Getting Free Books From Publishers – What’s Your Opinion?

Bookish Discussions

(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.

And yet…

Consider these sites that offer free books “in exchange” for reviews:

Library Thing

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!

goodreads banner

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:

“Dear Tammy,

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.)

Blogging for Books

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:


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Posted July 18, 2014 by Tammy in Bookish Discussions / 35 Comments


35 responses to “Getting Free Books From Publishers – What’s Your Opinion?

  1. This is a great topic! I feel like my reply could easily become long enough to be an entire new post! So. Here’s my thing. I review books to help authors, publishers and readers, not just to get free books. I only request physical books I know for sure I would read to completion and review. I would imagine theres more overhead and cost involved, so I don’t want to waste publishers money/resources and not read/review the book. Honestly, I have only requested a physical ARC twice, I tend to stick to eARCs if at all possible and tend to be slightly freer in my requests. But for eARCs, I have also gotten much more selective. Partially because this is almost my sole source of ARCs, so I want to remain in good standing. I also realize, the books I request on a whim I’m less likely to get around to reading.

    As to what side am I on? We are not obligated to review the books. Plain and simple. But they are also not obligated to send us more. It makes sense to me that they stop sending books meant to be reviewed to bloggers that are not actually providing reviews. Keep in mind, there are always going to be some books that don’t work out, they expect that. But to look at overall trends makes sense. They have to draw the line somewhere, they can’t just send free books to anyone who thinks they *might* read it. I don’t mean that as criticism to bloggers, I understand not all books are always a fit. But I understand the disclaimers they put on it.

  2. Excellent discussion post! Out of curiosity, do you know what the Amazon Vine (their early reviewer program) rules are for their early copies? I think it’s also something like you can only request like 3 products (because they can be things other than books) at a time and no more until you submit reviews. Can’t confirm, but if that’s true then it falls similarly into categories of the websites/programs above. I also wonder if more pubs are getting into Netgalley/Blogging for Books programs because there is more control and a better record of statistics for books reviewed to books requested ratio.
    Anyway, I’m firmly in the camp that if you request something, you review it – even if it’s a DNF and it’s a short message saying “I just can’t finish this and this why.” Something, anything, to the publisher saying that you have read or at least attempted to read it. I may fall behind on review books sometimes, but I always look at the entire pile as “definitely to-read”, even if the book review may take up to a month or two in coming. This is why I’m definitely a lot more picky at the moment, and have curtailed my requests by A LOT, especially since it’s summer and I’m busier and that to-be-reviewed pile isn’t getting any smaller and making me nervous! I’m also super paranoid about my NetGalley stats. I’ve definitely always tried to keep my ratio above the suggested number and even though it’s harder to tell for physical books, I try to keep that rough percentage with the print ARCs I request as well (about 80% feedback to request ratio)! I figure it’s a pretty good baseline.

    • I don’t know anything about Amazon Vine, but I suspect they are pretty strict with how they distribute books. Congrats on keeping a good ratio! Obviously, I have some work to do on mine, and it doesn’t help that I’m working full time now. My reading time has been seriously cut back. But I appreciate every book I get as well, and I feel it’s only polite to “pay back” publishers with a review, even if it’s only a brief one.

  3. I Love Blogging for books as well, I recently read and Reviewed Save yourself from Kelly Braffet and I posted a review let the site no I posted one and they sent me an email letting me know I could pick out another book! It was great 🙂 Booklook bloggers is another one like that, I don’t request as many from them, but there have been a few I’ve requested. Their policy is much like blogging for books

    • I’ve never heard of Booklook Bloggers but I’m going to check it out. As I said before, I love that Blogging for Books has that policy, because it keeps your pile from getting out of control:-)

  4. This is a fantastic discussion Tammy, as bloggers and reviewers I think we definitely have the obligation to review books that we requested, because publishers wouldn’t have sent them to us in the first place. I make every effort to give every book that I review a fair shot and to submit it on whatever platform I received it from. But those unsolicited copies I don’t think it’s as important.

    • Everyone who has taken the poll so far seems to feel the same way, I guess the bloggers who have different opinions are reading this post, LOL!

  5. I always feel obligated if I’ve requested them. I frequently receive books from Hodder that I haven’t requested, and I don’t feel as much pressure to review them – but they’ve sent me some great titles so I have anyway. But it’s nice to know I can always put them to one side if I feel I have to review the Netgalley stuff first. Netgalley stresses me out – I also got that email, just as I thought I was doing well with catching up D:

  6. I consider the book as the payment. As you said, it does cost the publisher to make the ARCs. If you request a book, you should review it, even if you didn’t like it, they are after an honest opinion after all. Here in Australia the publishers expect you to review it if you have requested it, but if it is unsolicited, they hope you will, but it is up to you whether you review it or not.
    And how hard is it to win off Goodreads! I won nothing for the longest time, then 3 in a row, and now nothing, even though I reviewed all three books.
    Great discussion, it was good to hear you thoughts.

  7. I’m very much in the – if you request the book, you review the book camp. Though I have no qualms about letting a publisher know that I tried it, and it didn’t work for me so I didn’t continue to finish it. In this causes I assume they are probably glad because then the review would most likely be a negative one.

    It’s why I find I have more positive reviews lately then negative because I allow myself to DNF where as previously before book blogging I used to be a “I’m gonna finish no matter what” type of person – and was still for the first year – but more and more now I’m learning to let some go.

    I agree with all of the sites like GR, NG and BFB – they do expect you to review the books thats usually why you’re being given them to help spread the word about the book via a review.

    Funny that we both did a topic on this so close together!! lol

  8. I think I’m on the side of ‘if you request a book, you should review it’ unless you couldn’t finish it – and even then I let the publisher know I tried. I guess it’s only fair if you review the book they sent to you, because they also could have sent it to someone else. It costs them money, so the least you could do is give the book attention 🙂 I must admit that I’m a bit easier when it comes to ebooks, but my Netgalley and Edelweiss are pretty up-to-date.

  9. I think it’s great that you’re giving Blogging for Books a chance-so many bloggers are in an uproar about this program, but I really like how it’s set up. Right now I only read library books and don’t participate in any ARC program, but I was actually thinking about signing up to the blogging for books program 🙂

  10. I think the one thing I’ve learned since starting this journey is trying not to bite off more than I can chew. If I see a book I’ve been interested in and it goes up in the great beyond of lotteries, I’ll certainly apply. I’m also more likely to review it quicker if I really wanted the book in the first place.

  11. This is a difficult topic, since I can see both sides and want to be fair to all parties – including myself. Here’s what I think:

    I definitely don’t like to feel obligated to review books, whether I request them directly from a publisher or the publisher (or author) approaches me personally. If I accept a book for review, it’s going into a very long queue, and I usually tell people that to prevent them from harassing me. As you noted, book bloggers do this for free, and harassment should not be part of the deal no matter what. I previously wrote reviews professionally and eventually quit because I was so burnt out on reading bad books and feeling so negative about something that used to bring me such joy. So now my policy is only to review books I have enjoyed and to report the rest as DNFs, unless there is some requirement to turn in a review (as with the Blogging for Books program you mentioned). I’m participating in more book tours for fellow authors in my genre, so if I can’t write something positive there, I will try to opt for publishing an author interview, guest post or blurb from the book instead.

    Unfortunately, I find that most circumstances where reviews are required end in a negative review from me. I don’t like to be pressured to finish books I’m not enjoying, nor do I like feeling that I have to say something complimentary just because someone gave me a free book. I have TONS of free books in my house and on my Kindle. Are they all great? HELL NO. This is why it’s important to find out what a reviewer reads and enjoys before you try to send her a book. Hey, even when I pick books for myself, there can be duds. It happens.

    I really don’t like writing negative reviews, especially because I’m an author myself and I know how it feels to be on the receiving end. But I also think it’s a reviewer’s responsibility to alert readers to discrepancies between a book’s promising, wonderful blurb and a disappointing reading experience – and that goes for both indie and traditionally published books. I will try my best to point out any positives along with the negatives, but sometimes it just can’t be done. My real obligation as a reviewer is to be true to myself and my own opinions.

    In the end, I love reading, but if a book doesn’t thrill me, I’m not going to finish it. Life is simply too short, and my To Be Read pile is simply too long!

  12. Reblogged this on Printed Reads and commented:
    Fora long time I have been looking for ways to receive free books to review. Having to buy every book you want to do on a review on can get a bit pricey. Thankfully publishers have found a way to feed our love of books in exchange for an honest review! I love it!!

  13. Great post!

    If I am approved for a book from a review site like NetGalley, I treat it as an obligation to review it. And while, at any given time, I may have several unreviewed books on my shelf, they will all be reviewed eventually. The challenge comes when I pick a loser. Even if I can finish it, I do not post a review on my blog. The purpose of my blog is to share good books! But, in the spirit of why I became a NetGalley member, I do post at least a short review on NetGalley, and occasionally Goodreads and Amazon, depending on how much I did not like it.

    If I win a book in a giveaway, for example at Goodreads, I do not feel obligated to review, though I usually do, when I get around to reading it. Those books take a back seat to the books I have agreed to review. And yes, ‘giveaway’ is exactly what Goodreads call it. If reviews were required, ‘exchange’ would be a far better word.

  14. Carol

    I really liked this article I am on your side with the reviewing concept I don’t understand why someone would refuse to review a book when the author publisher or website gave them the book for free it’s a nice gesture to show appreciation and spread the word by review I love to review books it just turns more people into readers and it’s a great way to see if you want to read the book or not . Great article 🙂