggers help along so willingly, is not so innocent after all." This note has, I presume, arisen because some authorities in the US have decided that there appears to be a sort of "cash-for-comment" (or in this case "book-for-comment") situation with some US-based literary weblogs. The contention being that publishers will send books to weblogs with the expectation that a favourable review will be written. The implication is that this is a form of "viral marketing" that weblogs have been party to, but which they haven't divulged until now. Just think of the Sydney radio jocks, in the early part of this decade, making favourable comments about certain financial and telecommuncations companies that they had previously criticised, adversely.
The point might be made that Sorenson is only talking about US weblogs and has made no implication about Australian versions. You can argue that all you like, but I don't think the writer's intention was to be country-specific.
The trouble with this sort of argument is that it's almost impossible to dispute. Whatever I say will be taken as an attempt by me to portray myself in a favourable light and therefore suspect: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". Well, "old fart", anyway.
So, herewith a summary of some relevant points I have made on this weblog in the past, and which I think are worth repeating:
1. Publishers send books to weblogs such as this for publicity purposes - just as they do with any media outlet: newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc, etc. The idea behind this, I guess, is that any mention, anywhere, is a good thing. They request a copy of the review, which seems only fair. I've never had a note from a publisher implying that anything will follow from a favourable or a non-favourable review.
2. Weblogs provide an additional review source for these publishers. Not a replacement, not better, just an alternative.
3. Have I been approached to "publicise" a book for a publisher on this weblog? Yes. Has the expectation been that I only say favourable things about it? Probably, but as I refused the invitation I don't really know.
4. Do I accept advertising? No. I've been asked a number of times, but I'm not interested. This is a hobby not a commercial proposition. Some webloggers feel the need to ensure their venture is profitable, or at least revenue-neutral. That's up to them.
5. Has anyone attempted to "buy" this weblog? Well, I'm not sure about "buy", as no mention of money or anything else was mentioned. I declined the offer before it got any further than the initial approach. This is a hobby - see note 4 above.
6. If I write an effusive review of a book it's because I really liked it. I don't write hatchet jobs. It costs a lot to get a book published, in time, money, effort and emotion. If a group of people consider that a book has enough going for it to ensure it gets in front of readers then I'm not going to dismiss all of that work as meaningless. It's the job of a reviewer to find the worth in a book as well as to warn against the shortcomings.
There is probably more, but that's enough. Readers have to read book reviews with a critical eye, the same way they should read the books themselves. I identify whether or not the book under review is a "review copy", and has therefore been supplied by a publisher, or is a "private purchase". After that it's up to you.