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Who Can Protect The Best Interest of The Reader?

Anyone who’s spend any length of time on Twitter likely knows about #fridayreads, the hashtag started by Bethanne Patrick, aka The Book Maven, who created, among other things, NPR’s The Book Studio. In fact, I know some people who have actually unfollowed Patrick because of the FridayReads cheerleading, which, admittedly, can get a little intense at times. Still, I’ve always liked FridayReads, not only because it reminds me to share my own book recs on Twitter, but also because it’s an incredible resource for readers looking for new books to try.

And then came Jennifer Weiner. You remember Weiner and Jodi Picoult’s criticism of the NYTBR and other book venues for privileging white male authors and all but ignoring female-authored books. So when Kit Steinkellner blogged a piece for The Book Riot entitled “Why Aren’t Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult Pissed at Jeffrey Eugenides?,” because The Marriage Plot has garnered so much press, including a Times Square billboard, Weiner discerned that Bethanne Patrick was Book Riot’s executive editor and opined to her readers, via Twitter, that perhaps “her readers” should stay away from FridayReads. While she deleted her original tweet, she explains her point to Jane:

Weiner Twitter Screenshot

 

From there Weiner began to question FridayReads for its promotional aspect, which caught the attention of the Washington Post and extended to Weiner’s own blog, in which she says,

 Nobody’s running a literary blog or magazine to get rich. Most writers who maintain blogs end up losing money, not making it. Should a blogger decide to try to turn their hobby into a paying endeavor, nobody rolls their eyes or clutches their pearls. We’re all used to seeing ads alongside a blog post, or a request for sponsorship on a literary website, or a virtual tip cup at the bottom of a post or a review with a note saying, “Hey, if you like what I’m doing, consider supporting it.” I don’t think anyone begrudges the Fridayread folks the ability to make money from their endeavors, if they’ve found a way to do it honestly.

But honesty matters – to readers, to writers, to bloggers and Twitter users, to those who’ve chosen to monetize their content in a clear and public way, and those who continue to do what they do for community and good karma instead of cash. . . .

I don’t know Bethanne Patrick or her colleagues, except on the Internet…but I believe that you know people through their actions. If they’re honest, if they’re ethical, you can see it in the choices they make. If they aren’t, no amount of indignant insistence otherwise will change your mind.

Patrick responded on her own blog, pointing out that she has tried to keep FridayReads transparent via its FAQ page, which Weiner was, in fact, linking to in her tweets pointing out the promotional elements of the event.

I have what would politely be called a multi-layered response to this fracas. On the most visceral level, while I have read, enjoyed, and recommended several of Weiner’s books, I have long found her a problematic spokesperson for mainstream media’s neglect of women’s fiction. I should probably be grateful that in her call for transparency she was herself pretty clear in connecting her criticism of FridayReads to the personal affront she took at the Book Riot post, which was admittedly snarky and belittling of Wenier and Picoult’s Franzenfreude campaign, part of which included a very clever call for alternate book recommendations, a bit like FridayReads, in fact:

Weiner hurt feelings

Instead I feel frustration that a woman who has become a de facto spokesperson for the plight of female-written commercial fiction so profoundly personalized her very public Twitter campaign against FridayReads, because that personalization threatens to legitimate the persistent marginalization of female authors as unserious and incapable of taking grown-up criticism (i.e. they weren’t nice to me so I’m not going to be nice to them!). Also, despite Weiner’s insistence that she doesn’t begrudge the FridayReads folks of monetizing the hashtag, her somewhat righteous invocation of the FTC regs and the lecture on honesty and transparency undermine her alleged approval. The irony that she has monetized her own writing and utilizes her own Twitter muddies things a bit, too and undermines the seriousness of even her most valid criticisms.

And then there is the whole “my readers” should stay away from FridayReads because they won’t be welcome, thing, even when it was reconsidered as a recommendation to participate with Weiner’s books, because “[I]magine their nose-hairs curling in rage every time they see mah name!” Weiner’s perception that FridayReads is some kind of ‘place’ where readers are welcome or unwelcome depending on whether the organizers like the authors whose books are being named suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of FridayReads, making Weiner seem more lucky than anything else that she was able to get so much traction on the transparency issue.

Moreover, it’s a problematic construction for readers who don’t just read a single author’s books (i.e. the overwhelming majority of readers). On the one hand Weiner seems to be saying that readers shouldn’t be commercialized by publishers and accusing FridayReads of participating in that process. And yet, how is her own advice and direction to “her readers” any different? In whose interest is it for readers to either fearfully avoid FridayReads or enrage its organizers’ nosehairs by shoving Weiner’s name in their faces? The presumptions alone at work in that choice are immensely problematic for readers to presume to take on as their own.

Which brings me to the “transparency” and “honesty” issue. The fact that Weiner has become so well-known for her off-page commentaries is a testament to the power of social media and the breaking down of certain barriers between authors, publishers, and readers. The viral power of tweets and hashtags have created new opportunities to be notable, noted, and even notorious. Which makes the desire to establish boundaries, guidelines, and transparencies even more understandable and difficult.

As Weiner’s own tweets, with links to Patrick’s FAQ page demonstrate, Patrick wasn’t exactly hiding the promotional aspects of FridayReads. In fact, I was surprised to learn that up until several months ago, Patrick was giving away books from her own collection; I always assumed that the books were donated by publishers, and in fact assumed some kind of publisher support long before the program had any.  I am personally less suspect of ventures that rely on the support of multiple publishers, because I am less likely to feel there is a bias, although that does not solve the problem of transparency, per se. I also think that Weiner’s implication that FridayReads (and more specifically Bethanne Patrick) is pimping for publishers weakens her credibility by hyperbolizing the relationship between publishers and FridayReads. She refers to Patrick “selling” books and likens publisher sponsorship to “slipp[ing] … some cash” or “expect[ing] a favor later,” in return for a book recommendation.  I don’t see the same intent to deceive that Weiner does, and I do think there’s a substantive difference between trying to bury a connection and failing to disclose obviously enough to meet the expectations of strangers who aren’t necessarily privy to things you may believe are more widely and obviously known. There is a sense of insularity online that can distort in various directions one’s sense of being known and understood, which I think is often in play when these issues arise.

In general, though, I’m not sure how much of a problem there has been with FridayReads’ transparency; that is, if none of the publisher sponsorship was known beyond the FAQ page, would it fundamentally change or diminish the value for readers participating in book recommendations (and potentially winning a randomly awarded free book)? I don’t think so, because I don’t see FridayReads as much different from any other forum in which readers recommend books and have the potential for winning a publisher-donated book. It’s no secret that publishers utilize blogs, messageboards, and social media venues to cull information on reader likes and dislikes and promote their own books, which is presumably their interest in FridayReads, as well. And the disclosure solution turned out to be straightforwardly simple: the #promo hashtag for promotional tweets. But even in absence of that new hashtag, I have to ask: were readers really being duped by potentially false recommendations and publisher payola, or is Weiner the one underestimating readers to serve her very personal interest in FridayReads?

If Weiner has been paying attention to the broader online communities centered on female-authored fiction, she must know that these issues have been under discussion for several years now. I’m not sure how much Weiner actually contributes to the discussion, especially given the emphatically personalized nature of her critique. Which is not to say that this is an unimportant discussion or that we should not all be having it openly and – ideally – civilly, precisely because the online landscape is shifting so dramatically. In academic and literary circles, authors serving as reviewers has been a long-standing tradition. In genre fiction communities, readers, bloggers, and authors are themselves contributing to multiple venues, sometimes for payment: RT Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, USA Today, Macmillan sponsored Tor.com and Heroes and Heartbreakers, New York Journal of Books, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc. Not every individual is taking special pains to disclose these ventures, and I haven’t seen a lot of accusations of nefarious intent from the general community.

In many ways I think these new opportunities provide genre books with wider recognition and respect, and they provide readers with more venues for discussion. In other ways these relationships provide challenges, because we are all, in fact, reading and talking about commercial fiction, which means that publishers and authors are always looking for ways to capitalize on the independent activities of readers.

Although Weiner has  bristled at the suggestion that some of her soapboxing has a mercenary intention, I don’t find the charge particularly objectionable. After all, I assume that authors move through their careers with self-interest their primary driver. Ditto publishers. And,  ideally, readers, too, should be looking out for their own self-interest, which may not be the same for every reader, even if it is identifiable across readers generally. And along with the concerns regarding disclosure and transparency in this new reading and writing environment, I think we also need to be talking about ways to protect the self-interest of readers, just as we take that for granted with authors and publishers. And in many ways, having readers participate more broadly and more formally in book discussions – through blogging, reviewing, and other ventures – opens up more spaces into which readers can identify and pursue their own interests as readers. The concern that bloggers, reviewers, and readers are somehow becoming the pawns of publishers, for example, is not insignificant or irrational, but I think we need to look at the flipside, as well – in the ways that readers can remain just as self-interested as we believe authors can be, even if they’re receiving free arcs, advertising money, or even pay for reviews and/or blog posts.

Currently there is a good deal of justifiable suspicion and confusion regarding the short and long-term effects of all this boundary destruction. Rules, such as they are, have been applied haphazardly, and lines of “acceptable” behavior continue to shift, both for individuals and across communities. Still, if readers are going to maintain their own independent interests, which is more likely to make that happen: refusing to participate in FridayReads or reviewing books for the USA Today Romance blog? Or perhaps that’s an unfair way to pose the question. Let me ask it this way, instead: can readers commercialize their own self-interest as a way to preserve their independence?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

61 Comments

  1. Maili
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 05:54:55

    I’m feeling dense because I don’t know what point you were trying to make.

    You’ve covered quite a range of few issues. From transparency to stereotypes of female authors (e.g. personalisation) and from the use of readers to the use of social media platforms, as well as the boundaries in relationships of readers, authors and publishers.

    Am I right to guess that you were speculating about the position of readers in cases like FridayReads, e.g. what matters is how useful it is to readers? If that’s the case, then it’s readers themselves who get to decide that, surely?

  2. pandabear/Celia
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 06:20:13

    I have participated in Friday Reads and I also read Jennifer Weiner. What would concern me the most about Friday Reads would be whether its listing of top books read was accurate.
    wwww.pbitem.blogspot.com

  3. Ros
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 06:43:56

    I felt uncomfortable when I found out (because of the fracas) that #fridayreads was more than a hashtag. One of the things I love about twitter is the way that it can create community through the hashtags. I don’t like being told what hashtags I should use (the BBC are always telling viewers what hashtag to use for a particular programme and I always choose a different one). I like the sense that twitter is ‘owned’ by the people who use it.

    Maybe I am just naive about that. But I don’t think I would enjoy or use twitter nearly as much if I felt that everything about it had a commercial aspect. So I think that if #fridayreads had chosen a hashtag more closely linked with the site rather than such a generic one, it would have been better. I love the idea of people sharing what they are reading every Friday on twitter. I hate the idea that someone is manipulating or cashing in on that.

    I think one of the issues about the hashtag is that it doesn’t easily lead people back to its originator. If you happen to see one of the BookMaven’s tweets, then fine, you could follow the links back to the website with the FAQ. It had never occurred to me that #fridayreads was more than a community thing and so I never even looked for an FAQ, and wouldn’t have known where to look if I’d thought of it.

  4. Ros
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 06:50:12

    Okay, I just checked the updated FAQ which contains this explanation:

    FridayReads started as a community activity. It morphed into a business and grew rapidly, and I would have disclosed things differently and earlier if I had thought about them.

    I hate that. I hate that a community activity has been monetised into a business and that it has been done so in a way which most participants did not know about. She says:

    Publishers actually do not pay for our community of participants, which in their world is still rather small (7-9 thousand each week, basically). They’re really paying for access to my Twitter followers.

    Ugh.

  5. Alex
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 06:55:15

    I find it uncomfortable when women are held to higher standards than men because we are marginalized. Men are freaking emotional too. Are we supposed to be cold and indifferent because it looks bad on women in general? Or should we just politely point out that men are just as ridiculous, just as emotional and just as human as women.

    I’m sorry, but I could not get past that part of your post.

    “because that personalization threatens to legitimate the persistent marginalization of female authors as unserious and incapable of taking grown-up criticism”

    If you would like, I could show you a great deal of male authors who have sniped at their critics in very publicly embarrassing, emotional ways.

    I don’t see why this author should be held to “higher standards” whether she speaks for women authors or not.

    Rather than expecting her to act above it all to prove a point, isn’t it our job to say that we can be women however we want? We can respond however we want? And men that don’t like it, can take a hike to hell?

  6. Mandi
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 06:59:03

    Could you expand on how readers are not maintaining their independent interests if they review on HEA blog for USA Today? Since I do review there :) I’m not sure what you are trying to say there.

  7. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 07:09:03

    (i.e. they weren’t nice to me so I’m not going to be nice to them!)

    Sadly, this is one thing about Weiner’s actions that seems to stand out to me. It may not be her intention, but it’s what I’m seeing. Now, admittedly, I don’t know much of anything about her…I don’t read her blog, follow her on twitter and only see her name randomly so I don’t have much basis to judge on.

    However, that casual assumption may well be one a lot of people are making. And yes, I know what they say about assuming… ;)

    I dunno how I feel about the Friday reads thing. I’m irritated that it turned out to be a promo tool and readers are finding out after the fact-even with the disclaimer on the FAQ page, I’m not sure that’s enough. I can honestly say I’ve never once visited the Friday reads site, but I’ve posted quite a few books for the Friday reads. If I’d known it was a promo thing, would I have paid it much attention?

    I just don’t know. I do know that I’m not as likely to get into it now. I may post my reads, but I doubt I’ll do the RT thing.

    I like talking about books…I think Roxanne St Clair was the one who mentioned…”why not make it #TuesdayReads or #saturdayreads…” Maybe I’ll start doing that.

  8. Mireya
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 07:16:02

    Not sure I understand the question, Janet, but I am going to reply based on my understanding of the question.

    The second anything becomes commercialiazed it means money, when the word money is in the equation, whatever it is that it is added to becomes tainted in some way in the eyes of many, and in varying degrees. Some care, some care some, some do not care, but the perceived taint is still there even if those involved in the commercialized venture are 100% honest and transparent. It all comes down to those readers who have no vested interest in whatever it is to decide if they want to continue reading/visiting/participating in the venture. More and more online reading ventures are becoming commercialized and that is, pretty much, what the communities are having to contend with now (growing pains if you may). Readers will take sides, based on the information they are provided with or their own personal opinions on something.

    Can readers commercialize their own self-interest as a way to preserve their independence?

    The answer is yes, with a high degree of difficulty though, as they often will likely feel the pressure to give in to external pressure from their paying customers. However, the question is, will their readers actually buy into their impartiality when they provide their services. The answer to that is a lot more complex, as there are no two readers that think exactly alike. Some readers will have no issues with the commercialization, others will be on the fence and judge every article individually, others will outright seek somewhere else to go, and many will be assuming a position that is a mix of the three positions. As a reader with no interest in any commercial venture online, I am on the fence sometimes and other times I’ve just abandoned the blog/website or whatever, see what I mean?

  9. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 08:30:48

    I have no problem with readers getting paid. Selling adspace or providing content for pay (reviews, blog posts) is not the same as providing a recommendation for pay.

    Let’s pretend, for example, that I’ve paid $100 for a Kirkus review. They publish an honest reaction to my book, good bad or ugly. This is totally fair. If I pay $200 for a *positive* review, this is not fair unless readers are TOLD that I’ve paid for a positive review. And then, that review is meaningless, because paid promo is not the same as an honest review.

    I don’t follow Weiner or fridayreads that closely, but I do have a problem with promo being slipped in or misrepresented as a casual rec. That doesn’t empower readers.

    I also don’t feel that Weiner’s self-promo muddies the issue. All or most authors promote their own books. Our vested interest in doing so is clear. There is no hidden agenda.

  10. KB/KT Grant
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 08:38:29

    I was irked mainly by Weiner’s post how she makes it seem the Friday Reads makes bloggers look bad and are out to make a quick buck.

    How many people, bloggers or reviewers included are going to pass up money if it’s offered, especially upwards in the thousands? Weiner also states in her blog post that people can make up to $2000 for hosting giveaways and I guess doing these promotional hastags on twitter. I’ll be honest, if I was offered that money (and gave full disclosure) you bet I would do it.

    I guess the biggest problem people have is that they didn’t know the Friday Reads was all in fun and people were making money off of it. They felt tricked.

  11. Keishon
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 08:39:07

    Even when I was on Twitter about four or five months ago I didn’t really participate in that. I thought it quite annoying. There was mention of giveaways from publishers even then so their involvement comes as no surprise to me. I understand why people are upset though. I’m not sure what you are asking either. Are you asking if readers can maintain their independence while monetizing their self-interest? I don’t think so because anytime money is involved by a third party to influence your audience, you sacrifice your independence to make your own choices or decisions to some degree I would think. However, I have no experience in that and cannot answer that but only speculate that it could be problematic.

    Anyway, I always assume people have an agenda until proven differently. And to add, I am responsible for protecting my interest as a reader. No one else.

  12. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:14:49

    @Maili: My thought process (which is still evolving) basically reduces to this:

    Weiner:

    1. Book Riot was mean to me.
    2. Oh, lookie, BR and FridayReads have same people connected.
    3. Ergo, FridayReads was mean to me and will be mean to my readers.
    4. But wait, FridayReads is a BUSINESS! BAD BAD FRIDAYREADS! They’re dishonest and not transparent enough! Let’s all go after FridayReads and vindicate me and my petty reaction to Book Riot – YAY! Oh, and protect readers, gotta protect “my readers” from being scammed by FridayReads.

    Me:

    1. My rendition of Weiner’s position above is meant to be a demonstration of my personal response to her whole “exposure” of FridayReads and the problems I have with her supposedly standing up for women’s fic and readers.

    2. But what about the larger issues she raises? Ethics of monetizing reviews, blog content, etc. and transparency?

    3. Not sure I think FridayReads was UNtransparent. Glad to see people explaining their objections, because I always thought it was commercialized to some degree.

    4. Ethics are extremely important, and in Romance community they’ve been under discussion for quite a while now.

    5. They’ve been under discussion for so long in part because the boundaries have been changing for a while now. More and more readers have been blogging/reviewing/etc. for pay, with no big fights over disclosure/transparency.

    6. People are worried that $/commercialization of those activities taints them and compromises the readers’ independence.

    7. But is it possible to see if from the other direction, as well? That commercializing reader activities can be a way for readers to have a voice that’s taken seriously and that remains independent because it IS considered valuable enough to be a commercial endeavor?

    8. I have only begun to think about that last question myself and am curious to see what others think.

  13. Anon
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:18:29

    “Anyone who’s spend any length of time on Twitter likely knows about #fridayreads, the hashtag”

    You´d be surprised. But really, no, I did not. Twitter is big enough for very different circles, I guess.

  14. Amy Kathryn
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:25:28

    I commercialize my self-interest as a reader by choosing where and how to spend my book dollars and what might be called social currency. The social currency being one of the followers, page likers, or blog hits that seems to be important to publishers these days to demonstrate the impact of their authors or blogs they might choose to sponsor giveaways or tours.

    I choose not to buy agency books. I choose to support those small publishers and independent authors that give me a quality product. I choose which blogs to follow and comment on. I may be only one person but each one person adds up when the numbers are crunched.

  15. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:38:30

    @pandabear/Celia: Yes, I can see that as a concern; thanks. I wonder how many people — like me — thought it was always a commercialized venture and how many didn’t. And why is the immediate assumption that the list would be compromised? Is it the money, per se?

    @Ros: I don’t know Patrick at all, but I looked at her bio when I started following her, and maybe because she was so well-connected and professional already with her book blogging activities, I assumed FR would be part of that. Also, maybe I’m really jaded in feeling that my interests are always being exploited by publishers and other corporate interests? Isn’t that the whole point of Facebook “likes” or whatever they are?

    @Alex: I agree it’s a double standard and therefore inherently unfair. But I think it’s substantially important here, precisely because women’s fic is still on the margins of respectability. Because people DO judge books by their covers and by the public personae of authors.

    @Mandi: I think @Mireya’s comment might be an answer to that question. I’m trying to get at the opposite question — namely, what can’t commercialization preserve independent reader voices? Or even HOW can it?

    @Mireya: Is it the $$ itself or the possibility of profit (or something else)? Public colleges and universities, for example, are non-profit, but they have commercial enterprises to generate operational funds. Is it okay that someone is commercial but not making a profit? Or is there a trust issue? Do bloggers you already trust get a pass if they start reviewing or blogging for pay? I mean, I don’t see Book Smugglers (a site I really respect, btw) as compromised because they blog for Tor, but would that be an issue for you?

  16. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:41:10

    @Anon: LOL – that goes to the “insularity” issue I mentioned, I guess. I’m so used to, on the one hand, FR recs every week, and OTOH, people talking about how annoying the FR cheerleading tweets are, I thought Twitter was pretty saturated with the hashtag. Clearly not the case, though.

  17. Rachel
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:42:23

    The repeated use of “reader” as a stand-in for “blogging book reviewer” was the thing that threw me because, in my mind, those are two entirely different entities. When free books and ad revenue become involved, the role is changed and that person is no longer “one of us” but a cog in the marketing machine and thereafter viewed through that prism–which isn’t to say reviewers profiting in some way from the endeavor are incapable of providing information that can influence my decision to purchase a book, but that information is in the form of details about the book and not the opinion portion of the review, which I always take with a generous spoonful of salt.

  18. dick
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:44:33

    I’ve never looked at Twitter, let alone posted on it. However, if I correctly understand the essay, I agree with those folks who think that anytime a reviewer is paid by the author or publisher for a review of a particular book, the reviewer’s objectivity is questionable–highly questionable. Whether Weiner pouts a bit in her objection to the Twitter biz, makes little difference, if the result was to expose that lack of objectivity.

  19. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:47:07

    @Rachel: Is there a definitive point for you past which a reader who blogs is no longer a reader, and if so, what would that be?

  20. KB/KT Grant
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:50:01

    “4. Ethics are extremely important, and in Romance community they’ve been under discussion for quite a while now.”

    I though Friday Reads started for all books genres?

    Why is it whenever ethics are questioned, it becomes a romance community issue? I think the ethics question should encompass all genres, not just one specific genre.

  21. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:00:32

    @KB/KT Grant: My sense of Weiner’s position is that she thinks this issue is something new or anomalous. The point I’m trying to make is that those of us in Romance have long been discussing it (i.e. if anything perhaps we’re ahead of the larger trend). Not sure whether Weiner pays much (or any) attention to the online Rom community, though.

  22. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:17:09

    After 3 years and almost 60k tweets (not including the ~20k Twitter lost a while back), I’m not exactly a Twitter lightweight. I a) thought Friday Reads was a community (somewhat annoying if I happened to think about it) hashtag, and b) never would have known about Weiner’s issue but for a stray tweet that led me to ask what was going on (I still didn’t really understand nor did I care enough to go to the effort), and c) don’t care whether it involves money or not.

    So for my part, even though I’m an active participant in the same community and exposed to the same hashtag, I still didn’t know (or care) what it was or why it matters.

    By the way, what, exactly, IS a reader’s interest other than a good story?

  23. Mandi
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:21:42

    @Robin/Janet: Ah okay. I see what @Mireya: is saying. There will always be those who frown at bloggers who receive money. But it is almost inevitable. If your blog grows, you start having shipping costs (so much shipping costs), hosting fees, spam filter fees, etc. I need a little bit of money to offset those costs. For ME, that money has nothing to do with how I write my reviews. But I can see the other side too. If someone doesn’t agree with ads or compensation, then just don’t read those blogs. And I would hope that those who are making $$, are still being honest. I’m sure that is abused some places too.

    And yes I’m compensated for writing reviews for USA Today. And if you notice, they are not too keen on posting negative reviews. But that has never stopped me from writing one. If they choose not to post it then that is up to them.

  24. Avery Flynn
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 12:07:57

    I read about this over the weekend in the Post but missed the Twitter craziness totally. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I too assumed the #fridayreads was paid promotion. Didn’t bother me at all. While every writer and book blogger may not be able to give up the day job, for most it is the goal. Writers write because they love it and it’s their passion, however, it is also a business. To put food in the fridge, I have to sell books (and keep the day job). I imagine book bloggers can’t live off of air either.

  25. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 12:32:19

    I’ve been on Twitter for about a year and a half. I don’t follow that many people and almost no one I don’t know in some other venue. So I assumed the hashtag was a community tag rather than a business one. Obviously I assumed wrong.

    I’m not completely naive or un-savvy about online promotion, but to the extent I can I keep away from sponsored and promoted stuff on Twitter and elsewhere. I didn’t participate in the hashtag, first because I don’t like tweeting books I’m reading for review before the review is done, and second because I found the exhortations to reach arbitrary numbers annoying. At least now I know what those exhortations were about.

    I do find the statement Ros quoted to be a bit mind-boggling, though:

    It morphed into a business and grew rapidly, and I would have disclosed things differently and earlier if I had thought about them.

    The transition from “community” and “unsponsored” to “sponsored” isn’t something that a person who has worked in online ventures for years should be expected to think about?

  26. Ros
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 14:48:20

    @Robin/Janet: I mostly saw #fridayreads on my friends’ hashtags and occasionally checked through to see the whole list. I never knew where it originated so I never knew whose bio to look at or where to find the FAQ.

    One of the things I like most about twitter is that I can have community that doesn’t, by and large, interact with corporate interests. I actively avoid that part of FB too. So when I find something that I have assumed is community-led is actually corporate-sponsored, I do feel disappointed.

  27. Anon
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 14:52:09

    Janet, yeah, I had not heard of fridayreads in any serious way (or any way I recall paying attention to). And I am on twitter, and I am (Self-evidently) following book particularly romance genre fandom, though not particularly on twitter. Insularity indeed.

    But the news of this, though not details had even made it to me. Thank you for the recap, nice to have a clue in context.

  28. Jane
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:15:39

    For the record, I have been asked from time to time about whether there is an insertion fee for giveaways but there is not here at DA. Our revenue comes from DA sponsorships and affiliate links.

    @Mandi I think the problem for others is that they see bloggers/book journalists should only do something like this for fun and not be compensated and that compensation somehow taints a blogger. I don’t believe that but I think that is the position of some who object to earnings based on book reviewing, discussions about books, promotions about books.

  29. Moi
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:44:44

    Being paid by a publication to write reviews has nothing at all to do with an AUTHOR or publisher– or really, anyone involved in the process of creating the book– paying or otherwise compensating reviewers.

    This is getting a little too common. Book Crows comes to mind.

    I recently saw an author on facebook post TO HER FEED that she would give a free ARC of a second book in her series to anyone who posted a positive review of the first in the series to Goodreads/amazon.

    She obviously didn’t see anything wrong with it.

  30. Jane
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:50:52

    @Moi I actually see authors as some of the worst offenders of transparency. Everything is okay because it advances the sale of the book and that includes giveaways of books in exchange for positive reviews, getting friends and family to leave only positive reviews even if they haven’t read it, exchanging review quotes for each other even if they a) didn’t like the book or b) even read the book. Obviously there is also the issue of adopting a fake persona to sell books and other minor and major offenses. I think if transparency in promoting books were truly adopted by those like authors such as Weiner who have enormous influence, book promotions would be very very different. (and the first thing to die off would be the cover quote)

  31. John
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:56:05

    Thank you, Robin. I have been thinking this up and down for the past week and have been surprised at how much unrequited support Weiner has rallied for this apparently “surprising” turn of evens in relation to #fridayreads.

    I have admittedly used it as a simple hash-tag to state what I’m reading on Fridays. I assumed immediately that there was publisher involvement because of how large it was and how many giveaways it was able to have. I mean, come on. People don’t pull this stuff out of thin air like magic. Any blogger will tell you that publishers have some involvement if there is a high level of book promotion and sponsored giveaways being involved.

    Patrick actually posted a very concise response that basically showed her FAQ page, which already had everything laid out. She also is trying to work towards even more transparency for her readers. I don’t really understand why, though. This isn’t a case of lack of transparency. It’s a case where readers didn’t do their research and instead got caught up in the moment because Weiner got angry. It appeared to me that the information was readily available and honest – people just didn’t seek it out. In my opinion, that isn’t a cause for concern. Patrick also explains how it came to be paid for and how it started out being run by just herself. Readers want books in their hands and discussion about them. Giveaways and sponsored events are extras. To me, there’s nothing wrong with charging money for it if there is enough economic demand. The services to the READER are still free, and from what I’ve gathered it hasn’t changed what Patrick personally feels about the books or the authors.

    What I really want to examine is Weiner’s actions. I have one of her books in my pile and every time I think of reading it I think back to the Franzen incident, and now this one. Her actions scream of authorial privilege. She’s no better than the self-published authors that scream out reviewers that dislike their work – she’s just doing it on a grander scale. When you are an author or any other type of public figure, you open yourself up to being criticized. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but you do it. After being involved in publishing for so long, I figured Weiner would have understood and accepted that. She made herself a public figure with her campaigns, and that garnered criticism for her on both ends. She needs to accept that and get over herself.

    What bugs me is that she started spewing out random facts after her initial offense. I was on Twitter and watching this go down as well as reading her conversation with Jane. It was plainly obvious that she had agenda. All authors want their work to be present and respected. Authors are in this *business*, and in a business it is expected that one would want to market one’s self in order to garner a better product and profit. That’s to be expected. What Weiner doesn’t understand is that all of these arguments have no basis. She starts them out of personal offense and vendetta. It’s not about the morality of the situation – which she really has blown out of proportion – or the readers. If it were about the readers, she would not have felt the need to dictate their actions. It’s about her and her poor damaged feelings. I would feel sympathy for her, but in making this a personal campaign she has lost any I would garner for her.

  32. Keira Soleore
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:57:47

    There’s a difference between publishers putting up ads on popular blogs hoping for more eyeballs and thus more sales and publishers paying bloggers to collect people’s names and information.

    In both cases, bloggers make money. However, in the latter case, the money made was silently done and the blogger essentially sold people’s community communiques tied to their names without letting them know she was doing so.

    I am positive there are very few people who knew about the fridayreads.com website and that there was a disclosure FAQ. As a result, innocent participants felt hoodwinked.

  33. Jane
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:07:24

    @Keira Soleore Again, authors do this quite a bit. My email has been harvested and sold. I think Writerspace does this – takes email addresses and sells them to authors. Okay for authors but not for bloggers who are taking public information (as opposed to emails which are ostensibly private)?

    Edited to add: I think it would be great if authors led the charge on this transparency issue. Like in the bookstores, where the books are at front of store or in the bestseller slots, let’s have a sign that says “Paid placement”. I’m all for more transparency.

  34. Keira Soleore
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:15:37

    With Writerspace, they openly say that they’re an aggregator. They provide this email collection service for their authors. Readers know this going in. In turn, the readers get to come to one spot to chat with authors and pick up freebies.

    For FridayReads, people thought they were participating in a friendly community book chat/share, kinda like #1k1hr. Very few people realized that what they were sharing was not only being silently witnessed by industry folks but the originator was actively being paid to sell this information to them while also planting books that the originator was again being paid for to plant.

    My beef is that she should have made this abundantly clear on Twitter that she was making money off of people participating in this event.

  35. Keira Soleore
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:16:48

    @jane_l I agree with you on more above-board transparency.

  36. Jane
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:24:09

    @Keira Soleore On the Writerspace home page I don’t see anywhere that indicates my email will be collected and sold to authors. Can you point that out? The point is that transparency for some isn’t transparency for others. It doesn’t mean that those people who weren’t aware of the promotional intent behind the activity can’t feel misled but it also doesn’t mean that the people behind the promotional activities are engaged in hoodwinking. When you say “abundantly clear” what does that mean? I.e., where on Writerspace is it “abundantly clear” that it is an email harvester? It isn’t by the newsletter link or anywhere on the front page.

    I don’t follow Bethanne Patrick because the Friday Reads became tiresome but Bethanne would tweet (before I unfollowed her) that Book A is being given away by Publisher B and she would tweet how to get a hold of her if a publisher or author wanted to participate. I don’t know that it is necessary in terms of transparency we have to know how much is being paid but it was clear that her giveaways were sponsored in some way much like publishers giveaway books here at Dear Author and at many other sites.

    The point is that if authors like Weiner are going to complain about transparency are they pushing for more transparency in author promotion as well because if not, well, then it make the claims that transparency is all important kind of baseless.

  37. Mireya
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:25:53

    >>@Mireya: Is it the $$ itself or the possibility of profit (or something else)? Public colleges and universities, for example, are non-profit, but they have commercial enterprises to generate operational funds. Is it okay that someone is commercial but not making a profit? Or is there a trust issue? Do bloggers you already trust get a pass if they start reviewing or blogging for pay? I mean, I don’t see Book Smugglers (a site I really respect, btw) as compromised because they blog for Tor, but would that be an issue for you?<<

    Janet: to me blogging for a publisher is an issue if the site/blog also reviews book releases by the publisher they blog for. I hold all blogs/sites to this standard even if they are upfront about their reviewing the releases by the publisher they blog for.

    As to profit making, I don't consider it much of a problem. The main reason is that the upkeep of a blog/site that is high-traffic is not cheap. Domain, hosting service, bandwidth, storage, extra features, etc. all cost money. It does become a problem if the blog/site is all about promos, gushing, contests, interviews, glowing reviews, etc. I've stopped visiting a few blogs for that reason.

  38. Author on Vacation
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 16:54:13

    @Jane:
    [quote]
    Everything is okay because it advances the sale of the book and that includes giveaways of books in exchange for positive reviews, getting friends and family to leave only positive reviews even if they haven’t read it, exchanging review quotes for each other even if they a) didn’t like the book or b) even read the book. Obviously there is also the issue of adopting a fake persona to sell books and other minor and major offenses.[/quote]

    A reviewer friend and I were just discussing an author we know publishes books under her real name and under a false persona. We were both scratching our heads wondering why she would bother because we like the author’s work a lot and happily buy and read her books. I’m sure the author has her reasons for the deception but I file it away as “weirdness I really don’t want to know about.”

    With the bulk of promotional responsibility put upon authors and no means to police their methods, it stands to reason less ethical people given the opportunity to “cheat” without fear of reprisal will opt to do so.

  39. Sylvia Sybil
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 17:19:40

    Moriah Jovan,

    Reader interests beyond good stories? Off the top of my head:

    1) ability to buy at reasonable price. The price of books tends to vary, and it’s especially fluctuating in the ebook market right now.

    2) ability to buy at all. Some books are not available depending on your country, geographic location, or ebook platform.

    3) ability to access books once purchased. The DRM debate rages on…

    4) format. Various ebook formats, audio, large print. Can especially be important for disabled and elderly readers.

    5) representation. Readers from marginalized groups such as women, people of color, queers, etc. want to see ourselves a) represented and b) represented well.

    6) quality control. No typos, misformatting, or missing scenes.

  40. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 17:32:14

    @Sylvia Sybil: I’m not quite sure how all that applies to #fridayreads, Jennifer Weiner’s complaint, bloggers making money, or Robin’s concerns.

    It seems to me readers are adults and can look out for themselves. For instance, I don’t buy ebooks priced over $5.99. I crack any ebooks I (accidentally) buy that have DRM and convert them. I make sure my ebooks from Amazon are backed up to my own hard drive and don’t rely on the cloud. If I HAVE to read a book but the ebook is over $5.99 and I’d end up buying paper anyway, I get it from the library.

    Those are my choices. I figure, any reader can make his or her own choices with regard to delivery and reading, same as I can.

  41. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 17:43:48

    @John:

    It’s a case where readers didn’t do their research and instead got caught up in the moment because Weiner got angry.

    I am supposed to research a hashtag? I learned about #fridayreads when people I follow tweeted it or retweeted requests to contribute. I had no idea where it came from. I’m on Twitter to talk to people, most of whom I talk to in other venues as well. It wasn’t presented as a sponsored tag, as other hashtags are. It didn’t start as a sponsored tag, so anyone who knew its origins would have had to take extra steps when its status changed.

    Forget the Weiner aspect for a minute and look at it from the point of view of the hundreds or even thousands of participants who didn’t know what it was and don’t know Jennifer Weiner from Anthony Weiner. They thought it was a community meme. Now they’ve found out it’s a business. Do you really think it was *their* job to figure this out? Readers were counted and monetized simply by using the meme, and that information was not available anywhere on Twitter, where the monetizing activity took place.

    And for the record, while I saw a bit of Jane’s exchange with Weiner, I was off Twitter for much of the last 10 days. Like a lot of people, I don’t catch everything that passes through my tweetstream. So my reaction is almost entirely to Robin’s post, which encompasses Weiner’s role, the commercialization aspects raised in this controversy, and the broader questions of commercializing the reading and community experience. Please don’t assume my opinion has anything to do with what Jennifer Weiner tweeted or blogged.

  42. Sylvia Sybil
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 19:54:09

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Well, one, I was answering the question you asked in your comment at #22. Two, it speaks to the issue of why readers might want to have…not exactly advocacy groups. I’m not sure what the word I’m looking for here is. But a way to make our voices heard in this business, since consumers as a group are a necessary part of the business. It seems to me like much of this discussion is centering around who speaks for whom.

    Robin pointed out an issue when someone who is seen as a spokesperson for a particular marginalized group is perceived as bringing that cause down. In this case, Weiner is seen as an advocate for women’s fiction and as fulfilling stereotypes about women. That speaks directly to my interests as a woman reader. Just on my own, I don’t really care about Weiner or Patrick or their disagreements. But as someone who wants to see myself represented in the industry and on the pages, and as a member of the reviewing community, I’m paying attention.

    Yes, readers can make individual decisions about their individual lives, as you do. However, many including myself find it useful to share information and participate in various movements designed to further our interests as a whole. Neither is right or wrong.

  43. Marg
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 19:58:30

    I have been participating in Fridayreads since very early on, and yes, I have been left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth regarding the whole kerfuffle. I assumed that the books that were being given away were being donated by the publishers but that is about the end of it. I certainly didn’t realise that anything had changed.

    Having said that, the taste in my mouth is worse when it comes to the actions of Jennifer Weiner who it seems to me have turned on a specific group of readers, most of whom I doubt would have wanted to read her anyway because they have different reading tastes to the type of books she writes.

  44. Robin/Janet
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 20:08:32

    @Mandi: In addition to what @Jane said, I wonder if there’s a perceived hierarchy of value to different types of writing, and blogging/reviewing is not perceived to be of a particularly high value.

    @Ros: I understand what you’re saying. I think I’m more jaded than a lot of people; I think of the way publishers pay for space in bookstores, lay down dates, etc., of the author issues @Jane pointed out, and I start to feel like there’s no escape and wonder how I can feel more independently empowered as a reader. I still haven’t figured out the answer to that dilemma, but I’m avidly curious about the changes the online community is currently undergoing to better determine what I am and am not comfortable with myself.

    @Mireya: I frankly think it would be near impossible to be a genre fiction blogger/reviewer and NOT review Macmillan books, given the number of imprints they own. That, for me, isn’t so much an issue, I don’t think, even though I’m not the biggest Macmillan fan. I think for me it comes down to trust built up through consistency.

    @Moriah Jovan: I would have made a list similar to that of @Sylvia Sybil, so let me try to explain why I think it’s relevant.

    Weiner’s first reaction to the Book Riot/FridayReads connection was to assume that “her readers” shouldn’t participate because they’d be unwelcome. Assuming a pure motive there, the presumptions at work there just seem really off to me. That and some of the other problems I articulated re. Weiner as someone standing up for readers against a corrupt FridayReads make me reluctant to see her as protecting reader interests, including the “transparency” she’s demanding from FR. Between Weiner and FridayReads, I certainly don’t see Weiner as the superior representative of my readerly interests.

    Reader interests are varied and, to some degree, individually diverse, and I think a lot of blogging and reviewing activities involve the expression and even assertion of reader interests. Once I found out that publishers don’t even consider readers their clients, I perversely felt even more inclined to voice my opinions. And in an environment where reader data is being aggregated and commodified, I’m starting to think differently about the virtues and vices of commercialized blogging and reviewing. A lot of things can make readers the unwitting pawns of publisher, bookseller, and author promo, and I’ll bet most of them, don’t even involve monetary compensation.

    @Sunita: As much as I hate, hate, hate the seemingly uncritical reception of Weiner’s self-righteous lambasting of FridayReads, I understand where you’re coming from in terms of the disclosure issue. I do not believe Patrick was trying to conceal the connection, but I agree with you that readers should be able to make an informed choice about their participation, and in not making the promotion more transparently obvious, Patrick made a mistake that has made some readers feel that their trust was violated, regardless of her intentions.

  45. AmyW
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 20:56:29

    I assumed the FridayReads giveaways were being provided by publishers because that’s what publishers do. I didn’t know about the website, but I don’t really follow BookMaven or even the hashtag on its own (I like to see what people I’m already following are reading my regular stream, but I don’t care about what strangers are reading), so I easily could have missed info about the site or the extent of sponsorship if that was mentioned. I don’t really mind that. But I did notice in the post about FridayReads transparency on the Book Maven site (here: http://bookmavenmedia.com/2011/11/21/fridayreads-full-disclosure-from-thebookmaven/) that tweets are archived and I’m not entirely sure for what purpose. I’ve sent an email to ask, but in the meantime I don’t think I’ll be participating in the hashtag.

  46. John
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 21:39:35

    @Sunita: I’m sorry if I generalized the reaction of Twitter followers. I was generalizing the reaction types that I’ve seen on Twitter – and yours was not one of them. I didn’t mean to refer or seemingly refer to anything in particular, but I am sorry for generalizing.

    I get what you’re saying, but I feel like we live in a world where this kind of thing is hard to tack down. The business could have been more transparent, but in my opinion readily available and honest information about payment and how that payment came about is transparency. Yes, they could have marked the Tweets/promotional aspects more, but as far as I could tell the nature of #fridayreads wasn’t changed from the reader perspective. Reading a book is not a pro/con endorsement, and the thousands of readers that participate aren’t involved in business transactions on any level.

    That being said, I can see why taking part in something that causes someone monetary gain without your knowledge is a trust issue. My issue is not the lack of trust in itself, but how the lack of trust came about almost immediately after Weiner began Tweeting about the issue. She did so in a specific way that just made the transparency issues all the worse. So I can’t help but question how much of the trust issue is, for some readers, based on the way Weiner handled the issue. I’m sure readers such as yourself had them anyway and had no influence from Weiner, but she is leading the charge and is making herself an influence on people.

    And, what is perhaps something that is blocking my full understanding, is the concept of transparency that we’re talking about. I understand it, but in my experience of using the hashtag I never felt like it required enough personal investment to bring about such fierce trust issues. I understand the reader’s right to participate or not and to question the nature of the hashtag in question, but to me the nature and usage of the hashtag isn’t directly correlating with how personally readers are taking the level of trust.

    To continue with the analogy of paying to put books out front in stores – many just say “New Fiction” or “New Teen” or “Paranormal Romance” or the like. Others use store recommendations from specific individuals. The difference in my viewpoint is that #fridayreads is like the former. People state what they are reading, but the actual monetary transaction just puts the product out in viewpoint – in this case for giveaways, which are already a form of advertising for books. I don’t think readers would be that shocked to find out that placement is paid. There is nothing in the former signs that suggests there is any personal recommendation for those books. However, if it were a service that readers would trust for a very specific purpose (reviewing – hence the continual transparency concerns in the blogosphere – being an example), then it would be more like the latter. Readers finding out that a supposedly unbiased endorsement is paid for…now that, to me, seems like it would garner more of a trust issue.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel there were heavy mistakes on both ends, but I don’t understand the intensity of the reactions in this case of transparency because the monetary exchange isn’t dealing with endorsement but with visibility – at least in my eyes. I understand that other readers are viewing it differently, though, and that’s not wrong – my logic just led me to question why, and Weiner’s involvement seemed like it would have a negative effect on the discussion based on how far her reach is and how she can become very vocal very quickly.

  47. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 22:33:05

    @John: Thanks, John.

    I think that when one is inside the discussion and seeing comments from involved parties, it is harder to get a sense of what it looks like on the outside. My sense, from reading a few posts linked by Robin and elsewhere, is that there are a lot of readers who didn’t connect Patrick, let alone her business, to #fridayreads. Whether they should have is another matter, but the reality is that they didn’t (as I didn’t).

    To me, the issue is less about an intense level of trust than the sense that trust, whether of a shallow or deep type, has been violated. There are two arenas in which trust was operating. One is Twitter, and the extent to which the platform allows participants to choose the level of commercialization and marketing to which they are exposed. Facebook is more or less to the point where participants are stuck. But Twitter hasn’t been entirely captured yet, by which I mean that it is possible to tweet with a group of people and avoid a lot of the marketing aspects. If people violate that, you unfollow them. The #fridayreads monetization breached that by moving from community to business without explicitly letting participants know. For people like me, who care about managing their exposure to marketing on Twitter, that was significant in principle, regardless of the concrete harm.

    The second level is the trust that operates in the romance community. Remember that this community developed among people who were marginalized in the larger reading community. For many of us, the online romance world was a rare arena in which we could talk about books freely as readers, without being judged negatively. When I think about people like Robin, Janine, Maili and others with whom I’ve talked online for close to a decade, there is a level of trust and community that is unusual. So a lot of us scrutinize the monetization of those relationships quite closely and skeptically. That’s why transparency is so important. Obviously this isn’t true for all romance readers, but I think we’re a non-trivial proportion of the active community.

    I completely agree that forms of promotion such as placement on front tables and endcaps in bookstores should be part of the discussion. But not talking about them doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the rest. As for the timing, I think Weiner’s post served as what scholars of collective action call a sunspot, i.e., a focal point that acts as a signal to readers. They responded because the issue was salient to them, not because they particularly cared about Weiner.

    I don’t think we want to get into the amount of harm done being the proper measure of allowable outrage. As the well-known quote says, we’ve already agreed on the type of transaction we’re undertaking, we’re only arguing about the price.

  48. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 22:41:16

    @Robin/Janet: We always hear about the unfairness of the “shoot the messenger” reaction. This strikes me as the reverse, i.e., a case where the messenger is getting way too much credit for the message. The canary in the gold mine is valuable, but it’s still just a birdbrain.

    And with that, my metaphor abuse quotient is used up for the next week at least.

  49. Jane
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 06:00:57

    @Sunita I think it sounds like people were unperturbed that the giveaways were sponsored by publishers but bothered by the insertion fee.

    What’s the difference?

  50. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 07:23:51

    @Jane: I used the #fridayreads hashtag a few times to state what I was reading. I assumed that others were doing the same. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but it sounds like Patrick is being paid to tweet about books. That’s okay with me as long as she tells her audience about the relationship, because a paid mention or recommendation is not valuable to me. Self-recommendations from authors (on Goodreads, for example) are in the same category. Not as useful as recs from an independent source.

    Here at DA, the ads are on the sidelines. We know the author or publisher paid for that space, and we can ignore it if we choose to. I prefer a clear distinction between ads/promotions and reviews/recs.

  51. Ros
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 07:34:05

    @Sunita: I agree. And I’m getting a bit fed up with being told it’s my fault I didn’t know what was going on and that readers who didn’t do their research deserved to be used in this way.

    If you clicked on the #fridayreads hashtag to get the aggregated view of tweets using it, there was no way of knowing that some of those tweets were paid promotions and there was no way of knowing that someone had originated the hashtag as a marketing scheme.

  52. Sunita
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 07:36:22

    @Jane: Hmmm, good question. I’m not sure, but it might be because people who cared about the giveaways would probably be following @bookmaven and were more likely to know the giveaways were sponsored. The comments to this column suggested to me that some bloggers were annoyed that Patrick didn’t specify that she was paid to do giveaways, but I’m not sure that non-blogging readers think about how the money for giveaways works. I think a lot of them probably assume, at this point, that giveaways involve publishers though.

    With the insertion fee the paid content can’t be disentangled from the unpaid content, so you have ads that appear to be editorial, in the journalistic sense. That feels like a direct violation of the community meme aspect of #fridayreads. And, of course, the FTC regs are explicit in stating that if you are paid, it doesn’t matter whether you would have sincerely promoted that product or not, you have to disclose (if I remember correctly, you don’t have to disclose the level of compensation, just that there was compensation, so the giveaways info sounds as if it met that criteria).

  53. Maili
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 09:05:02

    @Jane: The difference is a platform itself, surely?

    When one is on a specific blog/site, one can assume that giveaway books are provided by publishers. It may not be the case for all review/book blogs, but that assumption is built-in, anyway.

    When one is on a public platform like Twitter? That’s where it gets hairy.

    How could you tell the difference between
    a reader (including author, reviewer or whomever) is doing it out of passion – “I love this book! It’s fantastic! I want everyone to try it! My copy to anyone who wants it!
    and
    a reader who’s paid to promote books via mentions, recommendations or giveaways – “I love this book! It’s fantastic! I want everyone to try it! My copy to anyone who wants it!“?

    When there’s no disclaimer or any note of transparency in a Twitter profile, we can assume that reader is a passionate book sharer.

    When that reader gives away books, a typical follower – especially those who’re not particularly involved with an online book community – might think “Holy cow. That reader is a believer. So generous, and so keen on getting everyone to try this book. I can’t impose on her generosity, so I’ll have to buy a copy of my own.”

    So it becomes a violation of some sort when it turns out that that reader who’s a paid book pimp. It’d make some feel a tad foolish, too, for trusting that reader’s passion and generosity enough to buy copies of their own. It can affect their perspective and, perhaps trust, of other readers may be doing the same.

    May I point out that a book community is, at heart, a showcase of books and/or a gallery of recommendations and tastes? I mean where else can you go for recs if you can’t trust the community? Boundaries have to be drawn somewhere. Hence, a need for transparency.

    Not essential, of course, but a community that revolves around a hobby or interest, commercialised or not, is built on trust and companionship. It could become a form of Amazon recommendation hell if these can’t be maintained.

    I do think it’s entirely possible to trust the recs by a reader who’s paid to promote those books, though. Especially if they’re upfront about it from the start.

  54. Author on Vacation
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 09:34:07

    @Ros:

    Ros, although I certainly would never condone “using” readers (or any other consumers,) deliberately misleading them, etc., I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone selling or promoting a particular product to expect consumer/s to know something about that product and its marketing.

    It’s also worth noting that many authors are authors, not marketing and promotional experts. With more and more responsibility for a book’s promotion falling upon authors, authors can just as easily find themselves and/or their work taken advantage of as well as readers. They may choose to participate in marketing attempts they’ve been assured are perfectly legal and they may be out of their element in determining whether readers will understand the nature of the marketing ploy any better than they do. That’s not the reader’s fault, of course. But when the blind are leading the blind …

  55. Author on Vacation
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 11:21:43

    @Maili:

    How could you tell the difference between
    a reader (including author, reviewer or whomever) is doing it out of passion – “I love this book! It’s fantastic! I want everyone to try it! My copy to anyone who wants it!”
    and
    a reader who’s paid to promote books via mentions, recommendations or giveaways – “I love this book! It’s fantastic! I want everyone to try it! My copy to anyone who wants it!“?

    So it becomes a violation of some sort when it turns out that that reader who’s a paid book pimp. It’d make some feel a tad foolish, too, for trusting that reader’s passion and generosity enough to buy copies of their own. It can affect their perspective and, perhaps trust, of other readers may be doing the same.

    But is this type of violation any more or less damaging to a reading community than, say, an unpaid reviewer panning a book because s/he has an axe to grind with the author? What about an unpaid reviewer panning a book’s elements due to his/her own ignorance of subjects in the book? I’ve even read reviews where reviewers admitted to being distracted and too busy with personal issues to really get involved in a book, so they couldn’t be bothered to finish it, the implication being that if the book was “really good” they would have soldiered on and finished the read.

    I don’t see how paid reviewers do any more damage and miscommunication than unpaid reviewers when it comes to offering conscientious, well-intentioned insights on why one loved/liked/disliked/loathed a book.

    In my mind, an ideal review features the following elements:

    1. The reviewer is a proficient writer. Writing is the medium utilized to convey the reviewer’s thoughts.

    2. The reviewer purchased or at least selected the book s/he is reviewing. The book was not “assigned reading” to the reviewer. I don’t accept free review copies because I believe my not paying for a book influences my opinion on a book. A book that might be an okay freebie might strike me as too low quality if I paid its $2, $5, or $9 cover price.

    3. The reviewer has proficient reading/comprehension, grammar skills, and communication skills.

    4. Reviewers should be well read to the point they understand and appreciate variations in literary styles, devices, and voices. Reviewers should have a strong awareness of their own tastes and their ability or inability to consider a book on its own merits/lack of merits if a book doesn’t “reach” them personally. I’ve read books I disliked, but I still acknowledged that they were written well and might very well “reach” a different audience.

    5. Reviewers must willingly invest the time and effort to read and understand the entire book. If reviewers didn’t read and understand the entire book, their reviews are irrelevant. I don’t care about the reviewers’ schedule constraints, I don’t care if they were bored, confused, distracted, sick, had unexpected house guests, or lack sufficient intellectual agility and discipline to stick with a book whose introduction didn’t “wow” them. I don’t care about what reviewers have to say about books they did not read.

    6. Reviewers should be willing to stand by their reviews despite whatever reactions, good or bad, their reviews inspire. If a reviewer can’t stand by his opinion, his opinion doesn’t belong on the internet.

    Needless to say, very few reviewers or review sites “cut the mustard” for me. There are many abuses within the amateur reviewing community even without paid reviews.

    For the record, I invest a lot of time and analytical thought into reviewing books and I certainly would not mind being compensated to read and review books with the caveat I am being paid to read the entire book and to review it fairly. “Fairly” does not mean I’ll love the book or tell others I love the book, but that I will provide an honest, thoughtful opinion of the book and discuss it’s strengths and its weaknesses without resorting to cheap shots, snark, and attention-whore tactics. I don’t see how such an opinion is any more or less dishonest than other shenanigans de rigeur in the reading community at present.

  56. Jane
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 13:44:36

    @Maili Oh see, I never took #fridayreads tweets by Bethanne to be anything but promotion after she started tweeting about giveaways. Of course, then again, I stopped following #fridayreads early on so I don’t really know what it has evolved into. I’m not against transparency and I think adding #promo to a tweet makes sense, but I also think it comes down to what is “abundantly clear.” Like @Keira Soleore’s comment about writerspace. I don’t think it’s abundantly clear anywhere on the Writerspace website that they are an aggregator of emails that are then sold to newsletter lists. Obviously some people just know this information and thus it seems clear to them and the issue of transparency is obvious to them where it is less clear to others not in the know. The challenge is how to get everyone in the know.

  57. Jane
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 13:49:09

    @Sunita I should add that the cover quote thing directly violates the FTC regulations and no one in publishing seems terribly concerned about that including the authors.

  58. Sunita
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 14:08:02

    @Jane: I was thinking about how much information is not really shared in the sense of being something everyone in the community knows. For example, endcaps and front tables in bookstores. I remember feeling so disappointed when I found out that they were purchased slots rather than bookstore choices. And wasn’t there a story on how the “employee recommends” books were also promo slots?

    In my academic field we tend to use cover quotes to track scholarly relationships rather than thinking of them as genuine recs, so I don’t think of fiction cover quotes as substantively valuable, but I’ve heard readers refer to them as though they are meaningful in terms of recommendations.

    Maybe DA should do a post on all the different types of promo that are out there that a reader might not know about.

  59. Mireya
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 14:54:31

    >>@Mireya: I frankly think it would be near impossible to be a genre fiction blogger/reviewer and NOT review Macmillan books, given the number of imprints they own. That, for me, isn’t so much an issue, I don’t think, even though I’m not the biggest Macmillan fan. I think for me it comes down to trust built up through consistency.<<

    Janet, I fully understand what you are saying. When I replied to your question I didn't even think that Tor is part of Macmillan *smacks forehead*. As you pointed out, Macmillan is way too large to discard a blog that actually blogs for an imprint, not the whole of the company. I keep thinking in terms of smaller publishers, duh.

    What you say makes a lot of sense, and it brings forth something that I have been thinking about since I read your article: the perceived value of the site/blog in the eyes of each individual reader/visitor. Question is, if the reader finds certain things objectionable, is the overall perceived value high enough to motivate the reader to overlook those objections? I think that many of us do evaluate what we may be getting from a blog/site, be it information, news, entertainment, reviews, even the reputation of the blog before deciding if any potential issue is actually something that would impact our experience negatively.

  60. Robin/Janet
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 01:23:38

    Sorry for the tardy responses; work has been extra krazy for the past several days.

    @Ros: And I’m getting a bit fed up with being told it’s my fault I didn’t know what was going on and that readers who didn’t do their research deserved to be used in this way.

    I don’t think you or any other reader who did not know that FridayReads had a promotional aspect should have done more to find out. In this case, I think it’s fair to say that the promo stuff wasn’t disseminated obviously enough.

    Where I feel myself pushing back a bit (and I’m not directing this specifically at you) is on the presumption of nefarious intent. For example, I found it incredibly ironic that Weiner was using FridayReads own FAQ page to lambast Patrick for lack of public disclosure. Patrick may not have been transparent enough for many people, but I think even Weiner’s use of her FAQ page makes it clear Patrick was hardly trying to hide the promo. Which is another reason the uncritical reception of Weiner’s comments on Patrick and FridayReads frustrates and flummoxes me. Not only do I think there’s an unclean hands issue because of the ‘Patrick was mean to me’ thing, but I also don’t believe Weiner brought the issue up in good faith. She doesn’t, for example, discuss the promo issue around authors — e.g. she invokes the FTC regs but totally ignores the cover quotes issue, which is itself a violation. NOT that I expect Weiner to implicate herself, nor am I suggesting that she is dishonest or personally non-disclosing about her own promo. I’m just saying that there is a lot the average reader may not know is promotion or commercially subsidized that I would expect Weiner, as a commercial author of substantial sales, to know about. And yet she acts like what Patrick is doing is so uncommon as to be outrageous. To me it did not look at all like Weiner wanted to open a good faith, honest discussion about adequate disclosure and transparency, which is kind of ironic given her diatribe about honest and ethical behavior.

    Why can’t Patrick just have made a miscalculation? Why does it have to be an issue of intentional dishonesty and subterfuge?

    As @Jane said, there is a real debate over what “abundantly clear” transparency/disclosure means, and I suspect that will differ somewhat from person to person and situation to situation. And now, with so many bloggers in Romance, for example, hosting ads and/or reviewing/writing for sites like Heroes and Heartbreakers and the New York Journal of Books, etc. — not to mention the number of readers who are themselves aspiring commercial authors — the landscape is changing rapidly and in ways that create different levels of knowledge among different cohorts of online community members (and different expectations about what is and isn’t known). It’s like while we’re still grappling with the question of whether commercial sponsorship/support or payment changes the independence quotient we also have to grapple with how those situations should be handled in terms of “abundantly clear” disclosure, etc., because circumstances are moving more rapidly than our ability to really assimilate and sort out all of their implications.

  61. What matters, and it isn’t Twitter | Monica Jackson
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 08:46:51

    […] is a literary brouhaha going on involving Twitter, some readers site with the hashtag #fridaydeals and Jennifer Weiner. It […]

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