This blog post over at MotherReader brings up some really good questions, like, "should we consider ourselves 'paid' for the reviews we do?' and "are we volunteer marketing machines?" Read the post and you'll understand what I'm getting at. While I agree with MotherReader that I think we'll remain just under the radar of the FTC, it doesn't get us out of the red.
While we can't provide our service without obtaining galleys, can those be perceived as payment? I think depending on which way you bend your head they can. It's a free book. All we have to do is read it and review it and we can keep it. Lately I've been seeing other bloggers branching out into bookshelves. You get to keep the product but in return you need to review it and promote it on your blog. What's next? Kindles? Coolers? Tablet PCs? Just watch it. The bigger the products, the bigger the blip on the radar we become and the LAST thing any of us want to do is start reporting what we receive to the FTC. That's a guaranteed way to whittle the book blogging world down to nothing.
Are we just volunteer marketing machines? Yeah, I'd say so. Lately I've been feeling a little bit like a contest whore too with all of the contests I've been running. But I'm not the only one running contests. Many, many other bloggers are. So does that make our followers legitimate followers and readers of our blogs or simply a number because we offer extra points to win a free book if you sign up? I often wonder on that one, which leads into wondering what kind of impact my reviews are having.
I also often see the same book sprawled across multiple blogs at the same time in a mass marketing campaign to get the word out. I understand the meaning, but like hearing the same song over and over again on the radio, it can become an overkill. Personally, that kind of marketing has the adverse effect on me. I'll purposely avoid a book that's being pimped like that simply because it's monopolizing our "advertising" space. The only product with repeat advertising that'll work on me is food. And I can't eat a book.
I'm not criticizing anyone or looking down on people because they review this that or the other thing. In all honesty, I could use a new bookshelf and would be more than willing to review one for someone! *wink wink* But in all seriousness, as a community, we do a damn good job at what we do. Word of mouth is the biggest means of selling a book and we are that mouth.
But we have to decide, who do we work for: the publisher or the public? Are we servicing the publisher that gives us the book by providing a favorable review? What if we ended up not liking it? Or do we serve the public by providing honest reviews that'll help them decide which books are worth buying? Where do our loyalties lie? If it's with the public, I feel we will never cross that FTC line. But if it's with the publisher, or the bookshelf maker or Amazon, we're in trouble.
We really need to watch ourselves because once we cross that line, we can't go back and that'll just suck. We have a really good thing going here. We get free products from people without having to report any of it and then we get to say what we want about it to let the public know about it. Not bad for a volunteer job. But we are not shills. We are not sell-outs. We do what we do because we love it. Because we love reading. Because we love books. We want to help promote them. We just have to be weary of that line.