If you’ve blogged history (and especially the Civil War) long enough than you should be familiar with the following email form:
I work for [Insert Publisher Here] and we recently published a book I think you might be interested in, [Insert Book Title Here] by [Insert Author Here], a fascinating narrative account about [Insert Civil War Subject Here]. Because of your passion for the Civil War, I thought that you and your readers might like to see this. Also, if you were interested in seeing a copy of [Book Title] yourself, please send me your mailing address and I would be more than happy to send you a copy.
I get these emails on a regular basis and, for the most part, I don’t mind them. They clearly reflect the prominence and popularity of the blogosphere and represent an attractive avenue of advertising for book publishers. And best of all, who doesn’t mind the free books. I’ve established a fairly rigid book review policy and it goes something like this: I am more than happy to review a book, but I make no promises that it will be mentioned on my site and the acceptance comes with the possibility that it may in fact receive a negative review. In short, I want to be treated like the book review editor for an academic journal. It seems to me that as long as the blogger maintains complete editorial control and is capable of evaluating the book along the lines that he/she deems acceptable than there should be no conflicts of interest or ethical questions.
On the other hand, I worry about cases where bloggers are treated as simple marketing outlets by publishers. Publisher’s tactics are fairly uniform. They offer all kinds of publicity materials that can be posted on blogs and will even offer you access to the authors for interviews. In these cases the relationship is essentially a 1-way street where the blogsite is treated as a bulletin board. In the case of a radio interview, the blogger may have had the opportunity to read the book and prepare a set of questions, but I suspect that more often than not the interview is an opportunity for the author to sell his/her book. Clearly, this is one of the things that went wrong with the way Sally Jenkins, John Stauffer, and Doubleday handled publicity for The State of Jones. Doubleday offered review copies of their book as well as interviews with their authors and a few bloggers took advantage of it. Unfortunately, things did not go so well in the Civil War blogosphere once serious questions about their interpretation surfaced and the authors refused to shift the way in which they hoped to promote their book.
The problem with emails such as the one above is that they come across as the publisher doing the blogger a favor as opposed to one which establishes a type of business relationship. In essence, what they are hoping to do is advertise their book on a blog. They are not primarily interested in any type of review; rather, what they want ideally is for the blogger to post the information provided and perhaps even interview the author. My question is why do bloggers not ask for payment in response, especially those who pay for a domain name and web hosting? I assume that the Civil War magazines do not advertise books for free, so why would a blogger? And keep in mind that the value of the book cannot even approach what I assume is charged by the Civil War magazines and other media outlets. In the case of magazines advertisers must pay for each issue, but in the case of blogs once the post is up it can be accessed in an Online search at any time.
Again, I don’t think that there is a problem in situations where the blogger makes it clear that the content of the review will be dictated by his/her standards. In my case, I will not accept any promotional materials beyond the book itself. Still, I do think the publisher benefits to a certain extent. I may end up writing a very critical review of the book, but I will still provide a link to the publisher’s website or Amazon and this ultimately gives the reader the final decision of whether to purchase it.