Receiving free books is not the only reason I blog. I would be lying if I said that when I started my blog, it never occurred to me that I might snag a freebie or review copy here and there, but I started Boston Bibliophile mainly to improve my writing and to meet and talk to readers who like what I like. If I got on the galley train, great. If not, so be it.
Like many of you I've been fairly successful in parlaying my reviewing and blogging into some freebies now and then, although probably less so than some. Some star book bloggers seem to almost never buy their own books! As for me, to borrow a metaphor from comedian Kathy Griffin, I definitely consider myself to be a book-blogging D-lister. I don't do blog tours, I don't get a lot of glitzy interviews or do fancy multi-volume book giveaways, and there are still entire, major publishers from whom I have never had an offer or received a book.
The contact with authors, the chance to do interviews, and the ability to supplement my professional reading with current fiction and nonfiction has been wonderful. And I've read a lot of great books I would never have read otherwise. Much of this would disappear were I to stop accepting and requesting review copies.
And of course I enjoy it- interacting with authors and publishers, and those flattering emails saying how much they enjoy my blog- whether those emails are sent to me alone or to a thousand other bloggers at the same time. And I won't lie- I love the access I have to galleys.
So how much do I depend on freebies? It's hard to quantify exactly, but I'll take a somewhat random, totally non-representative sample to get started. I'll list the 20 most recent books I've read and tell you where they came from. It's not 100% representative but I hope it gives an idea:
- This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper. Review copy.
- Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin. Bought at indie bookstore.
- Rachel Calof's Story, by Rachel Calof. Borrowed from the library.
- In the Kitchen, by Monica Ali. Won from LibraryThing.
- Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant. Professional freebie.
- School for Love, by Olivia Manning. Bought at used bookstore.
- Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. Bought at Borders.
- Lost in Austen, by Emma Campbell Webster. Bought at Barnes & Noble.
- Valeria's Last Stand, by Marc Fitten. Review copy.
- Shalom India Housing Society, by Esther David. Bought at indie bookstore.
- A Contract with God, by Will Eisner. Borrowed from the library.
- Stitches, by David Small. Professional freebie.
- The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt. Review copy.
- American Eve, by Paula Uruburu. Review copy.
- Forbidden Bread, by Erica Johnson Debeljak. Won from LibraryThing.
- Annie's Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg. Won from LibraryThing.
- Godmother, by Carolyn Turgeon. Professional freebie.
- The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway. Bought at Borders.
- Strange Ways, by Rokhl Faygenberg. Traded on Bookmooch.
- The Photographer, by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier LeFevre. Review copy.
With the exception of library books, books that I receive for free tend to be recent- upcoming releases or just-outs, which makes perfect sense. Most of the books I buy are paperbacks and backlist- among other things I am cheap, and I have to really want to read a book right now to pony up for a hardcover- and that does not happen often! I believe that I use the library often for graphic novels and speciality books- and this lists bears that out, too.
So my blog is profiting from free books- no doubt about it. But personal buying and borrowing still makes up a decent percentage of what I'm reading and writing about.
But what would happen to my blog- to my writing- if I stopped accepting review copies? First, since I still have a professional obligation to stay current on the literature in my field, I would continue to receive and read galleys. I just wouldn't review them here. So the quantity of reviews I post would lessen.
The books I would review would be things that I bought, and so would probably be older- paperback backlisters instead of brand-spanking-new-releases. Freed from the distractions of trendy "it" books (and the competition to get them) my reading would probably be more diverse in some ways (more idiosyncratic personal choices, less "everyone is else is reading it") and less diverse in others (more "Marie" books and less outside-the-box experimentation).
I might even be able to get back to my original reason for starting the blog- sharing the kinds of books I love with people who share my interests, instead of just reading the same books everyone else is reading. I'd miss being in this giant virtual book club and sharing opinions about the books we're all reading, but I wouldn't miss being part of the marketing machine.
This is sounding better all the time.
But in reality, it's not going to happen. I'm not going to stop asking for and accepting review opportunities- and neither should you. I do think that we owe it to ourselves to do some real thinking about ethics behind it all and make sure that it squares with our sense of fairness and honesty. I think we should think about how we're treating our readers- if we're being honest with them or acting as shills- as well as how we treat publishers and authors- if we're taking advantage of a trend or providing something valuable to them in return. And we should pay attention to how they're treating us. I think if we feel like someone is taking advantage of our time, or our good nature, or just being a nag, we should call them out on it and not worry that the gravy train is going to dry up. Because even if it does, I read books before I started blogging and I'll continue to read them when I stop. And I think most of you will, too.