Friday, June 27, 2008

Publisher Gift Disclosures

It's that busy time of year, when book publishers have lots of cookbooks and food interest books to offer us food bloggers for free (subtly in exchange for a website review on our blogs).

When reviewing these free books, do you disclose the book's source in your post?

If you do, what is your best way to state this information in the post?

This Post was written by McAuliflower from Brownie Points Blog


Ilva said...

When I review books that I have received for free I always tell my readers that it was sent to me by the publisher. But I really don't think it matters as I only review the books that I like, it's more a matter of transparency as you say in Italy. I usually say it right on in the beginning but I see that others add a line at the end about it.

Barbara said...

I always say if it is a freebie from the publisher. At the beginning or end depends on the post. I only write about the ones I like.

Joanna said...

I've never been offered a book to review :( so this is a dilemma I've so far been spared. But as a reader, I like to know that the book was a gift, and it doesn't matter to me how the blogger conveys that information ... if there's a lingering suspicion, it devalues not just the post, but the whole blog.

I've often wondered how it is that some apparently quite small blogs seem to get a lot of freebies - but perhaps some bloggers go out of their way to get them?


Pam said...

I disclose, every time. No question.

cybele said...

Of course disclose and don't feel the need to be subtle. I've only done it once (and will probably never do it again, though now I can't get off the damn lists).

In my case the source of all my reviews is in a little spec box at the bottom, you could try something similar that has the price, number of pages, color pictures if any, publisher, etc.

davidL said...

Like movie previews for critics, review copies of books are widely distributed for free to people in the media. Most often it's an uncorrected bound-galley; a replica of the book prior to the final printing.

Magazine and newspaper journalists are on deadlines and they often want their reviews to be timely and coincide with publication of the book.

With bloggers, there's no sense of urgency and a finished copy is probably preferable to you anyways. If you feel pressure to review the book, then take a pass.

Good publicists understand this and should never pressure anyone for a positive review or mention.

Amy Sherman said...

If a blogger has integrity they are reviewing things fairly and honestly, no matter what. I really don't see what difference it makes whether a book was a review copy or not.

Does anyone really believe a blogger would be swayed into giving a good review simply because they got a copy for free? If I'm given a book as a present by my parents do I need to disclose that too?

Kalyn said...

I always have and always will disclose if I received a book for free. I feel it builds trust among my readers. I also only write about books or food products if I like the book or product enough that I would have actually purchased it myself.

However, I'm feeling more and more conflicted lately about accepting books or food products. Since I do have ads on my blog, writing a review for a cookbook, even a book I'm wild about, is starting to feel like giving that publisher a FREE AD on the blog, and one that lives on for the life of my blog, not just an ad that appears for a day.

Since it's very cheap for a publisher to give away cookbooks to bloggers compared to the cost of paying for an ad, it's easy to see why they're happy to send you one. I guess when I see lots and lots of bloggers writing about a certain cookbook, I'm starting to feel like cookbook publishers are getting a sweet deal, and I sometimes feel a bit taken advantage of.

On the other hand, I think keeping current with cooking trends is crucial for a food blog, and I like discovering books that I can recommend to my readers too. I have had readers write and thank me for recommending a certain cookbook.

Sorry to rattle on about it, but as I said, this is becoming more and more of a dilemma for me. I hope no one is offended by my thoughts about this, this is only my feelings, not in any way a suggestion that other bloggers should feel the same way.

David said...

When I write up a book, I always feel like I'm doing something for the author rather than the publisher.

Recently I was sent a personal message about a book from a pr person at a publishing house, from a London restaurant that I never heard of.

I went to the site of the restaurant, which looked terrific, so I said "Yes." The book was amazing and beautiful, and I was happy to help out the authors in giving the book a wider audience. (Plus I learned about a new place to eat if I ever get back to London!)

That's one of the things I like about having a blog: I'm free to promote products and places that I like and give them more exposure than they might not get elsewhere, like food tv and magazines, which seems to be more focused on competitive cooking...and equally compelling fare.

Kyla said...

I've never been sent books to review as a blogger but as a scholar and writer I've reviewed for the SF Chronicle, The Globe and Mail and Gastronomica.

My general feeling about reviewing is this: if the book is really bad I refuse to review it. If it is not the greatest but might provoke an interesting thought piece I will be gently critical and fair. I simply will not review books negatively any more (unless they're by, you know, the worst person in the world like Dick Cheney, in which case he deserves it). It's like giving a family restaurant a bad review; it's just not fair, it's unkind and ultimately the product's quality will determine it's fate. It doesn't need my self-aggrandizing help.

As for disclosure, I don't think it matters either way: no reviewer pays for their books whether at a newspaper or at a magazine (who rarely publish negative reviews either). People should know this. And when you are willing to plunk down your hard-earned (as I did for David's book, and happily!) saying so makes your review that much stronger.

I've thought a lot about this, sorry to ramble.

Kalyn said...

David, thanks for your comment; that does help me some with my thoughts about accepting things. I do realize that most authors who write cookbooks don't get rich doing it, and I like the idea of thinking of it as helping the cookbook author.

zoe / puku said...

Although I too have never been offered a free book to review (but would be more than happy to receive.. you say there's a list one can be added to somehow, Cybele?) as a reader, I do think it matters how the blogger got the book they're writing about.

for the transparency and building trust issues as others have mentioned, but also there is a difference between a cookbook you were given, and found that yes, you actually really enjoyed it and/or the recipes etc, and a cookbook you fell in love with, coveted or saw somewhere and just had to buy it!

It's not in any way that I think bloggers *should* or *must* disclose where every single cookbook they write about came from, but it is also an interesting part of the story, perhaps?

If a blogger says something like "I've had this book on my shelf for a million years, my mum/husband gave it to me / I bought it when I had no income but I couldn't resist, it's covered in food splotches and I've never had a recipe from it fail" that's part of the story.. and so is "I received this book to review, I'd never seen it before but the photos instantly blew me away" or even "I received this to review, at first I wasn't hugely impressed by the layout, but the hearty recipes are simple and unbelievably delicious!".

On the other hand the way most foodbloggers review cookbooks makes no doubt that they are writing about their truthful opinion of the book; if a blog review of ANY product sounds like a cut and paste of the marketing release with very little personal/blog input, you can usually tell. I've never come across a cookbook review like that, where I have, for example, on technology blogs.

hope that all makes sense? :)

Silverbrow said...

I don't understand why so many people say they only review books that they enjoy. What on earth is the point of that? Then you really aren't writing a review but an ad. Especially if you keep telling the world that that is the only basis you'll review a book.

To me, it's much more important to give a well rounded view to my readers - and that's what I like reading - than knowing whether the book they got was a freebie or not. It seems that for some people misplaced morality is trumping a well reading blog.

Kyla said...

While I don't agree that only reviewing books you like (or somewhat like) constitutes advertising, there is the ugly fact that we function in a market system, and if it goes on the web, it enters a public sphere largely driven by commerce. We might argue the fine point that everything on the web is an advertisement for something.

But my point is I don't review books I really think are awful; I do review books that are flawed in some way or another but more in the vein of having a conversation with the author about the work and asking the larger questions that a book points me to.

What does this have to do with cookbooks, you ask? Are there any of us who think that food is outside culture or politics? There's a story inside every cookbook, and an argument as well. More than that there is a series of methodologies that is worth arguing about.

I just don't think it's worth anybody's time to be cruel. (Cheney excepted, per above.) I mean, that person did their best.

Haalo said...

By not offering an opinion on a rubbish cookbook in a way, you are letting people part with their good money for a flawed product. That is hardly fair or right. It's that old chestnut of "silence is consent".

jasmine said...

Sorry people, this is a long response.

I always disclose at the beginning of the post.

Publishers and marketers know there's no guarantee the book will ever get mentioned on any of my sites--just as they know that there's no guarantee that a review will appear in a newspaper or magazine.

I try my best to write fair and balance reviews based on what I think is important. I don't see the point of only writing positive reviews; I see noting the good and the bad as part of earning and keeping my readers' trust.

Kalyn: I think what you're feeling could be a side effect of bad blogger relations. Journos face it all the time with bad PRs and Media Relations specialists. Ironically, I find companies with poor media relations try to glom on to bloggers and then treat us the same way...

I think if you feel you are being treated as a tool and not a human being, you probably are. Simply ignore the PR request.


FJK said...

Everyone has his or her own comfort zone.
I take no ads, but do accept classes and books.
I only accept those I think I might be interested in writing about, but make no promises that I will write about them.
I have only accepted a few books and ended up not writing about them in the end. I do have some on the horizon I am going to feature on the blog and will disclose that I received them gratis in some graceful way within the post.

While I'd love to write reviews on all the books I receive, it is time consuming to test a few recipes and really do it right. So, as a rule, I don't do negative reviews or reviews on books I end up not really being interested in. If I ever run across a book that I feel is a huge consumer fraud being foisted on an unsuspecting public I would write about it. Usually it's more that when I get the book, I look it over and it's not right for the blog, so I just don't bother testing the recipes and writing the review.

(Note, even books I like I'm apt to point out criticisms, though.)

I refuse all offers that come with strings attached no matter how attractive an opportunity. (Believe it or not I've had clueless pr/mktg people stipulate a review or post in the offering email.)

Barbara said...

I do receive review copies as well, and if I review a book that I got free, I state so.

The truth is, I have reviewed more books that I have paid for than the free ones, in large part because the ones I am offered for free are not ones that interest me overmuch.

(I don't care about wine. I mean, it is good and all, but I don't care enough to write about it, so why do I get offered so many books about it?)

I review only books that I, and hopefully, my readers are interested in, but I do not only review books I like. Case in point--Michael Pollan's recent book, In Defense of Food--everyone but myself and maybe one or two other reviewers in the world, loves it. To me, it read like two long essays or magazine articles tied together clumsily, and was rather lacking in his usual poetic writing style as compared to his other books. I didn't hate the book, but I didn't like it either, and I said so. I thought it merited saying, especially since most reviews of the book were glowing.

If I think a book is interesting and useful, but boring to read, I say so. If I think that the ideas behind the cookbook are interesting but the execution of the recipes sucks--which usually means that the recipes either don't work or are edited poorly, I say so.

And if the book is great, with great recipes that WORK, I say so.

Writing a good review takes time, though, so I don't write nearly as many as I wish I could. Because I test several recipes per cookbook, cookbook reviews take even longer.

I wish I had more time to do more reviews, whether I pay for the book or not.

Rachael said...

I stopped taking cookbooks because I never could figure out how many recipes I would have to follow to really feel like I was giving it a fair shake.

For those of you who do reviews, how many do you make?

I mean sure - the text, photos and general feeling matter too - but with a cookbook that is the most important part, right?

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