How important is the objectivity of a reviewer? It’s a simple sentence, but boy does it have a lot of controversy behind it.

For example, reviewers here at SFSignal often get the books they review free from the publishers. The publishers send out review copies in the hopes that we’ll write something good about it – making us a part of their viral marketing efforts. I don’t remember seeing any review here (mine included) mention this during the review. Are we as objective about a free book as we would be for one we plunked our hard-earned cashed down on?

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, trying to get my head wrapped around not only the topic but also the way I really feel about it.

Does it matter that we have our money on the line when reading and reviewing a book? I think it has to – if the book isn’t what I hoped, I’m not going to be near as upset about it if I got the book for free. But how does that jive against books we borrow (that happens a lot – lots of books get recycled around between friends) or books we get at the ubiquitous discount book store?

I’ll go ahead and say it – if I payed $25 for a new hardback book, I sure would be pissed if I didn’t like it. Oh wait, that happened – with Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. It predated my reviewing here on the blog, but I paid my own money for a first edition signed copy (thanks to my friends who went to Austin!) and was thoroughly dissapointed by it, so much that I actively discouraged others from reading it. Would I have been that unhappy if I had gotten it free from the publisher? I doubt it.

I know of lot of contributors and friends of this blog get books for free too – and I also notice they don’t mention that fact on their blogs or sites. But, I’ve decided it matters. From now on reviews you see from me will state something about how I acquired it. It goes to the reading experience and frankly, just needs to be said.

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