Sunday, January 4, 2009

ARCs swinging on vines

ARCs - Advance Reader Copies - are the subject of the latest, greatest discussion I stumbled upon on the Amazon.com forum today. I was reviewing a splendid book today on Amazon ("The Master and Margarita", Bulgakov, absolutely and 100% recommended!) when I decided to take a peek at the top reviewers. This page led me to an Amazon discussion about a reviewer. Boring. However, in the midst of the discussion, a new one about ARCs emerged. Some claimed that when publishers or companies send ARCs [free books], they're bribing reviewers for good reviews. A couple of reviewers brought up the Amazon Vine program as an example of publishers marketing through "bribes". One called the program a "scheme".

I'm a member of the Vine program. Sort of. I only just ordered my first books through the program and have yet to receive or read them. I presume I'll read them sooner than later because, yes, getting free stuff is fun and that's how the program works. That some people think I'm going to praise the book unconditionally because I got it for free is insulting. Really insulting, in fact.

The argument was that someone who gives a 4/5 star review for almost every book is clearly not doing so out of their own free will. They're being bribed for it. To which I say, "What?!" Obviously most reviews on Amazon are positive ones. It's much easier and significantly more satisfactory to write a positive review than one in which you're fairly apathetic towards the book. And some readers like a lot of books. You can enjoy a book thoroughly without it being a classic. I distinguish between my own quality control check and the star rating in my reviews. I'll often give something a higher star rating than it deserves (for various) and will usually allude to this in the review itself. I found that about 1/10 of my reviews are clearly negative/non-positive. I write more positive reviews because it makes me happy to recommend books I like to people. Plus, I prefer to read books that look good and often these books turn out to be, what can I say, good (worthy of 4/5 star ratings).

Should ARCs be given to reviewers? Sure, why not? There are no moral issues with it so long as the reviewer is an honest one. The insinuation that free items will sway the reviewers opinion is an insulting one. The discussion makes a good point that a reviewer should point out if they read an ARC, just to make it clear that they didn't take money issues into account and are presuming that stupid editing mistakes will be corrected in later editions.

So? Should reviewers (amateur, professional or otherwise) get books for free in exchange for reviews? Are there any moral issues I should be told about? It's a curious topic, mostly because there are clearly two starkly different sides to it. Quite surprising.

3 comments:

  1. I think it is a matter of how much I, as a reviewer, am vested in receiving the ARCs. If I feel I need them and in being afraid of losing them don't think I can be honest...yes, that is a problem.
    But as I have written on my own blog, while it is fun to get free books, and especially to get books that I might not read otherwise, if I never get another I have my huge TBR pile to tide me over for a long time. I would never be less than honest in a review to protect any 'freebies'.

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  2. What can appear as reviewer bias may simply be because reviewers request books that interest them. This is certainly the case for me. I request books that appeal to me - genres, content, styles etc that I know I like - and so it is not surprising that most of them receive positive reviews.

    I feel no obligation to rave about a book simply because I received it for free.

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  3. Thanks for this little rant. I am a lit-blogger who happens to get quite a few ARCs and review copies of books. I am pretty selective of what I will accept (ie: I pick books that look good to me and that I think I will enjoy). I have always been 100% HONEST in my reviews, even though it can be uncomfortable to dislike a book which has been sent to me free. Bottom line: I tell publicists and authors right up front on my blog that my reviews are fair and honest. I would say my ratings lean toward the high side...but not because I'm not honest, but for the reason you stated above.

    I agree with you - it is insulting to have others imply that just because the book arrived free I am somehow going to toss my moral and ethical fiber into the wind and lie on a review. Ridiculous!!

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