Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The New 'Book Club'

Copyright: Oldiefan Source: Pixaby
There is a new trend in publishing which I feel is problematic and undermines the integrity of reviews. In today's market reviews can make or break sales numbers. Smaller publishers and self-publishing authors are often scrambling to find ways to reach people who will review their books, preferably with a positive review. This desperation for both exposure and sales has led to some very questionable practices. 

One author contacted me for a review. I asked them to send me a digital copy of the book. Instead of sending me the book itself they sent me a link to a "Book Club" where I could purchase the book. The club was a store front website run by the publisher. When I informed the author that I was not interested in purchasing the book they sent me a discount link for the book which did not work for the digital copy. I declined to review the book as it was too complicated to obtain a copy. 

A different author requested that I review their book. I asked for a digital copy of the book. Instead of sending a copy they sent a link to another "Book Club". Again club was simply a storefront for the publisher but this one forced the reviewer to sign up and used a token system. Reviewers were rewarded with tokens for each review they did. The tokens could be used to purchase other books from the publisher. This means that reviewers are purchasing the books until they have enough tokens to get a "free" book. I declined to review the book as it's against Amazon's policy to pay reviewers for their reviews and I have a fundamental issue the token process. 

Both of these experiences have made me aware of several issues. First is that the term "Book Club" is being mangled into meaning a publisher's store front. A true book club will be open to any books within the clubs genre, not limited to a single author or publisher. That would be a fan site or a publisher's site. Or maybe even an author site. I'm not opposed to any of those things, but don't call it a Book Club when it's just a store front. 

Secondly, if an author is asking for a review of their work to be published, particularly on Amazon or other sites where paying for reviews is against the terms of service, then they should provide a copy of the work to be reviewed. This can be done by emailing the book to the reviewer or putting it in a Dropbox or Google Drive and then sharing it with the reviewer. The reviewer should not be required to purchase the book if the author is the one asking them to review it. 

Reviewers, at least those with integrity, do not demand that items they want be given for free in exchange for a review, so why would an author expect this to be acceptable in the reverse? Reviewers are already providing a review for free, expecting them to pay to provide their services to the author is a bad business practice. 

My final issue is with the underhanded way to boost sales. Things like the NY Times Best Seller List tracks the sales of books to determine which books make the list and which don't. By forcing reviewers to purchase the books, even with a discount code, adds to the sales numbers of the book and can impact the placement of books on the list. The list was changed in Aug of 2017 when it was discovered that many of the sales of the books were questionable. While sales from publisher's websites do not count towards the NY Times Best Seller list, they can be counted in other lists or for other promotional uses. 

Authors need reviewers, but getting tricking reviewers or requiring them to pay for the item to be reviewed it asking them to pay to work. This doesn't work in any business model and leads to the assumption that authors aren't actually interested in what reviewers have to say as much as they are interested in tricking people into buying their book.  

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