(Trying to make the title sound Jane Austenish, and not really succeeding.)
If anyone cares (we’re looking at you, Federal Trade Commission), we’ve updated our disclaimers and information about book and other media reviews on AustenBlog in light of new “guidelines” from the FTC about blogger reviews and endorsements. We have mixed feelings about these new guidelines; we’ve long deplored the behavior of bloggers who seem to look at their blogging activities as a teat of swag upon which to suckle, and feel the need to keep the goodies flowing by only giving positive reviews of said swag (which, to our knowledge, have included free tickets and Amazon gift certificates for reviewing a certain film that was not very popular around AustenBlog World Headquarters). We have to admit that the first time we were offered a book to review, we were briefly seduced by the vision of a river of free swag flowing towards our door; but when we began to drown under the weight of Not Another Pride and Prejudice Sequel Oh My Godfathers Make It Stop*, the “free” swag doesn’t seem quite so free anymore. The Crack Staff Reviewers of AustenBlog work for their bread, Gentle Readers, trust us, and we find these “guidelines” to be not only insulting to our ethics but overkill. We wonder if Michiko Kakutani has to return the books she reviews at pain of an $11,000 fine? And we’re quite certain that Ms. Kakutani is not a volunteer, as are the lovely and talented AustenBlog reviewers.
It is our experience that, while some authors (and their fanpoodles) have taken it amiss when we did not cry hosannas and toss rose petals at their feet for deigning to grace the unwashed Janeites with their deathless prose, and while some publicists have been a touch grumpy at less than positive reviews, in most cases they were pleased that we reviewed the book at all, because it brought the book to the attention of those who might be most interested in it. In other words, the system works. Most issues we have had about reviews have come from the lack of a review for a book sent. Our reviewers are volunteers, and sometimes get busy and sometimes find the book too boring or stupid to finish. There have been books that we have retrieved (at our own expense) from reviewers and sent to other reviewers (at our own expense) in a desperate attempt to get someone to read it. In some cases, it has taken three or four reviewers to read a book before it finally got reviewed; in some cases *coughMrDarcyTakesAWifecough* several reviewers have hated a book so much that they refused to finish it, and it was never reviewed.
We have never felt an obligation to give books good reviews because we were provided with a free copy, but we admit of late that we have mostly avoided reviewing books we did not enjoy. The other AustenBlog reviewers have fortunately felt no such missish scruples. 😉 That being said, if the Editrix said she liked a book, you can be sure that she really liked it, and if she gushed immoderately over it, that she loved it. That doesn’t guarantee everyone else will like it, of course.
It should also be pointed out that the “free books” with which we are provided are not always the copies one can purchase in one’s Friendly Neighborhood Book Emporium. They often are Advanced Reading Copies, or ARCs, and sometimes have been created from manuscripts that are still being proofread, and are bound early in the publication process so that reviewers can have a review ready to go on the publication date. Such ARCs can contain errors of punctuation or layout and typos that are fixed before final publication. These ARCs cannot be resold (technically, though some reviewers do it). Yet the FTC considers such books “compensation” for writing a review. As we said, our Crack Staff Reviewers (and our lovely Guest Reviewers as well) work for their bread, Gentle Readers, such bread as it is. Anyway, in future, we will probably post some kind of disclaimer with our book and other media reviews. But in general, the Editrix is not compensated for the blog and in fact it costs us a few dollars a year to run. We also will reveal where we get swag for giveaways, though we have always considered our Gentle Readers intelligent enough to know that they mostly come from those purveying the item. We hope these measures will appease The Powers That Be.
*Not to pick on P&P sequels, but hello authors, she wrote five other books! We know there are readers who can’t get enough of P&P sequels and prequels and rewrites and reimaginings and modern updates, and we are told that books inspired by the other novels don’t sell well enough to publish (which in itself is a curious fact), but our reviewers agree that a little variety would be a good thing.