I’ve been thinking recently, what with the whole William Morrow kerfuffle and several comments I’ve seen on Twitter, about the relationship between bloggers, authors, and publishers and how the issue of ARCs* and reviews seems to encapsulate the whole problem we’re seeing at this point. I’m thinking through this as I’m typing, and I’d love to hear other thoughts and opinions. Also, I’m not an expert at all but, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I must have my share in the conversation. (My motto: an Austen quote for every occasion.)
And, as a disclaimer, I have never been offered an ARC, and if I was I’m not sure I would take it. I review every book I read, in either short or long form (i.e., as a separate post or as part of my monthly book lists). Because I am a wimp and want to be a nice person, I know that I would have a hard time speaking as freely and honestly as I do when I buy a book or check it out of the library.
It seems to me that what we have is a fundamental miscommunication about the role of blogging, and the way that bloggers perceive publishers, and vice versa. Additionally, authors themselves frequently do self-promotions (in fact, from what I understand, they’re practically forced to), which means that their own perceptions and ideas are part of the mix.
And, obviously, ‘bloggers,’ ‘authors,’ and ‘publishers’ are not monolithic identities. Some authors are better at self-promotion than others. Some publishers deal better with bloggers. And with the blogging world, there seems to be two different camps, which I’ll go into a bit more. But first, I want to talk a bit about how the three groups seem to view ARCs.
Publishers: ARCs are, as far as I can see, meant to be a promotion of the book in question, a way to generate early reviews and hopefully build buzz around the book.
Authors: ARCs, in very limited quantities, are often used as part of pre-publication promotion, as the prize in a giveaway or contest. I suspect (I would love it if someone could comment on this) that they are seen in the ways a publisher usually sees them, but also as a way to reward fans and build a loyal readership.
Bloggers: Here’s where we get to the two camps. One is made up of those bloggers who see ARCs as a way to get a fee, early book. If you’re a huge fan of a series and can’t possibly wait two more months until the final version comes out, this is understandable. By which I mean, I totally understand it. However, I do hear a certain amount of entitlement thinking—that bloggers automatically deserve ARCs, regardless of readership or reviewing history. That is, bloggers in this group don’t think of ARCs as promotional material or even a reward for loyal fans, but a reward to them for blogging, which they deserve regardless of any business considerations on the part of the publisher or author.
(If you think I’m being unfair, please say so, but I have seen comments that seemed to make this pretty explicit.)
The other camp is made up of those who do think of ARCs as promotional material. They might request them, or they might be sent unsolicited copies (depending largely, as far as I can tell, on readership and influence), but in either case, they’re aware of the relationship with the publisher and/or author that receiving these materials puts them in.
What they then decide to do with this relationship varies. For some bloggers, the trend seems to be to fully enter into that relationship, in the way that the William Morrow letter tries to make both explicit and necessary. Other bloggers want to have the independence and autonomy to select which books they want to read, and further, which books they want to review, on their own schedule. In short, they want to create the rules that work for them and stick to them, or not, as they choose.
I personally am all for the latter side. If I feel that a blogger is being uncritical (by which I do not mean negative, but rather “careful or analytical evaluations”), I am less inclined to trust their recommendations. And I think that bloggers do owe it to their readers to be transparent about where their copies are coming from. I know many, many bloggers who do receive review copies, but who also are fair, critical, and transparent in their reviewing. From my point of view, that’s not a problem.
As far as the miscommunication between publishers and bloggers goes, there seem to be two sides to the story. On one hand, there is a problem in terms of bloggers feeling entitled to review copies without any work on their part, particularly when they are requesting those review copies (as far as I’m concerned, if the publisher sends the blogger an unsolicited copy, the blogger is not obligated to them for anything). On the other hand, bloggers, put simply and stolen from someone else’s post on the subject, are not part of the marketing team. I personally, and I suspect many others, want to promote authors and books I enjoy but I don’t feel myself under obligation to do so, and certainly not under any publisher’s terms and conditions.
However, I do understand that publishers may want to limit ARCs. They’re free to make those business decisions, if they choose to. What I find unfortunate about the William Morrow letter is the idea that they want to set up overly specific, time-sensitive criteria, which furthermore replaces whatever system or position the blogger had put in place. Some bloggers review every book they read. Some review only the ones they loved. Some review only the ones they hated. And, quite frankly, they should be able to make exactly those choices, regardless of publisher demand. It might be helpful if the bloggers made whatever position they take clear to publishers if they’re requesting an ARC, so that publishers can make informed decisions about which bloggers they want to give a free copy to. That doesn’t bother me in the least. The idea that the publisher can dictate terms does.
*Advance Reader Copies—unfinished copies of books sent out before the publication date to reviewers, including bloggers. They’re not supposed to be sold usually (always?) but this does sometimes happen.