In the age of beautiful copies, giveaways, and freebies, are our reviews still honest?
By Regina Lopez Puerta
For the past couple of years, I’ve been swinging between the world of bookselling and the world of book influencing. They often collide, but surprisingly, they also divert.
In a way, a bookseller has to be a book influencer as well. We’re often invited to events, get free copies of upcoming books and are greatly encouraged to share our thoughts on them.
The system of proofs and advanced copies helps us do our job properly for various reasons.
For starters, it lets us know if a book is a good fit for our shop, as most indie shops have their own vibe, and many specialise in certain types of books. Having read at least a part of an upcoming book, helps us better cater to our customers, but it also ensures that we only order the amount of copies we think we will need. This way we avoid having to send back copies to the publisher, and them having a surplus of product they may not sell again.
Then again, the job of a bookseller is also very similar to that of a tour guide. It’s everyday that customers wander into the shop, hopelessly lost, trying to find a feeling they once had and it’s our job to guide them to that place again. So it does make sense that we know what’s on our shelves.
We’re happy we get advanced copies, because they serve a very important purpose for our jobs. That way, we’re able to better discern which books are worth recommending to our customers and which ones aren’t so much.
On the other hand, we’ve encountered a little problem… The proofs that content creators receive (myself included), have started growing more beautiful every time. PR boxes have gotten larger and more elaborate than ever, however, reviews on social media have gotten perhaps a bit less honest.
It makes sense from a perspective of politeness. On one side you get a beautiful book, —of course you’d like to get more in the future, who doesn’t like gifts? — but on the other side, would you say you didn’t like it if the text wasn’t the best?
Probably not, it was a gift after all.
“Thank you,” you say smiling at the camera “This book is great. Everyone get your hands on it now.”
So in the times of book influencers, and I count myself in, perhaps we get too excited and let the gift overshadow the text.
Countless times has my feed been full of posts raving about the release of a new book, showing complex setups of tote bags, bookmarks, mugs, the occasional food item, and a gorgeous copy of the book— which, by the way, if everyone who’s interested in the book gets a free copy of the book, then who is left to buy said book — only to later find myself going through a rather lacklustre text.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten the true purpose of ARC (Advance Reading Copies), and must bring it back. Advanced copies are mostly tools for reviewers, critics, booksellers, and professionals in the industry to help guide the books into the hands of the right customers, influencers included. But if tons of gorgeous gifts are going out, if everyone gets their hands on a free copy, who is left to buy the book? And if people are more compelled to say the book is great (even if it’s not) aren’t we just defeating the entire purpose of it?