To pay or not to pay — for reviews that is

Last week’s post about the Fifty Shades of Grey books and the success they’ve had sort of rolls right into at least part of today’s post. As I pointed out last week, I’m firmly convinced one of the main reasons those books have had the success they have is because of the push they received. Part of that push came from reviews. And that is the main focus of today’s post.

First of all, I want to give a hat-tip to Taylor Lunsford for pointing me to this article. She’d seen references to it on twitter and wanted to know if I’d seen it.

Book reviews have been around for as long as there have been books. I can remember when they made up a large part of the Arts section of the Sunday paper. The New York Times Book Review used to be the size of a daily newspaper. Libraries and schools, as well as bookstores, rely on Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for reviews to determine what books to buy. Reviews from bloggers and readers have become the life’s blood for indie authors and small presses. So it really is no surprise that someone came up with a system to get these same indie authors to pay for reviews to get them better placement on Amazon and other online stores.

What gets me is how everyone seems so up in arms about this, acting as if this hasn’t been the norm for publishing for years. Paid reviews have been around just about as long as reviews have been. Sure there are free reviews and reviewers out there. But to get into Kirkus, etc., do you really think they just pluck books out of the air to review? Not if you’re an indie. Here is a link to the pertinent page from the Kirkus site. It costs $425 for a review (more if you want to fast track it) of 250 – 350 words. Oh, note that once the review is ready, you’ll be notified and can preview it. At that time, you can decide whether to “keep it private” or put it up on the Kirkus website. If you choose to put it up, “we will also distribute it to our licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more. On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.”

Publishers Weekly, which you’d think would recognize the growing importance of the indie movement in e-books, allows for quarterly reviews of indie books in a special publication call PW Select. To be considered for inclusion in this quarterly publication, you first have to register. For the standard PW Select, your upfront money is $149. If you want the PW Select Plus (which includes Vook), it is $199. the difference? The second option is designed to get you to publish through PW’s Vook platform. So they are getting you coming and going. Not only are they having you pay for the possibility of having your book reviewed in their QUARTERLY supplement the focuses only on indie books, but they are also trying to get you to pay to publish through their VOOK line. And, unlike Kirkus that will do the review and let you choose if you want it to go public or not, your money does NOT guarantee a review with PW.

And yet folks were up in arms to find out that someone was making it easier for indies to game the system that legacy publishers have been gaming for years. Do I agree with everything Todd Rutherford was doing? No. But then I don’t particularly agree with paid reviews. But for folks to act like this hasn’t been going on for, well, ever, blows me away.

The reality of the situation is that books, whether they are published through the traditional route or indie published, need reviews. Reviews are the word of mouth means of promoting our books. The percentage of readers who post reviews is abysmal. So it is no surprise there are enterprising folks out there selling their services as reviewers. It is nothing new. I repeat: it is nothing new. But this outrage just shows the double standard that still exists between indie/small press and traditional publishing. Maybe I’d take the outrage more seriously if it included condemning the old standards for charging for their reviews as well.

Of course, many of those condemning Rutherford and those like him also point to the Bowker report about the price of e-books not rising under the agency pricing model as evidence the Department of Justice is wrong in claiming prices will rise under the agency model. As noted before, the Bowker report doesn’t take into account the fact that there was a larger proportion of indie/small press e-books published during the reporting period than there were e-books published by those named in the DoJ’s price fixing suit. Nor does it note that these e0-books are traditionally priced lower than legacy published e-books. Guess what, guys, if you have more books published by authors and publishers not following the agency model and their prices are lower than agency model e-books — often substantially lower — e-books prices will appear to be lower overall. It’s math, so simple even I can do it.

Finally, I can’t close out today without a warning for authors. If you have a beef with your editor or publisher and don’t want it to get back to them, don’t talk about it on your blog. I woke up this morning to the sight of a so-called fan of several authors I happen to like and admire reporting back to their editor/publisher on that publisher’s site what the authors had said in their blogs. Even though this so-called fan didn’t name the authors, enough information was given, including a direct quote from one, that a simple google search would turn up the names without any trouble. In this case, the authors were complaining, rightly so, about slow payments and other issues that are rife throughout the industry right now. But what this so-called fan didn’t think about was the trouble they could be causing these authors. Sure, the authors ought to be thinking long and hard about what they put online because this is what happens.

As for the so-called fan who reported all this back to the publisher, they might not have thought about what sort of trouble they could be causing for the authors. Or maybe they were just upset with comments from other posters on the site who weren’t appreciative of their earlier comments and this was an attempt to prove up what they’d been saying. Either way, harm may have been done to the authors and, honestly, to the editor/publisher because this so-called fan doesn’t know the whole story.

Okay, guess I’m crankier than I thought. Time to stagger off to find more coffee.

5 thoughts on “To pay or not to pay — for reviews that is

  1. I’m surprised that anyone is surprised about people paying for reviews, since they are as much a form of advertising as of literary criticism.

    As for the blog comments, the Internet is forever and whatever you type on a blog or website, or post on a video site, can be used against you, be it by former friends, snippy in-laws, potential employers, or what-have-you. I learned that the hard way.

  2. I think the majority of the umbrage has come from self-published indies (as I will be myself soon, I should mention) who may or may not be surprised that authors have been buying reviews for years – and couldn’t give a damn either way.
    ‘Libraries and schools, as well as bookstores, rely on Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for reviews to determine what books to buy.’ I believe you 🙂 But the vast majority of self-pubbers are selling primarily via Amazon. They might have a POD paperback available too, but that probably isn’t getting into a library or your local B&N any time soon.
    So what they care about isn’t the practice in general, it’s the practice of buying _Amazon_ reviews. Vast tracts of anecdotal evidence confirms how fickle and sensitive Amazon’s popularity-determining algorithms are, and what a difference being further down a list of search results can mean to sales.
    My two cents 🙂 Thanks for the post.

    P.S. Oh yeah – don’t bitch about people you work with on your blog. Sage advice, which I’m surprised anyone capable of writing a novel and creating a blog would need! 🙂

    1. Er… we writers tend to be you know… like the guy in Independence Day “As you can tell, they don’t let us out much.” — actually the only time I bitched was either about houses I’m no longer working with and even then… well, I might yet post the statements. THAT would be fun. I have accountants who read them. Oh, boy, would THAT be fun. But only if negotiations fail. Right now, let’s just say two of my houses have sent me er… alternate math statements. We’ll leave it at that. The only other time was when I explained why I left my agency, and I thought I was more than fair. Now, when the agent came in and started going nuts on the comment thread — er… that’s something else again.

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