questioning authenticity

I registered for a webinar this week from the folks at SocialMediaToday.com, “The Ethics of Blogging”. I had signed up thinking it would be about businesses blogging, being real, being honest with a brand and with their marketing. And it was, but from the perspective of bloggers in general marketing themselves, using ads and such to raise revenue, blogging for pay or for swag. As webinars go, I was impressed – instead of a series of slides and a presentation, it was an hour long panel discussion – a real back-and-forth with different opinions, different thoughts on the subject matter.

I’ve done book reviews for a long time on my blog/s. When I started, it was by asking publishers for review copies. They would send free copies, I would read, and I would post reviews – simple. These were books I requested, books that I knew I would like or would be interested in, mostly by authors I had been following for years. It was a win-win in every sense of the word. But the rub is that I wouldn’t post negative reviews. Either I liked the book and posted what I thought would help others know what it was about, or I would not post since I wouldn’t finish or wouldn’t dig any deeper into a book that ended up being a flop. I have posted a couple of negative pieces, but even then I tried to spin the karma in a way that said I could see where someone might get benefit, but this particular work just wasn’t for me.

Now, I get probably two or three books a month that I don’t always ask for. If I’ve requested a book, I feel an obligation to read/review, but otherwise they pile up un-reviewed. So my question in listening in to the webinar is this: by not posting negative reviews, am I in essence showing a bias? Am I losing sincerity and authenticity by only sharing what I like and by not posting what I don’t like? If there is a bias – and I think true unfiltered objectivity is myth at best – then is it a bad thing that I avoid the negative word and hold a bit more to the positive reinforcement side of things? Similar to the book reviews, I have a Keurig brewer that we absolutely love – but it’s also something we received “for review”, so this pricey coffeepot comes with a built-in bias as well. Would I speak so highly of it and the sweet nectar produced if we had purchased it ourselves? Am I a company shill because of the swag, or can I maintain integrity in the midst of it all?

Honestly, I think it’s okay. Asking the question has made me consider my motivations, and that has to be a good thing. I’m hoping this isn’t just my ends justifying my means, but the question of trust and integrity from author to reader and back again is what we’re talking about here. I think positive reviews do what they are supposed to do – to the extent that there’s trust, the reader “trusts me” to make him aware of stuff that’ll have a positive well-worth-it impact. The reader expects me to give her a reason to take that leap and find that book, that it’ll be worth checking out in our limited free time. And if I don’t post the negative piece? Well, then the reader has to figure that one out for himself, for herself, for themselves – because we’re ultimately not on the same journey, ultimately not in the same frame of mind.

Okay, wait – if I post a positive, then you need to get it because I say it’s worth getting. If I don’t post the negative, then you’re on your own. Wow, that is a deeply flawed logic, isn’t it?

So I’m still chewing this one out, even as I have a couple of book reviews to post in the next couple of weeks from books sent to me by publishers to get their good viral word out. I would hope I’d be biased and not try to be objective; I post what I like, how I like it, what I liked about it. And I leave the rest of both of you still reading this far. In the end, that’s all I can do, right? That, and I could stop being so cheap and by my own dang books and coffeepots, huh?

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6 thoughts on “questioning authenticity

  1. jae says:

    If you translate this reasoning to daily life, I think most people would only talk about things they love. If it’s not my thing, I generally say that and let it go unless it’s just plain offensive. I don’t think either is being disingenuous.

    I didn’t know you got the Keurig for review. That just makes me envious and I should probably work that one out on my own. 🙂

  2. Rick says:

    Heh heh heh. We were going to buy one, thought to send an email – what the heck, right? – and got Keurig and $150/kcups for review. We’re happy customers.

  3. Rick says:

    Oh, and on your first piece, I agree except with this. If you love it, you talk about it all the time. If you hate it, it’s generally one and done if we’re talking products. You avoid that thing and don’t talk about it, more or less. With books for me, it’s more that it didn’t hold my interest, I didn’t request it most of the time, and I’d rather not, in my mind, waste time talking about something that would have been a waste if I’d kept reading…. something circular like that.

  4. Melissa says:

    I don’t think you need to post negative reviews. If the book doesn’t hold your interest, you shouldn’t be forced to finish it just to talk about how bad it is. And if you don’t finish it, you can’t really talk about how bad it is because you never know what happened after you put it down …

    I don’t know too much about Oprah’s book club, but I’m aware she has one. I don’t think she has a “books not to read” club, though.

    I think you’re fine! As long as you are being honest in your positive reviews, you are not violating any ethics, so keep em coming!

  5. Rick says:

    Thanks – only as long as all three of you reading 🙂 let me make these circular humor myself justification thing whenever I run out of actual things to say.

  6. […] and try the shrimp cocktail In Book Reviews on October 6, 2009 at 9:20 am [disclaimer: In the pursuit of authenticity and "full disclosure" (and this article in the NY Times), I received a copy of this book from […]

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