Thursday, 11 August 2016

Is it "blog-ethical" to sell review copies of books? A ReadItTorial

A previous editorial hinted that a blog post on this subject might be incoming. Again, thanks to Matt Imrie for inspiring this post on the subject of selling review copies of books.

We've long held the opinion that getting things 'for free' for the purposes of review can be seen as a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have no obligation to be nice about the book you've just had plop through your letterbox (or in our case, have had left under the bamboo outside the house in the rain by a knock-and-run courier). On the other hand, there's the trickier subject of your 'fee' for writing about a book. A free copy should be payment enough, shouldn't it?

There's will always be the question of worth of a review written for something you've received for free. Does this really lessen the impact or importance of your opinion? Would you, for example, have rated a book so highly if you'd had to shell out your own hard earned cash for it? Would you also rip it to shreds if it'd cost you £20 and you hated every single page? Maybe so.

The main subject we're dealing with in this post is what happens when you, as a less than scrupulous / ethical blogger, decide that you also want to make a bit of money on the side from those books and sell them on.

There are strict rules on review copies - they should not be sold on - particularly if they're pre-release promos as you may not only be breaking the 'street date' for a publication but you could also be illegally infringing on the copyright as well (that's before we get into the business of you not paying tax on an 'income' if it's something you regularly do). Pretty sure that if publishers cottoned on, they'd cut off your 'freebie' supply at the neck too so is it really worth it?

I've heard one counter-argument. If you're selling on books you're not really doing anything that second-hand book stores aren't already doing. Technically you're still taking away a sale from an author, illustrator or publisher if you pick up a copy of their book from a 2nd hand store - so what's the difference if you're selling books on as a private individual? It's not as clear cut as it all seems but it still feels a bit ruthless to me.

So what IS the answer?

We donate our surplus books to charity and to local worthy causes, we make a point of donating AFTER publication dates so that books don't end up in the stream but even then I'm not sure we're actually doing the right thing - for some of those books will eventually be ending up 'sold' at a charity shop, thus once again not directly contributing to the author, illustrator or publisher's coffers.


It's a quandary for sure. We have tried at least some of the alternatives:

1) Working entirely from digital copies. This would at least mean no path of disposal for surplus books, as once we're done we can just delete them and they'll be gone, forever lost in the ether (probably forcing us to kick ourselves when we realise we wanted to re-read the book at a later date). Digital still feels a bit weirdly soulless for me and I know Charlotte doesn't quite 'gel' with e-books or digital copies in the same way she does with a print book, so this is a last ditch option if we really couldn't deal with review copies in any other way

2) Pulp the books. Destroy perfect copies of gorgeous picture books. Send them for recycling, rip 'em up to be turned into - well, perhaps more books or other paper products but the mere thought of imagining gorgeous books ending up shredded for recycling just fills me with abject terror and horror.

3) Donate them to libraries and schools - We already do this, as well as donating them to charity shops. Copies have been gratefully received at a local special needs school we support, and also for children's reading groups, doctor's surgery waiting rooms etc. Wherever we spot old and tired looking books we're always keen to take along a choice few surplus titles so that other kids can enjoy them (and, of course, pick up their own copies when they get home and realise that they REALLY NEED THAT BOOK! Hooray!)

4) Keep them. Well we do this too, of course we do! In fact it's nigh on impossible to find shelf space for all the 'keepers'. There are so many books that we would fight tooth and nail not to have to lose and that will always be what happens to the majority of our books. They are lovingly kept, read again and again, and hopefully one day Charlotte will pass them on to her own kids (it's lovely when she shares them with her cousins when they come to visit, she's becoming quite an accomplished storyteller in her own right which is awesome!)

5) Stop the blog. Well we all know that's not going to happen any time soon, right?

We've already cut down what we review - mostly because Charlotte is moving beyond most picture books - and because it's only fair to let other bloggers have a fair crack of the whip (something else to consider - let others who have younger children more suited to younger age group titles get into blogging and encourage them - perhaps again there's an outlet for surplus titles if you live near one or don't mind stumping up for the postage!)

However it would never feel right to sell books on for us - never! There are so many reasons why it would go against what we've tried to achieve here (not least of all because we're lucky enough to have two awesome independent bookshops where we live and why the heck shouldn't we push people towards buying books there, we need bookshops just as much as we need libraries and there's still no better feeling than browsing the shelves of a book store and finding something you'd missed). Sometimes we wonder though if we're the only ones who rigidly stick to an ethical code of not selling on. Quite apart from anything else, it would be a major faff packaging books up, getting to the post office and selling them to make anything close to a worthwhile sum but we're just not wired that way anyway so we love donating, we love gifting and that's pretty much that.

So if you do sell on your review copies, I'd be really interested to hear your point of view. Drop a comment below!