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Are Book Reviews A Service Worth Paying For?

I know it is bit of an irony, me writing this post. But I like to keep things fair and inclusive. So, this post is for both authors and book reviewers/bloggers. My humble attempt to understand this particular space in book reviews and promotions, written with an honest intent to put things into perspective.

While building this community for the last six years, I have encountered & engaged with many people from both side of the fence (authors & fellow reviewers/bloggers) which allows me to make these observations & perhaps certain bold conclusions about ‘paid book reviews’. In fact, the moment I spell out “paid” instead of just simply putting it as Book reviews, is being bold. Isn’t it? Back then it was a big NO. Neither the author would offer, nor the bloggers would ask. You know what I mean. Getting a free book to read, author approached personally. How do I ask for money?

About 3 years ago, when I found review aggregation as a potential monetization plan for my tiny little (almost abandoned) blog little did I know how big the collective power of bloggers can become. Product reviews, Launches, Unboxings – the influencer marketing space was just beginning to scale up. While blogging is largely a solitary effort, I personally sucked at it. Needed constant validation, a support group, a team, a partner whom I could fall back on. And rest of it just followed.

So while bloggers keep thinking, How do I become more popular and make more money from the blog? Authors, on the other hand, are stressed, if their books would sell, will they get a publisher for their next book. And when they both meet around the time when the book has hit the stands, these are typically the questions running through their minds.

Bloggers / Reviewers: Why should we ‘participate’ in paid book review programs? Or review just this book for free? 

Authors: Why should I ‘pay’ for reviewing my new book? is it worth my money? Well, I don’t want to bias them. I hope they have something nice to say. 

So here’s what I think about it.

To Reviewers / Bloggers –

  • Frankly, most of the popular bloggers these days don’t even find book reviews a lucrative exercise for their blog. It is a tedious effort leading to very little and often NO monetary gain. “Blogging is no longer just a fun/hobby thing. It is a serious business”.  So unless they really love books, it is unlikely that they will embrace this. Because it is absolutely impossible to put together the economics of a Car vs a Book. But I believe you are here because you think reading is an integral part of writing and blogging. The more you read, the better you write. 
  • Sure you read a book because you want to & perhaps because of your curiosity & interest in the subject. and don’t like to “charge” for reading or reviewing the book. And trust me I know how much fun it is to just read a book and forget about it. Or leave a boring book halfway through. But if you chose to write a review, ON YOUR BLOG, it can definitely help or motivate an author. Either because you had praising words for the book or because of your constructive feedback.Think about the noble task you did (to both your readers & the author) by giving your valuable time to read the book & by sharing the review. 
  • Ok agreed, the reviews you do, are still going to be your opinion. Your assessment of the book,100 % original & honest. In no way influenced or biased, because you got a free copy. This ‘honest opinion’ thing is pretty much non negotiable in the blogging world, isn’t it? Goes with all kinds of product reviews, launches and stuff that you do on your blog. But then why should ‘honest opinion’ stop you from getting remunerated? Your effort to read & review, popularity & quality of your blog also counts right?

This article by a fellow blogger, Why I do not review books for free By Sakshi Nanda resonated really well with me. And I find it quite humorous and extremely honest. I really hope more and more bloggers like her do book reviews more often.

  • And finally some piece of philosophy/advice. Writing a book, blogging, making art, starting a business all of these require an insane amount of perseverance, readiness to adapt, accept a series of failures and worse is a fairly long period of time when you were ignored. Like nobody knew you & your creation exists, except maybe your friends & family. So I do believe, any creative pursuit is near conclusion, only & only when you start making money & your work starts speaking for yourself. So make it a serious business. Just like we didStart with whatever time you have. Whatever little you can earn from it. But make sure you know for sure, whether your blog is your personal diary or your creative/social identity that you would like to flaunt and be proud of.
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To Authors – famous or in the making,

  • Some of you may have traveled the blogging path before you became a ‘published author’. Bur for those who haven’t, blogging world can be fairly murky and perhaps a little daunting. So, it is advisable you study or observe some of these trends personally, before you actually jump into the online marketing bandwagon for your book(s). Or hire an agency.
  • Over the past few years, there has literally been a ‘tsunami’ of books in India. Particularly the genre that we largely deal with – Popular Commercial Fiction. Let’s accept it, it is the point of influx, a new found enthusiasm & love affair with writing, our first generation of English authors are born and are happily flocking around us. Social media is overflowing with their interviews, reviews, fan selfies and so are the literature festivals mushrooming in every single city (in multiple corners of the same city at times). Newspapers and mainstream media pay attention to very few books and ‘superstar authors’, often hard paid than earned. So where do you go? How do you get heard? Somewhat loud & hopefully clear?
  • So lets be clear, by standard marketing definition, you need visibility = awareness + trial + feedback (and hopefully a positive word of mouth). And a paid review program and a focused online marketing plan is actually the tried and tested way to achieve all of this. But having said that, if paid reviews is the only activity in your marketing plan and is going to totally exhaust your hard earned/saved money then DON’T GO FOR IT. Remember your royalty check is still far far away? At least rationalize it, plan it, understand it as much as you can before you actually sign up for a paid review program. Or decide the scope for it. 
  • We all know the power of positive reviews from a known or trusted source, interview opportunities & other media coverage. But are you also willing to accept some brickbats? Be ready for it. It is coming your way, sooner or later. Online marketing particularly is very little cushion from that. And what happens when your investment actually gave your negative returns? 98% of the authors we have handled in the past were happy with the review programs. The reviews they got were balanced, mostly positive & were largely satisfied with the quality of reviews & popularity of the bloggers. But for the remaining 2%, I am not too sure. Frankly, it was difficult for us to change the direction of the storm. In that case, is this exercise still worth it? What do you think? Can you manage being ignored than reviewed negatively? I am not sure.
  • Finally and most importantly why are you paying? And to whom? I understand (& as mentioned in detail above) that reviewing a book is an effort worth considering. Just like beta reading, editing, cover designing and other aspects while putting out a book. So the quality of service is equally important. The blogging & book marketing industry is still shaping up and we have lots to learn and get inspired from international success stories. Driving the point again, reviewing a book is still a service, where quality & authenticity is equally important. But how can it be more valuable for you as an author? That is a question that every author needs to ask themselves.
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So while,  people crazy enough like us actually sit and do the math, calibrate & re calibrate the way market is moving. There will be people from either side of the fence, who will not support or believe in this very concept of ‘paid reviews’. And that’s fine for the time being I guess.

Enjoy reading. Take a slice in writing !

Priyanka

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