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The Christian Book Whore

Bill picks up on my post about bloggers whoring themselves out to the publishers for free books and other products.  First of all, the price is quite small, EA once sent my brother to San Francisco for the launch of Battlefield 2 and game home with a bag full of schwag and more free games than he knew what to do with (his really cool older brother took some off his hands) so he could cover it for a gaming site.

Book Sneeze Bill brings up the idea that we are doing this for free and he’s right but what struck me is the damage we do to our own reputations when we allow ourselves to be bought off by free products.  It’s one of the reasons why I posted a disclosure statement as part of my weblog.  It let’s people know where I am coming from and why I do what I do.  It also allows me to communicate my associations and conflicts of interest.  One of the nice things about TheOoze Viral Blogger and Book Sneeze buttons is that it allows me to see right away that the writer has sold out.

This isn’t the same for all of you but there is a price to be paid for being independent, for the views you have being your views and for your voice being your voice.  It’s also why journalists (should) never accept free gifts, trips, or anything else that influences their stories or coverage of events.  You can see it the coverage of Tiger Woods by the golf media.  Many of them knew something was up but because their livelihood was linked to access to Tiger, they never ran with it.  It was the National Enquirer that broke the story because their bottom line wasn’t dependent at all on Tiger’s career (sadly though it was by his sex life).

Of course many church bloggers gave up that independence years ago (twice this week friends said to me “I agree with theologically but I don’t dare say that in my church”) as it is part of many of your spiritual journeys.  By prescribing to church doctrine and practices you don’t agree with in exchange for a paycheck probably makes giving favorable reviews for free books quite palatable.

The other thing is that with most credible news organizations not run by Rupert Murdoch, there is a large degree of journalistic independence that is completely separate from the business side of the organization.  With bloggers there are not normally is not a wall between your editorial and marketing sides (which is why Google, The Deck, and Federated Media help). 

If you are reading this, you know I am not a journalist.  This site has the reach of a fraction of what even a small daily paper does.  At the same time you mean something to me.  Much to the detriment of my savings account, my independence means something to me.  I don’t know how to measure how much you mean to me but you mean enough that I won’t be bought with free stuff here.  There is no pay to play.  It’s the same reason why I don’t have advertising here.  If that changes, I promise you, you will be the first to know.

20 Comments

  1. Darryl says:

    I think you may have just called me a whore! Good post though.

    I had to laugh when I read it in Google Reader. Check out what’s at the bottom of your post, just after “It’s the same reason why I don’t have advertising here.”
    http://twitpic.com/14glou

    1. Jordon says:

      Wow, I feel like an idiot. I spent the last 30 minutes looking at my Feedburner settings, blog settings, and trying to figure out how I had advertising on my site. After looking around, I went to Google Adsense and I saw that I signed up there and then it hit me.

      When I set up Jordon Cooper Outfitters, I wanted to test out ads there (there is a business plan for that site), and I couldn’t get Adsense to serve them up at all for a couple of days so I tested them on my site to see if the problem was mine or Google’s.

      I apparently forgot to delete it (although according to Google’s site, you can’t delete, you can only suspend). The ads should be gone now.

  2. Bill Kinnon says:

    Great post, Jordon. I’ll link to it at the top of mine.

    And the advertising pic from GR was definitely funny, Triple D.

  3. Mike Todd says:

    I love you brother but you’re missing the mark here. When I can post a negative reaction to a book my voice is my voice and my views are my views!

    Keep the faith.

    1. Jordon says:

      Mike, you know as well as I do when you get the books from the publishers, many of the letters do ask for a favorable review and when you send them a link to a bad review, it doesn’t generate a favorable response (although one p.r. person has sent me e-mails to review a “dog of a book” more than once which I find hilarious).

      1. Darryl says:

        I can’t remember getting a request for a favorable review. It would be hard to accept a book on those terms.

        1. Jordon Cooper says:

          I found four requests from publishing houses or P.R. people that use the phrase “favorable” linked to their review request All of them are unsolicited and none of them were read let alone reviewed.

          I am not saying that all firms ask for that (most do not) but I don’t think it’s an unheard of practice.

  4. Mike Todd says:

    I’m randomly in and out of three separate programs, and all three have expressly said the reviews don’t have to be positive. And if they did I’d drop them in a heart beat. I think you’re sweeping with a broad broom here and calling some good folks bad names.

    But, the Canadian curlers are doing well, so it’s still a good day. No worries.

    1. Jordon Cooper says:

      Like I replied to Dash, it isn’t always the programs (which are often directly tied to publishers) that are the problem, it’s often the P.R. firms that are the ones that have pestered me.

      Even if they are not asking for positive reviews, it is an arrangement where they provide something in exchange for something back and I think that does change things when it is not disclosed.

      Again, it’s the non disclosure that bothers me more than anything.

  5. Hi Jordan
    Intriguing POV, which totally if you have had PR people trying to butter you up to help them do their jobs than yeah, marketing whore for sure.

    But like Mike and Daryl, I’ve had only positive relationships with the publishers I’ve accepted or requested review copies from…and I am a damn good reviewer who won’t spin a review just to save a buck and get a book.

    Now if someone out there in Bloggy Land needs a Tropical Island Travel reviewer and will set up as long as I write a glowing review, dude, I have zero integrity on that one and will be writing the sweetheart review while I pack my swimsuit and snorkeling gear.

    The bottom line here is influence and messaging. How will we allow our blogging power, however modest (such as mine) may be, how will we shape it to make the blogosphere a better place? Providing honest, intelligent reviews of books (which is an idea a person has taken time to pen into thousands of words) is for sure a very concrete and simple way to do just that.

    1. Jordon says:

      Hi Pam, Well I am a horrible reviewer so maybe that is why I get pestered :-) I got one today promising me a prominent link on the publisher’s homepage if the review was favorable. I also would get some “exclusive” content as well. P.R. is P.R. and for me disclosure is the most important thing.

      1. Bill Kinnon says:

        My issue is still the expectation that if you send me a book, I will review it – because there is some “unwritten contract” that I have apparently entered into by either requesting a book to consider reviewing or saying yes to a request to check the book out.

        Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program is, in effect, a written contract. If you do a 200 word review, publish it on your blog and and a site like Amazon, send that info to Thomas Nelson, then you can get your next book.

        Now maybe I just need to create a boilerplate 200 word “this book is crap” review with spaces for the name of the book and it’s author – because, quite frankly, most of what I’ve been sent from Christian publishers is crap.

        But I’d really rather not play the game at all.

  6. Ed Cyzewski says:

    As someone who is about to post a somewhat negative review of a free book as part of a tour, I can relate to the tensions in this post. I have yet to run into the conditions layed out by publishers, but the book review side of things can get murky really fast.

    Once I wrap up my pile of books I’m looking to more toward interviewing authors on my blog. I’m still thinking through the details, but I tried it with an author and just let her talk about her ministry and her book and it seemed to avoid some of the pitfalls of becoming a “review whore.” Thanks for this. We need to keep talking about this issue.

  7. Ed Cyzewski says:

    As someone who is about to post a somewhat negative review of a free book as part of a tour, I can relate to the tensions in this post. I have yet to run into the conditions laid out by publishers, but the book review side of things can get murky really fast.

    Once I wrap up my pile of 2-3 books to review, I’m looking to move toward interviewing authors on my blog. I’m still thinking through the details, but I tried it with an author and let her talk about her ministry and her book and it seemed to avoid some of the pitfalls of becoming a “review whore.” Thanks for this. We need to keep talking about this issue.

  8. Mike Morrell says:

    Hi Jordon,

    I always appreciate your blogging voice & integrity. I believe you were once an OOZE network blogger & now aren’t (I think you didn’t opt-in to our ViralBloggers transition); if there’s any beef you have with TheOOZE or me personally I’d love it if we could talk – either here if it’s general or via email if it’s more personal. I addressed some of this over at Bill’s blog, so forgive me for being repetitive…

    Back when we started in early 2006 – with Spencer’s own A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity – we didn’t have the technological capacity we have today, to enable bloggers to select exactly which titles they want. I had to rely on my instincts of what I thought given bloggers would enjoy reading. I was right much of the time, but I was also wrong – some books bored some bloggers. And it sucks to feel obligated to review a book you feel ‘meh’ about.

    So anyway, back then we were virtually the only outside provider organizing blog tours. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday, Spencer, Jasmin (my wife) and I sitting at a Baja Fresh in Southern California. We had received great results from Spencer’s campaign, and we said “What if we could do this with a bunch of publishers? What if we could give the best faith bloggers access to some of the best authors and books out there? How many could we do? What would it take?” And our long trial-and-error-and-refinement process began.

    In March 2009, enter ViralBloggers.com – now you only select books that you think you’ll be interested in. But you’re right again, with the greater power of choice (to quote young Peter Parker’s uncle Ben) comes greater responsibility – publishers want you to review books you hand-select. While it would be nice to clue(train) ‘em in that no-strings-attached would actually make them seem cooler, it’s simply not possible in the current technological climate. There are too many hard materials costs involved in printing, shipping, administrating, analytics, etc., for publishers to be that hands-off. However, I do have hope that in a year or two, once e-readers are a bit more ubiquitous, that we’ll be able to run more open-ended campaigns with far larger quantities of digital editions.

    But – as the disparate voices here chimed in, many of whom are part of the ‘Viral Bloggers’ community under the current arrangement – we do not in any way expect bloggers to post favorable reviews, and we actively stress this.

    Daryl Dash (f’r instance) is a Viral Blogger in good (great!) standing and has written a scathing blog review of A New Kind of Christianity – which is the first review you see on Amazon! No whoring here. And – you’ll find this amusing, Daryl – the folks at the publishers did notice your Amazon review, and did notice that you’re part of our Viral Bloggers community – but you know what she said? “That’s perfectly fine!”

    I know, Jordon, that the combination of Christ and commerce gets very tricky – and so I appreciate your occasional posts driving out the money-changers! All the same, I can say from personal experience these past four years getting the amazing privilege of doing this for a living, that the vast majority of people I’ve ever worked with, at every stage of this – authors, publishing, in-house marketing, my co-workers at TheOOZE – are full of integrity. They – we – have no desire to manipulate, take advantage of, or whore out anybody. We’re people who love reading, love ideas, love Christ and love online community – and we’re always learning.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    1. Jordon says:

      Mike, is TheOoze or you paid to organize and promote these books?

  9. Mike Morrell says:

    Yessir – that’s what I meant when I said “these past four years getting the amazing privilege of doing this for a living”… :)

  10. Mike Morrell says:

    Oh: And I’ll add that I love reading, and loved books/publishing before doing this for a living – and that I’d organize these campaigns for free if I could – but I can’t. (and no one else could either – unless they were an independently wealthy hobbyist, I guess…)

  11. I’ve done some reviews through the Viral Blogger network Mike is directing. The distinct about VB is that reviewers choose the book they are interested in reviewing. Of course the titles are reflecting a specific genre of books and ideas and, etc…. it’s not a Literary Club. In the marketplace of ideas, books are still a very robust vehicle to message that idea around. And we all know the mantra by now, any publicity, even bad publicity, is better than no publicity….so for authors and publishers who are willing to have their works reviewed by unpaid professionals (mike doesn’t typically review books himself…would that be accurate mike??) it’s a No Brainer. And for book lovers like me, who when I read a book tell other people what I thought about it anyway, well, it’s a no brainer for me too. As long as I have the interest in that particular title and also the time to read it and review it fairly.

    Having said all of that, I think your post here Jordon raises a lot of the other complicated issues that are swirling around the publishing industry, age old dilemmas of power, gatekeepers, distribution of equity and influence, access and inclusiveness…. what I personally would like to see is a greater number of diverse voices in the streams of books dealing with kingdom of God stuff. For that would more accurately portray the citizenship of the kingdom of God.
    Just my thoughts…….

  12. [...] Kinnon wrote “Bloggers need to invoice publishers…,” Jordon Cooper wrote “The Christian Book Whore,” and Jamie Arpin-Ricci wrote two posts here and here).  Reading these thoughts (which are [...]

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