Smokler charges $1,500 for a one-day tour, allowing an author to make the rounds on several other blogs. (A three-day intensive will set you back about $3,000.) Smokler pockets the money from the publisher, and doesn’t distribute any of it among the blogs who essentially turn themselves into uncritical advertisers of an author. Instead, he offers a free copy of the book for each participating site, something that any legitimate litblog can obtain for free from a publisher (and from the publisher’s end, a comp book actually costs much less as a publicity item than the supplemental income that lands in Smokler’s lap).
“Paying them would open up an ethical hornet’s nest,” says Smokler, “since there’s no way we can expect bloggers to be impartial if we’re paying them.” (Emphasis added.)
I have to question the ethics of this. If you sublet an apartment to someone, you expect the tenant to pay. If you sell magazine space to an advertiser, you expect the advertiser to pay for the column inches. So if Smokler wants to turn blogs into a PR machine, why then should the bloggers who let their spaces not be entitled to collect?
Beyond the troubling notion that those who participate in the Virtual Book Tour are no different from the people who walk around the beach in a Nike T-shirt, because they are apparently precluded from commenting on the weaknesses of a particular book (partiality or impartiality, I’ve yet to see anything critical on the various VBTs), there’s the seedy notion that Smokler is running a small-time sweatshop. Surely, the bloggers who put in the time to read the book and who style content to a particular author are entitled to earn money for their labor. An advertisement is an advertisement is an advertisement, even if it’s for a book that happens to enjoyable.
That’s why I’m proud to be part of the Litblog Co-Op. You see, if certain members don’t enjoy a book, they won’t be nearly as hindered from voicing their thoughts and opinions. The LBC exists for the love, not the money.
And, no, you couldn’t pay this site any amount of money to shift our content to an advertiser. The coverage here remains independent and unsullied. And that includes not littering our posts with Amazon links and actually attributing the original bloggers who cover a story. Anything less than this strikes me as downright parasitical.
[UPDATE: Scott and Bud have more thoughts on how “parasitical” the litblogosphere can be. And I should point out that not a single contributor to Bookslut (including me)
has received a cash payment for their work. Not that I mind, but if that isn’t being parasitical, I don’t know what is.]
[UPDATE 2: Jessa has emailed me to tell me that Bookslut does pay for features.]