The Next NBCC Hot Issue: Litbloggers, Boxers or Briefs?

Since I cannot login to the Critical Mass blog without signing up for a Blogger account, here is my response to Mr. Freeman’s flummery:

Mr. Freeman’s objection here is laughably tautological — a transparent attempt to tarnish a medium that he views, rather strangely, as a competitive threat while clinging to a red herring that, in an age when Target bankrolls an entire issue of The New Yorker (in which Critical Mass contributors Celia McGee and Laura Miller, both curiously silent, have appeared), is more Tinkertoy than tinker’s damn on closer examination.

If we are to quibble with picayune forms of income, one might argue that any freelancer employed to review a book for a newspaper also “gets a cut” for the book that she is reviewing — in large part because book review sections frequently run advertisements for the books being reviewed or have the regrettable interference of editors who decide, whether independently or after meetings with the lucre-minded top brass, what is saleable to their readers. Are not these advertisements, which sustain the publication and pay the salaries of the people who author the review, as “unethical” as the meager pennies that flow from the Amazon links? Is not the New York Times‘ recent failure to include a full-length Gilbert Sorrentino obituary “unethical” because the publication will not recognize subjects that certain Sunday morning upper-class basket weavers and golf players (they being the ones who hand over the cash) find comforting and nonconfrontational?

The rule here seems to apply only to the upstarts rather than these hoary hotheads, who lap up scraps like birdbrained predators incapable of observing the dying ecology around them.

Other than the notion here that litbloggers are cutting out the middlemen, I really don’t see what the difference is here. There may not be a traditional separation between sales and editorial. But this doesn’t mean that, with a great deal of alacrity, an enterprising litblogger might find a way to make a new model work while maintaining a certain autonomy which ensures ethical journalism. (I actually agree somewhat with Mr. Freeman about Amazon links embedded within content, but I also note Mr. Orthofer’s remarks on Amazon as an information source.)

Further, the term “buzz marketing” implies that litbloggers are employed to write uncritical and raving puff pieces about books. But this simply isn’t the case at all. Unless Mr. Freeman can point to a specific example of a litblogger taking money from a publisher and writing sullied euphoria along these lines, his assertion here is groundless. But I suspect that a man who mistakes mirth for marketing is a man who has supped too much on gruel.

[UPDATE: More from Bud Parr, Ron Hogan, Sarah Weinman and Scott McKenzie. And, of course, don’t miss Scott and Max’s salvos in the original thread.]


  1. Yep.

    I’d like to add that if you read a particular blogger for any length of time, youshould have a pretty good idea if he’s hucking crappy books or if he’s authentic. I’d wager that if the former, that blogger is likely to have a very small audience, authenticity being pretty important in this medium. In other words–the more you sell, the smaller your audience, the less chance you’ll see any income off that selling.

    Also, I think Freeman and Skoot need to get a better grip on the facts. Freeman’s post makes it sound like this whole Amazon affiliates program is some big secret (obviously not true). And in the comments thread, Skoot makes is clear that she believed bloggers earned money for every click-through–wrong again.

    I don’t mind a discussion of this entire thing, and from that perspective I thank CM for bringing it up. But I think any sane discussion of this has to acknowledge the fact that there’s plenty of things to influence a traditional print book reviewer, something CM seems unable to admit.

  2. What the hell–what’s with that blog???

    When he said ST “will never profit from a review his section runs,” I right away thought the same thing you said (I bolded the most important bit): “Are not these advertisements, which sustain the publication and pay the salaries of the people who author the review…”

    Unless every single bit of income to a publication/business and exactly where that income has gone has all been specifically accounted for, it has all effectively gone into a “pool” of money that probably got spread over all–or at least some of–the employees, either directly or indirectly or both; even the installation of a new water cooler partially paid for from ad revenue could be a sort of “profit” to an employee using the cooler. At least from where I’m sitting all that stuff seems true in general. Maybe a specific publication’s accountants can explain otherwise.

    But if people aren’t those specific accountants, how can they know for sure who’s getting paid what for what? I don’t think absolute-sounding assumptions should be made there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *