Buying Your Way Into Libraries

The New York Times has an article about authors buying reviews: The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy. “In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.”

Go, read the whole article. It’s important.

A few things: the article is primarily about self-published works.

Second, it also points out the value of reviews, in that reviews of books lead to purchases. “One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.”

Let’s be clear: there are many reviewers who are not bought and paid for. One of my concerns after reading this article is that some people’s take away is that no reviews of self published books are legit; or, also, that no reviews are legit, period. I already anticipate seeing such comments, including those masked as “jokes”, on my Twitter feed.

My other concern? Well, what does this mean for libraries if libraries are purchasing self-published books based on sales (that is, top sellers)? Which is always one way libraries purchase books; but it shouldn’t be the only way. (For one example of how some such purchasing decisions are being made, see Smashwords gets more self-published ebooks into libraries (“curation is crowdsourced based on aggregated retail sales data“).


Over at Kirkus, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a post called Authors, Please Avoid These Mistakes When You Self-Publish. Something she said made me think about libraries and self published ebooks: “Which leads me to my most important point. The person who improves a book should not be the person who paid for it. To quote Sunita from Dear Author, CUSTOMERS are NOT YOUR BETA READERS. A few months back, I tried to read an older romance that was praised effusively by many romance fans, and I couldn’t get past the spelling and word choice errors in every chapter. I asked for my money back and returned the book to Amazon. Another review request I received noted that most of the typos had been caught by early readers and fixed. Good Lord, people. Stop that. A customer paying for a book to read is not paying for the honor of collaborating with the author, or paying for the responsibility of being a beta-reading, fact-checking copy editor. There is a big difference between reviews and revision suggestions. It’s insulting to presume that a reader looking for a book should help a writer improve that book.”

What does this mean to a library’s ebook collection if the ebook is later revised in this manner? Does the library automatically get the revised book? What about prior readers? What type of notation or tracking is taking place regarding the revised versions?


4 thoughts on “Buying Your Way Into Libraries

  1. We’ve only bought a few self-published books – and those only after they were being relaunched by big houses. Fifty Shades, of course, as well as The Girl Who Circumnavigated… and the Amanda Hocking books. There have been the occasional patron requests that we’ve purchased, but boy do they sit on the shelf after the friend/colleague/loved one checks out the book that one time. Self-pubbed print books are still pretty easy to spot from afar, and the packaging isn’t especially appealing.

    I worked in publishing before going to library school, so of course I’m biased, but I still see traditional publishers as a handy filter for collection development. I’m well aware that there are good books that slip through the cracks – they get submitted to the wrong editor, there’s too many similar books at a particular house, etc. However, I can barely get a handle on what’s being put out by old-school publishers; I’m not going to kill myself trying to keep up with what’s going on in the self-publishing world.

    Also, self-published ebooks seem to do really well filling the needs of niche markets, but we serve a broad audience, and the vast majority of them still want print only. We don’t need/can’t afford/can’t shelve 100 different vampire series; we’ll make do with the top 10 or so (okay, maybe 20), and the vampire-obsessed will have to settle for those, get their fix elsewhere, or considering expanding their horizons to include werewolves and other paranormal critters.


  2. Huh. Smashwords plan of getting free or reduced price self-published ebooks into libraries looks more effective to me than buying reviews. But just because a self-published author makes it free to libraries does not mean it will be worth reading! Our system uses Overdrive, so this is a moot point, but I’d hate to see libraries get flooded with low-quality ebooks just because they’re low cost. Librarians usually put a little more effort into collection development than just bestsellers, which is where professional reviews come in. Hmm, this is getting a bit circular.


  3. Lisa, whatever the name (filter? gatekeeper? curation?), I think librarians play an important role in collection development beyond bestsellers/patron requests. Given that selfpubbed books do not have the additional filters of traditionally published books, it is a challenge for libraries. Short of allowing library staff to read self pub books on library time to allow for purchasing, I’m not sure what the best answer is.

    Sondy: free does not mean it’s worth reading (just like costs a lot doesn’t mean it’s worth reading). Absolutely! It is circular, and it’s an area I’m quite interested in, so no matter how circular it gets I love talking about it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s