Many people who read this blog skip the book reviews I write for a variety of reasons. For one, there are a lot of book reviews—one or two a day on average, and most people simply do not have time to read about books sometimes of only personal tangential interest and often of little use in understanding me as a person or what is going on in my life. For another, many of my book reviews have a fairly consistent pattern, in which I give a general overview of the book in the first paragraph, give a more detailed summary of the book’s contents in the second paragraph, and briefly discuss some of the deeper themes and relevance of the book in the third paragraph. There is a certain numbness that likely goes through when one reads enough reviews that it is not always easy to pick up on the subtle and telling details that point to my personal life and state, not least because I often write book reviews at some time before the reviews are posted because of the large amount of books read and reviewed and the desire not to flood the interwebs with the reviews all at once.
Be that as it may, I write a lot of reviews. Many of these reviews, and often the most urgent ones, since they regulate my flow of free books, come from publishers with certain FCC regulations attached to them that require that I inform the reader that the book was sent by someone. I have a standard format for these reviews, whether of books or other products, that go as follows: “[Note: This book/product was provided free of charge by [Insert company name here] in exchange for an honest review.]” I post it towards the beginning of the entry to make it obvious to the reader that this book is different from the other book reviews that I do because it is a review written on behalf of a publisher or some other corporation. I also like readers of the entries to know where they can obtain the book or product if they want to. I have no way of knowing how many people end up purchasing the book itself or ordering the book for their local libraries as a result of my reading and writing habits, but at times the book reviews are used to promote books and that is something I find immensely gratifying, as it can sometimes be a bit tedious to review such an extent of material in the knowledge that hardly anyone may care about the particular books that I enjoy reading.
I take the part about honesty seriously too. Even though I read far more books than most people and at a faster rate than most, especially given the fact that I read a book or two a day in the midst of a relatively busy life filled with work, writing, a sometimes difficult commute (usually while listening to audiobooks so as to pass the time more productively), I generally undertake reading books that I think I will like for some reason. Whether I read for background, for intellectual curiosity, out of a sense of obligation, or because I have some sort of urgent or important need for research material, or because I think a book is amusing or funny, I expect to enjoy the books I read and the products I use. Most of the time, this is the case, and the book or product accomplishes its purpose in a workmanlike manner and receives a review accordingly. At other times, a product reviewed may be much better than expected or much more personally relevant than expected, and that is something worth noting as well. At some disappointing times a book is far worse than expected and receives a rather harsh and savage review. Some of my readers delight in my harsh reviews and glowing reviews more than the garden variety reviews that reflect modest pleasure and subdued appreciation of unspectacular competence that is to be expected from someone who writes several hundred reviews a year.
Yet there are times where not everyone takes my commitment to honest reviewing and communication with the same seriousness and openness that I mean them to be taken. At least a couple of angry writers have threatened some sort of hostile action against me for reviews—one for a mixed review and the other for a guardedly positive review . Apparently nothing short of a rave review would have satisfied such people who did not wish to be criticized at all. Recently, though, a very Nathanish situation happened where I had for months requested items that had not arrived and when I had not been able to log into the website to request them any longer and sent a message, I was told rather brusquely that as my blog is a .wordpress.com rather than its own domain name that it didn’t have enough SEO credit to be of worth. Whether or not my moderately popular blog with its free domain name is good enough in terms of SEO cred or not, that is the sort of thing that needs to be communicated. It should not be that difficult for people to communicate such matters, rather than let hostile silence go on for months, but this sort of thing does happen a lot.
What this demonstrates is that all aspects of the phrase “In exchange for an honest review” are of importance. The reason I get free things to begin with, whether books or cds or even games , is that the reviews for them are considered by the company to be of value to them. This value can be determined in many ways. Sometimes the value is in knowing what sort of people are interested in a given product or not. At times the wording or language of the review can be mined for blurbs to use in promoting or marketing a given product. At other times the post is supposed to draw enough attention to receive views or to place high enough in online searches to bring a great deal of increased attention. All of this is meant to increase sales. My enjoyment of free products, free minus the cost of labor for my reading/use of the products and writing about it, generally worth a few hours of time, is secondary to the process and intent. The whole process is designed to make money, and people are valued, or not, based on how useful they are to that end, and that is the honest truth.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: