I got a request a couple of weeks ago from a company to see if I wanted to review a business book. I get a lot of these as my email address seems to have gotten out on some public relations circles. Usually, the pitch goes something like:
PR Person: Would you like a copy of [Insert Writer X]'s [Insert Book Title]?
Me: Sure, but I must warn you, I get a lot of books and have little time to read between a full-time job, this blog, and other side projects.
PR Person: It's okay, we'll ship you out a book and if you get to it, you get to it.
They are almost always happy to send out the book. They figure that if they get 100 potential maybes, it's worth it. Anyone who subscribes to Paperback Swap knows that media mail is fairly cheap and the physical cost of the book is cheap. If a few influencers write about the book it is likely to generate more sales and thus be more successful. (I feel like Malcolm Gladwell in the Tipping Point)
The request, I got recently was a little different. It was still a request if I wanted a book. However, the company wanted me to read it and review it within a certain time in a "book tour" with other bloggers. Out of curiosity I decided to visit this company's website as they didn't seem to be the usual PR folk. The company had a "Services" tab, which always draws my attention. This is where I learned that this company is basically the middle man between the author and bloggers. They charge authors around $40-45 (depending on bulk pricing) to get bloggers to review their books.
This left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. However, before I go down that road, I will lift a curtain and let you see a little behind the scenes at Lazy Man and Money. I get dozens of requests a day and it's not possible for me to service them all. When that happens, one of the first things you get really good at is asking two questions 1) "What's in it for me and my readers?" and 2) "How much time/effort is this going to take from me?" If it's giving away tax software to readers, that benefits you and indirectly benefits me (hopefully you become slightly more engaged or loyal readers and spread the word of how you won terrific tax software from this awesome blog). It's also easy to give away tax software. It's difficult for me to review books. It will often take me 8-10 hours to read a book and then another couple of hours to write the review. In those 10-12 hours, I can write about 7-8 posts. Unless it's a book that I'm really excited about reading such as The 4-Hour Workweek and Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw, it's not a really efficient use of my time and doesn't (IMO) maximize value of the content for the reader. You, the reader, get one post on a book that you may or may not like, versus 7-8 posts on other topics that you may or may not like... at the odds are more likely you'll find something useful in those posts.
So back to the bad taste in my mouth. I see what's in it for the author (more promotion). I see what in it for the company organizing the bloggers. They get paid for their time and effort. However, at the end of the day, the product provided is the blogger review... so isn't it natural to ask what's in it for the blogger? It seems to me like there should be. I posed this question back to company organizing the bloggers.
Their take was that they can't offer to pay bloggers, because then their reviews would be likely be biased and thus not honest. That seemed to be a very reasonable explanation. For instance, if you knew that an author paid for a review in a book review column in the NY Times wouldn't that cloud your judgment a bit? I think it might cloud mine.
I've gone back and forth on this a few times. If I was watching Siskel and Ebert (assumes I have access to a working time machine), I would have expected that they aren't paid by the movies themselves for their movie reviews. I think there's a difference between my website and Siskel and Ebert. (Well, there are a pile of difference, but one important, relevant one). If Siskel and Ebert weren't reviewing movies they'd have no sponsorships and no show, right? No one seems to care if I don't do book reviews. I still tend to get advertisements and have content (at least at times) for the "show."
So I went back and thought about it some more. Here was the workable solution I proposed... knowing full well that it wasn't going to happen as it's against the public relations' business model. I suggested that they paid bloggers a reasonable fee for their time to read to the book... not for a positive review. Any blogger looking to attract an audience is not generally selling their opinion for a reasonable price anyway. Bloggers would have to disclose that they've been paid for their time to read to the book. I figured this payment is a bit like bumping the book to top of my priority list. If you don't want to pay it, then you are free to give me the book anyway, but I make no promises on where it will fall with the dozens of other books that I received last year (which again fall after the books that I actually WANT to read).
As expected the company balked at that proposal and simply said that there are hundreds of other bloggers that would be happy to review it if I didn't want to. That kind of response seemed a little Grapes of Wrath-like, but it was truthful. With probably more than 100 active personal finance blogs out there, there should be no problems in finding 10 or 15 that will accept the terms.
So I ask the readers... what do you think? Was my proposal fair... on a scale 1 (completely off-base) to 10 (dead-on) where would you rank it?
21 Responses to “Ask the Readers: What’s Your Take on Paid Book Reviews?”
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