Ethics and Literary Blogging
As a literary agent, attorney and entertainment professional, I know that bloggers have a tremendous impact on consumers of entertainment, especially in publishing. With fewer bookstores available to authors for signings and in-person interactions with readers, blog tours have become an integral part of a writer’s marketing plan for their books. Facebook and Twitter are ways for authors to reach people who already follow them. By contrast, blog tours are a way for authors to reach readers who have yet to hear of them, or who at least don’t follow them yet.
Blog tours basically consist of authors being interviewed by bloggers and the interviews are then posted on the blogger’s site. But that’s only one way bloggers impact publishing. They also write about what they like (and what they don’t). They recommend books and talk about a variety of issues in publishing and entertainment. They speak directly to the consumer.
As for readers, and yes I’m one, we used to have sales people we knew who recommended books based on our previous purchases. They were not the result of sophisticated computer algorithms. They were our friends and neighbors who worked in stores like Walden Books. (By the way, if you think that Amazon won’t skew results to get readers to buy certain books over others, you are incredibly naïve).
How do we as a community of creators and consumers of entertainment content feel about bloggers who, unknown to us, are biased? Should we be advised if the blogger has a personal relationship with the author? Or their competitor? If they received gifts other compensation from the publisher?
All professions have codes of ethics. As an attorney, I had to take and pass a separate bar exam concerning ethical rules regarding the practice of law. (Try to suppress the urge to make lawyer jokes for a few minutes.)
But what about bloggers? Are they a profession? I’ve heard the argument that blogging refers to the fact that someone is using the Internet and does NOT have anything to do with the content they create. The real issue then, is the content.
A simple Google search yielded a code of ethics for food bloggers. Their rules include the following: accountability, civility, revealing bias, and the disclosing of gifts, comps and samples. Most importantly, they state that they will follow the rules of good journalism.
We need to know whether a blogger is an independent voice giving their honest opinion about a literary work, or a paid mouthpiece , or a close friend of the author. Without that information, readers cannot make a real choice. They think they have a friend making an honest suggestion when, in fact, they merely have a slick salesman pulling a fast one, manipulating them. Not only will we be forced to read the material THEY want us to read, we won’t ever get to see the entertainment that we would really like. It’s a new kind of censorship, one based on misinformation and greed.
Ultimately, the answer is to create written ethical assurances from the individual bloggers that are similar to those of the food bloggers mentioned above. And some way of enforcing those rules. Smart bloggers who want to see their work gain credibility might start thinking about forming an organization that would govern its members and lead to assurances of legitimacy. Those who refuse to be accountable or play by ethical rules would be exposed as biased or fraudulent. In the end, the readers and true bloggers would benefit greatly.