(Note: all quotes in this post are taken from the sites listed below, and are direct quotes. They have not been altered in any way. Quotes are included in this post as information to support this discussion, and do not reflect my personal opinions on this subject.)
There have been lots of discussion posts floating around the blogosphere lately about what publishers expect from bloggers when they send out ARCs (this and this) and what bloggers feel is their responsibility (or not) when they request ARCs. Everyone’s got an opinion, and with so many bloggers out there, you’re bound to see some of these opinions clashing. (And for purposes of simplicity and clarity, this discussion addresses ARCs that we as bloggers have specifically requested from publishers, not unsolicited books.)
I think we can all agree on a few points:
1. Bloggers don’t get paid for reviews, and therefore we aren’t legally obligated to provide reviews for publishers.
2. Publishers understand that not every ARC that is sent to a blogger will result in a review of said book.
Consider these sites that offer free books “in exchange” for reviews:
1. Library Thing. LT is a Goodreads-like book organizing social platform. LT has monthly giveaways of literally hundreds of ARCs of upcoming titles in all genres. Once you sign up you can enter the giveaways and LT will randomly select winners at the end of each month.
When explaining their LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, the first thing you see is:
“Early Reviewers distributes advance readers editions of upcoming books from select publishers, in exchange for reviews.”
They later go on to say:
“You are not legally obligated to review books you receive through LTER. But subsequent LTER dispersal decisions may take your number of reviewed and unreviewed books into account.”
What they are saying, and what I have experienced myself, is that if you win a book or two and you never post a review for those books on their site, your chances for winning future books diminish. Even if your name is randomly selected, they will look at your account history and check to see if you’d reviewed other books won, and if you haven’t, they may decide to pick someone else’s name instead. I missed a couple of reviews, but when I finally did read and review the books months later, I suddenly started winning a book almost every month. Lesson learned: if you win a book, read and review it in a timely manner if you want to continue winning books. And they do have some great ones every once in a while. I won Jay Kristoff’s Kinslayer last year!
2. Goodreads. Most of you are familiar with Goodreads “First Reads” giveaways, where publishers and authors offer up books for giveaway on the Goodreads site. Easy to enter, right? Not so easy to win, however. Here is what Goodreads Giveaway Terms & Conditions says:
“If more people are interested in a book than there are copies available, we will pick the winners at our discretion. The factors that go into our algorithm are: randomness, site activity, genre of books on your shelves, current phase of the moon, and more.”
“You are not required to review the book if you win a copy. However, we encourage you do to so, as it’s the reason the publishers are giving us free books in the first place. People who review the books are also more likely to win more advance copies in the future.”
So, they aren’t coming out and saying “You have to review the book,” but they are warning you that if you don’t, you may never win a book again.
3. NetGalley. Is there anyone out there who isn’t familiar with NetGalley? Oh so easy to click that “request” button, and even easier to click the “download now” button if you are preapproved with a publisher. And then those digital ARCs stack up, and stack up some more, and before you know it, your “pile” is out of control. But what do these sites really expect from bloggers?
NetGalley has a pesky little thing where they let you know your “review ratio,” and they aren’t afraid to make you feel bad if your ratio is really low. I recently received a nasty-gram email from NetGalley, reminding me that I wasn’t doing so well in the ratio department. Has anyone else received one of these? This email stated:
NetGalley regularly reaches out to members to help improve their NetGalley experience.
You are receiving this reminder because you have not yet shared Feedback for a large number of your Approved titles. Although NetGalley members are never required to share reviews or feedback, publishers rely on your feedback to understand how you recommend books.”
They go on to mention that:
“Publishers look at your Feedback stats when approving (or declining) requests, so they are more likely to approve future requests from you if they see that you’re actively sending feedback for titles you read via NetGalley.”
This is part of their “Wellness Challenge 2014.” According to this email, I am not well.
(Side note: I couldn’t find any kind of rules, official or unofficial, about bloggers submitting reviews on Edelweiss. Since Edelweiss is geared more towards book sellers and librarians, they don’t seem to be as concerned about what we bloggers are doing. If anyone has different information, please let me know.)
4. Blogging for Books. This fairly new program is attached to Crown Books, and promises “free books in exchange for a review.” In their site introduction, they state:
“Blogging for Books is brought to you by the friendly folks at The Crown Publishing Group. This program was designed for one purpose: Give out free books to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.
It’s a win/win really. Bloggers get free books (who doesn’t love a free book!) and The Crown Publishing Group gets bloggers talking about our books (we love it when people buzz about our books!).”
Blogging for Books clearly states that they are happy to send you a free book of your choice (from the titles available), but they will not send you another book until you have posted a review for the first book on their site. From their handy FAQ:
Q: Can I sign up for more than one review copy at a time?
A: No. You can only request one book for review at a time.
Now, call me crazy, but I quite like this rule. This means I can get a book for free, one I’ve been dying to read, so I want to read it, right? I want to read it, I request it, I get it, I read it. That’s the system. It’s pretty simple. Why would I request a book if I don’t want to read it? And I’m a book blogger, and part of my blog is writing reviews. So writing a review of the book I requested is not such a big deal. I write the review, I post it, I let them know, and I request another book. There is no other “approval” process, other than the fact that you have fulfilled your requirement of reviewing the first book. You don’t have to wait for the publisher to approve you.
Blogging for Books also connects you to Klout, and depending on how high your Klout score is, you may get a bigger selection of books to choose from.
What I like about Blogging for Books is that they seem to be openly honest about what they expect from bloggers. I recently received my first book from BFB (The Martin by Andy Weir), and I’m interested to see how the system works. I’ll let you know!
In conclusion, all of these sites have stipulations about posting reviews for the “free” books they hand out to bloggers. It is my opinion that as bloggers we fall into one of two categories:
a. Those bloggers who feel an obligation to read and review the books that publishers send them, and try their best to do so, or
b. Those bloggers who feel it is their right to refuse to review any book, even if it’s something he/she requested, because we don’t get paid to blog.
Which side are you on? Both sides certainly have valid opinions. I personally fall on the side of feeling an obligation to authors and publishers, because otherwise, why request books in the first place? Looking at this from the standpoint of the publisher, who has to pay for printing ARCs and mailing them out to bloggers, wouldn’t you want to “get” something out of that? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments, and I hope you’ll take my poll as well: