Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Integrity

The Sunday Salon.comI'm not signing the pledge.

The "Blog With Integrity" pledge is, among other things, a promise to disclose whether items discussed on a blog are provided by a company attempting to sell their product. Across the internet, bloggers are displaying a graphic that indicates they've signed the pledge, and some book/lit bloggers are now disclosing the source of every book as part of their review. Not me.

Here's why: In my opinion, stating that a book came to me from the author or publisher implies that this is information you need in order to fully evaluate my review. It implies that there's a difference in how I might write about a book, depending on where I got it.

As I wrote to author Jack Regan, when he requested that I review his book, T'Aragam:
I'm going to ask my boys if they're willing to try it out with me. I usually do joint reviews with them for kids' books. . . . Fair warning: if my boys don't like a book, they're not cagey about it (see our reviews of Sharon Creech's Castle Corona and Chris Mould's The Icy Hand, for examples of books they didn't like). Whether we write a review of a book has more to do with whether we have anything interesting to say about it, rather than whether we liked it or not.
For the record, Castle Corona was from the library; The Icy Hand was sent by the publisher at my request. And I thought enough of T'Aragam to write a fairly detailed critique of it.

There are factors which might unduly influence my reviews, however. Maybe I should be disclosing whether I saw the author give a reading, whether I read their blog or Tweets, and whether I've ever seen a funny video they made. Also, I should probably disclose the fact that I may allow myself the luxury of a snarkier review if the author is long dead, or so famous and beloved that my words can't possibly hurt their feelings.

I've considered writing an end-of-the-month summary, which could also disclose how I came upon the books, without cluttering up the reviews with that info. For now, I'll go ahead and follow the trend that's been appearing on various book blogs, beginning with The Boston Bibliophile: Here are the past 20 books I reviewed and where they came from. I decided to also indicate whether the book is written by a person of color, by putting those in italics.

Secrets of the Red Lantern: library, from browsing the shelves
$20 per gallon: free review copy, requested in response to publisher's offer on book blogger site, combined with publisher-sponsored promotional giveaway.
Kampung Boy: library, after reading blog review
T'Aragam: free audio download (available to public), at request of author
Back Creek: free review copy, publisher query
Down to the Bone: library, after reading blog review
A Worthy Legacy:
free review copy, author query, as part of author-run blog tour
Rowan of the Wood: free review copy, author query
Writing the Life Poetic: library, after attending author talk. The author did give me a free copy of this book and her poetry book after reading my review, though.
The Local News: free review copy, TLC book tours
Boy Toy: sent by author for me to give away
A Home at the End of the World: Library, after shelf browsing
My Heartbeat: Library, after shelf browsing
At Swim, Two Boys: Library, LibraryThing recommendation
The Lost language of Cranes: Library, LibraryThing recommendation
Something Beyond Greatness: free review copy, TLC book tours
Alive and Well in Prague New York: bought from Powells for Nerds Heart YA
Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before: Library, for Nerds Heart YA
: Library, after reading blog review
Into the Beautiful North: review copy, requested from publisher via Twitter, attended author reading

10 library books
8 review copies (3 author queries, 2 requested from publishers, 2 book tours, 1 publisher query)
1 sent by author for giveaway
1 purchased

7 written by authors of color, 13 by white authors.

And here's my pledge: If I suddenly come out with a post about how much we enjoyed new Goopy Soup during our breakfast read-aloud--I'll mention the fact that somebody sent me a free sample to blog about. If the Sylvia Beach hotel offers me an all-expenses paid weekend in Newport if I blog about their book-themed rooms, I'll disclose that, too. As for the book reviews, I'll continue my current mix of critique, supportiveness, and honesty. Rest assured that I'll never out-read my reliable source of continuous free books, which has no preference as to how or whether I review them.


  1. I am also not joining and I have my reasons posted on the blog part of my site. I think its utterly ridiculous.

  2. I haven't read that pledge but it sounds like B.S. to me. Did this all start because I listed some books and said where they were from? I did that to show my readers (and myself) what kind of influence freebies were having on what I review, not to put any kind of pressure on anyone else to do anything. Bah.

  3. I think the only time a blog has a measurable affect on someone's impression or buying decision regarding a product, is when that reader has been following the blog regularly and trusts the blogger. If said blogger has been faithful and interesting enough to develop such a following (such as Worducopia!), then they're probably ethical enough to not need this pledge.

    Meh. Who cares where a book came from, anyway? Everybody knows that authors and publishers send their books out for review and that they're attempting to sell them. It's no secret.

  4. If someone wants to sign the pledge, fine. But I LOVE what you had to say about not signing it! I rarely accept review copies anymore, so it's sort of a non-issue with me. But I wouldn't sign it anyway. If you don't trust my integrity, don't read my blog. And I have to agree with Jack there...the reviews that really influence me to actually purchase books come from those bloggers that I feel I've come to know and trust. Not that I distrust bloggers I don't know...just that after you read a blog a while you get a feeling for when and where their tastes overlap with yours. Anyway, didn't mean to babble. Really just wanted to say that I think it's great that you didn't sign for the reasons you didn't sign.

  5. Pam, I just read your post. Glad I'm not the only hold-out!

    Marie, In my mind, the Integrity Pledge is unrelated to your "past 20 books" post, though I did combine them here. The pledge started with non-book bloggers of the sort who often plug products on their sites. The "Where I got my last 20 books" was just a great idea on your part, and seemed like a good add-on for this post. Sorry I didn't get a link in there crediting you with the idea, though. I'll edit.

    Jack, I originally had written something along the lines of your comment in this post, but I couldn't get it to stop coming out sounding kind of snotty so I cut it. Thanks for saying it for me.

    Debi, thanks for your support. And as for this: If you don't trust my integrity, don't read my blog, I couldn't have said it better myself!

    But, I mean: do read my blog! Because if you do, you'll see how absolutely bursting with integrity I am!

  6. As one of the bloggers behind Blog With Integrity, I'm pleased to have found your post and the comments from your readers.

    I would say that personally, I am unlikely to believe that a book review is influenced by whether or not the book was received gratis from the publisher since that's a known common practice.

    That said, there are indeed some bloggers (rarely literary bloggers) who participate in networks in which they are compensated for reviews--sometimes of books--and are encouraged not to write negative ones because the network is beholden to a "client." I would think that the pledge may give them more pause than you.

    It's also possible to simply add a blanket disclosure in a sidebar that some books may be received for review; the intent of the pledge isn't to clutter up posts with extraneous information.

    (Although psst...Jack, of course reviewers influence purchase. I'm sure you know how many people rely on things like amazon reviews from total strangers, right?)

    In any case I am so glad that there is productive discussion around this topic and I'm really happy to hear your point of view.

  7. I'm still a newbie here in the blogging world, but I know that there are people out there who review books at places like Amazon and NEVER WRITE A NEGATIVE WORD. One person (she seems to be quite famous) reads and reviews three books a day!

    I'm astonished that she continues to receive freebies from just about every publisher on the planet. How can that be?

  8. I understand your reasoning, Ali. I used to feel the same way. It's been a process of several months, several conversations, observing what's going on in other areas of the blogopshere, and ultimately learning that people had felt deceived that led me to change my own practice. Also, there have been publishers who have put influence on bloggers regarding what kinds of reviews they can write, and several bloggers who have admitted to at least reviewing books differently (maybe not positively or negatively but the manner in which they write the review) received for review than from the library.

    Finally, I realized I would rather give more information than may be necessary than ever appear to be covering something up. This was a personal decision.

    I'm glad to see many bloggers signing the pledge, but I respect those who don't. Hopefully we can all respect each others decisions to practice integrity in the way that feels right to us. Once again, I find myself wanting to sigh and just say let's mind our own blogs. ;)

  9. Ali, I'm not signing it either. I tend to be stubborn about things and this is one of them.

    I read a thoughtful post from a mommyblogger stating that she didn't know why a blogger's integrity is in question when other reviewers are not.

    I think I've been clear in my contact page about how I do things. I think that is enough.

  10. I don't think that I'll be signing the pledge either although I must admit that I haven't given it any serious thought yet. I have though, taken a look at all of the books that I've reviewed this year and while blogging definitely impacts what books I'm reading this year, the library is the clear winner for my source of books.

  11. I agree with your decision and you articulated why beautifully. Also I reviewed Flygirl (i remembered you saying you wanted to know my opinion on it) but my post doesn't do it justice (it's kind of rambly so forgive me for that!). I couldn't get my thoughts together that well.
    Oh and how was Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before?

  12. Mom101, That's a good suggestion, putting the general information up front in the sidebar or maybe on the "about me" page. I do think the Badge is a good idea for some bloggers--and it's certainly added to what I consider to be an important conversation.

    Debnance, my guess is that if she's posting positive reviews, the publishers don't honestly care if she's read the books. It's a business, after all, and they're not going to turn down positive publicity.

    Amy, I most definitely respect people's decisions either way! I know you've put a lot of thought into it, because your posts/tweets about it are one of the reasons I gave it enough thought to post about it. But when I see some people saying, Gosh if everyone's signing it, I guess I'd better sign it, too--I decided it was time for someone to make a statement for the other side of the coin. Maybe I'm not the first, but I haven't seen much, except on Twitter.

    Chris and Natasha, I think it helps to have a clear review policy--maybe that precludes the need for a pledge?

    Miss A, Thanks, I'll be sure to check out your review. Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, I liked. The main character was a great example of an author doing a nerd right.

  13. So what happens if someone takes this pledge and ends up violating it anyway? Is there some mechanism in place for enforcing this pledge?

  14. I don't think there's any plan to enforce it. It kind of relies on a blogger's integrity to stick to it. Which sort of begs the question, right?

  15. I'm not really planning on signing the pledge either. I'm not big enough to matter and I think anyone who reads my blog will realize that I do blog with integrity anyway. I don't whitewash books just because I received them for review. I have, in fact, given plenty of negative reviews. I treat all books I read with the same respect, and since I tag them with their source, that's fairly visible for all.

    I can to an extent see both sides of this argument, but for me it's just not necessary. The fact that there is nothing in place to enforce it, that it's just an honor system which anyone can violate, holds me back even further. It could become meaningless so quickly.

  16. (Ali's Chris that is) Of course, I would like to see it proclaimed loud and clear anytime the book came from a public library!! :-)

  17. Great post. I am a big supporter of the library as well. Actually all the books (except for 1) that I reviewed last month came from my local library.

  18. I not really a
    but if other feel good about signing something like that, that is certainly fine with me.

    You know, if you follow and regularly read a blog or a reviewer, wherever they may be, I have to assume you have some faith in their truthfulness and integrity...or why are you reading it?

    I think it becomes pretty easy to pick out the blogs that seem to have just too chummy a relationship with publishers and publicists and never say a negative word about a book. I just stop taking their reviews into consideration.

    Where or how I get my hands on a book has no, I repeat, NO influence, on my review and I have to thing my readers trust me on that.

  19. I agree with Caite. Readers can make their own judgments, and often it is pretty easy to make those judgments.

    And even on blogs with the utmost integrity, readers will disagree with reviews and/or have different taste. Integrity doesn't necessarily make the review fit the reader.

  20. I think of it as a bit like a review policy with the added bonus of joining others for strength in numbers. No enforcement, but who's enforcing individual blogs? No one yet. ;)

  21. Mom101: Obviously if I'm searching Amazon and a product gets a one-star average, I'm going to think twice before buying it. By the same token, I might be a little more willing to buy it if the product is rated highly. However, we're talking about blogs, here, not a customer review on Amazon. I think there's a difference. People are on Amazon to shop. They're on blogs to read. It takes a special blog to cause someone to go from reader to shopper. Those special blogs don't need the pledge. Those bloggers for whom the pledge was intended will likely have no problem breaking it. As Rich and Ali pointed out, there's no teeth to this pledge. Honor where there is no honor, perhaps?

    Let me clarify, though, that I'm not blaming any blogger for taking the pledge. Nor am I suggesting that those who do are hiding something. It's obviously a personal choice. All I'm saying is that the bloggers who will take the pledge and keep it, don't need it. Those who need the pledge may take it, but won't necessarily keep it.

  22. Your post rocks, Ali. I could not have said it better myself. In fact, I definitely did not, lol. I think it is ridiculous for anyone to think we do it for the free books and like I said, if you question bloggers for free books, then you also have to question to a point the publishers and authors for the free publicity. I won't sign the pledge either.

  23. Well put, Ali! I don't plan to sign the pledge, I just don't think it's necessary. People who read my blog know that I don't give only flowing praise.

    In fact, about a month ago I was getting several "oh, I want to read this, thanks for the recommendation" type comments on a review and I thought 'that's not what I said!' I realized that the negatives about the book were sandwiched in between honest praise for other parts of the book. I revised the review to make it clear that there were parts I thought were less than praise-worthy.

    As far as the pledge, I won't judge any differently those who chose to sign vs. those who don't.

  24. That happens to me all the time, Dawn! I think I posted a negative review, and then someone says, "Wow, this book sounds amazing! Off to buy it right now!" and I'm all, "Uh..." I always chalk it up to different tastes.

  25. I won't be taking this because I know I don't have to.

    If I don't like a book I simply won't review it. Not because I don't want to give a bad review I simply don't know how to write one. I am always impressed with bloggers who can tell you why they don't like a book and not coming off mean about it.

    My landlord doesn't accept ARC over cash. So I won't be selling my integrity anytime soon because its all I have.

  26. Doret, you crack me up. :-)

  27. hmm.. Mostly I buy my books.. almost all of them. I put my hard-earned money into it.. so I have the right to hate it :D :D

    ok, so far I have not found many books as I really go to a book store with loads of recommendations in my mind :)

    I think this really is for people who accept a lot of ARCs, which I don't get here!

    Thank You anyways, I think you have a good reason for not joining!

  28. I just reviewed an ARC of a book. In the post I disclosed that I got a chance to read the WIP. I don't know if I had to do that or not but it felt right. I don't want my lines to get blurry.

    Maybe the integrity pledge will make some bloggers see the line better.

  29. This is the first time I've heard of this pledge. I should get out more.

    I don't think I'll sign though. Back when people used to write reviews for newspapers and magazine they all got free books and they never said so. Why should we?

    I do want to know if a reviewer liked a book or not, but the blogs I go back to tend to be the ones that have more to say than just "good" or "bad". I try to do the same on my own blog.

  30. Hi Ali,

    I can respect why some would choose to take the pledge. But, I won't be making a declaration. I don't hang a reviewer's shingle on my blog to begin with but the more important reason for me is that I don't think I have to declare my integrity. That is evident by my history. If you don't know me, why would you think highly of me simply because of a statement I make? If you do know me, the statement is unnecessary.

    Anyone who really knows me knows I don't blow sunshine up anybody's behind. If I gush, it's because I'm impressed with the writing. Reviews are about the work not the writer. And that's another reason I don't advertise a review policy: I don't want to make an open invitation for publishers or authors to send me books. I'm happy to receive them and will review, like you, if I have something to say, but I don't want any obligation to review so I don't ask.

  31. I also don't feel a pressing need to sign any integrity pact, but if someone else wants to, whatevs.

    I did like the 20 last books excercise so perhaps I'll revisit that every 20 books.

  32. Jack, actually looking at my google analytics, about 50% of my traffic is from search. That means my "readers" are not always blog readers, but often regular old folks on the internet, searching for information. They might be searching for information about a product or book, and come across a review on a blog.

    Ali, this is a wonderfully thoughtful discussion. I'm so impressed with the respectful community you've created here!