Real Book Critic Wags Finger at Online Upstarts

By Neal Comment

Over at Critical Mass, the unofficial National Book Critics Circle blog, John Freeman pooh-poohs bookbloggers who affiliate themselves with online bookstores. “Perhaps it’s that old print background rearing its head, but isn’t this a (rather large) conflict of interest?” Freeman asks. “How can you actually claim to blog blindly if the chances are a positive or salesworthy blog might generate some extra income?”

Since my other blog,, is an active affiliate with the independent bookstore, I freely admit that I’ve got a dog in this hunt, but here’s my take: I’ve never claimed to blog blindly, and in fact I’ve always been pretty upfront about advocating for books and writers that I like and want other people to read. As for Freeman’s suggestion that readers can’t take a blogger seriously if there’s a possibility that blogger might make a commission off the sale of a book, I believe he’s overthinking the case. My links to Powells are completely irrlevant to whatever (undoubtedly limited) authority I have as a book critic/advocate. That authority comes from doing the work day in, day out, and convincing one reader at a time that I have something to say worth paying attention to.

Which is why I think Freeman’s dead wrong when he suggests “litblogs will never achieve a place of actual authority while their operators make direct profits off book sales.” Frankly, whether you’re talking about a hold on the reader’s consciousness or a perception of significance on the part of publishing companies, bookblogs have long since arrived—the only people left arguing that they’re not truly relevant to the discussion are the critics entrenched in print media. And, though I’m pretty sure this isn’t part of Freeman’s agenda, a lot of that disdain comes from an unwillingness to address the online critique of what’s wrong with American print book reviewing.

Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading and C. Max Magee of The Millions argue the point further in the Critical Mass comments, while Ed Champion, in his aggressive manner, is quite right to point out Freeman’s erroneous tarring of bookbloggers with the “buzz marketing” brush. I’ve certainly never run across a bookblog that turned out to be a surreptitious marketing campaign—in fact, the corporate bookblogs are completely upfront about their motivations, and in my opinion tend to be fairly reliable within their infomercial context. So Freeman might want to dial his rhetoric back a notch or two on that front; there’s room for respectable debate on the question of whether bookstore links are a good thing, but suggesting bookbloggers are secretly working for The Man is unnecessarily insulting.

But as long as we’re here, how about another Dept. of You Read It Here First?

Critical Mass, June 7: “The Memoir…Not Dead Yet

GalleyCat, April 14: WSJ: Memoirs Still Get Published”