Should I do book reviews?


I collect gun books with almost as much enthusiasm as I collect guns. In the past I have many times been offered the opportunity to review gun books before they are on sale to the public, but have refused each time.

The reason I have refused is that publishers generally give you the book to keep. They do this, I think, because the shipping probably costs more than the printing costs of the book itself, and those who are reviewing don’t want to have to pay the return shipping themselves. It is easier and more cost effective to give the book away.

I worry that reviewing a product I have been given for free would be perceived poorly by you, my audience. Do you think I should do book reviews? Answer in the poll below.



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Burst

    Here’s the thing. Most of us want this blog to be the best it can be.

    Writing book reviews takes time- not the time to read the book, maybe, because you’ll be doing that anyway, but the time to write up, clarify and edit your impressions. So if it’s a choice between book reviews and timely updates, or book reviews and Steve having a life, I’m against ’em.

    What I like about this blog is the fact that it relies heavily on news, flavored with opinion when it’s topical or unavoidable (see: anschutz). While I’m
    sure your views on the subject matter would be well-supported, a book review is not news. It is opinion, and there are other blogs for that.

    So, no.

    • Burst, I understand your concern. Even if I did start doing book reviews, we are talking a one or two a year.

  • Aurelien

    I think as long as you stay true and don’t ‘sell out’ (so to speak), i have no problem with that.
    The thing is, many people, when being given free stuff to review, feel compelled to say only nice things about it. Don’t you do that ! *wink*

  • MrMaigo

    You can’t really SELL the books when you’re done with them. They don’t come rapped in gold or thousand dollar bills for bookmarks. Probably won’t even come in a cardboard box, maybe not even a padded envelope.

    You’re not really getting anything, less useful than a nice pen.

  • SpudGun

    A book? What’s that Grandpa? Is it like an iPad? Just want to mirror the comments above, especially if the book reviews get in the way of blogging on new stuff.

  • Steve: If they are from Collector Grade Publications, feel free to pass them along to me when you are done. 😉

  • Jesse

    As long as you note that the book was given for free what harm is there?

  • Aurelien

    SpudGun, a book is kind of like an ipad, but more papery. And you cant download stuff with it.
    Rhey used do make that like a century ago.

    • Aurelien, cool, they are retro-ipads. I must get me one of these booo-ooks 🙂

  • Steve

    I understand your concern. Just be upfront and put a remark in your review that the book was given to you, or develop a policy that you will give the book to an appropriate library on make a cash donation for the value of the book. What ever it takes to make you feel comfortable.

  • CinSC

    I think you should do it. In your blog posts and your responses to reader’s posts you come across as very fair and, as this post attests, very honest and up-front with possible conflicts of interest.
    So I say do it and have fun with it. I look forward to your recommendations.

  • Tux

    Steve, as always, your integrity is admirable. One of my favorite features of this blog is that I am not bombarded with ads and/or fluff pieces. That said, if you can get something for free you would otherwise buy anyway just for offering an honest opinion, while still providing useful information, go for it.

  • 54Bravo

    I would say, sure, if you have time to with everything else going on in your life.

    Also, Ian V. Hogg F-T-W!!!

  • gunslinger

    Steve

    as long as you are truthful/honest between the reviews, the blog and any other “gifts” (see your disclosure posts) i don’t see any conflict of interest. from what i’ve seen, you’ve been very upfront with everything. keeping your reputation as clean as possible.

    so i say to you, if you think reviews are beneficial and would like to do them, go ahead, you don’t need my permission. Personally, i just hope that the site does not suffer, but you may do with your IP as you see fit.

    good luck!

  • Urban Redneck

    Do what newspaper book review sections do … Graciously accept the free books, read them, review them, then at the end of the year donate them to charity. I’m sure your local sportsman club would happily accept them for a raffle-type fundraiser or the like. If that doesn’t feel right you could help out your local Goodwill or even go with a book-specific charity, such as the HousingWorks Bookstore here in NYC.

  • It’s your site. If you want to do reviews, do them. I wouldn’t mind hearing about a few books now and then. Getting free stuff is one of the perks to owning this site. You put a lot of work into it and I don’t think any of us would shake our heads if you were to pick up a few free books.

  • KC

    I think it would be fine if it were one or two a year, as long as the books are technical or historical books related to firearms rather than being political (kind of like the spirit of the blog)

    one thing you could try doing is giving away the book free to a reader if you’re concerned that it would bias the writing too much

  • electronics

    All people who review products receive the products for free, whether for good or as a loan.

  • DarrenS

    Any books you receive for review will most likely be pre-production copies that have not been fully edited and are technically illegal to sell (Half-Priced Books will not even take them), so I don’t see a problem with it.

  • I can read book reviews on Amazon or dozens of other sites. Also the idea of you posting any more content at one time is frightening!

  • I don’t think a free book is a big enough carrot to corrupt a person.

  • Nanban Jim

    Yeah, if you honestly have no opinion of your own on this, I’d suggest not doing NEW book reviews. (Of course if instead you actively want to do them, then that’s what you should do.)

    However, if you have a library and want to put up a review of already-published books, that would be interesting. There’s one on Johnson and his weapons that I found fascinating when packing it up for shipping.

  • I struggled with the same question on my blog, and decided that book reviews are OK, but that equipment from reviews (fly rods, reels, etc) needed to find a new home once I was done in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    Books, on the other hand, are generally cheaper to produce than they are to ship, and finally decided I could give them away to readers (as prizes) if I wanted, or keep them (I’ve only kept a couple) without them influencing my review.

    In truth, the hard bit about reviews is offering up a few negative points when you know the author worked very, very hard on the thing…

    I do commend you for even bringing up the conflict of interest aspect of all this. In the outdoor industry, it’s *very* common for writers to accept free gear, expensive trips to lodges and other expensive items. Most don’t disclose the value of these gratuities to their readers, nor do they admit that a couple negative reviews would put a stop to the gravy train.

    That’s why so many of the equipment reviews you read in the outdoor world are vague, gushy and ultimately untrustworthy; they’re the product of a writer protecting the flow of freebies, not someone interested in getting at the truth of a product or book.

  • I voted “Yes,” Steve. I have a decent library of rare gun books in India which I hope to ship over here soon. And of course, I have books here – it would be nice to know what you think of various books before buying.

    Will look forward to the reviews – a suggestion too – maybe you could tie up with Amazon and specialist gun book dealers to advertise on your website?

  • Hobie

    I should do the reviews and get free books! Heck I BUY books and do book reviews.

  • subase

    Well just make sure the books are available on Amazon and that the reviews are interesting to read. Or better yet you can just post a book you enjoyed. Amazon has user reviews of the books anyway.

  • I work for a publishing company. Just for the record it is standard practice at our company to give away several copies of any book we publish for publicity purposes.

    Please accept the free books and write an honest review of the content in the book.

  • Cameron Moore

    I voted “yes,” but there’s more to say…

    I agree with Burst — I’m a “yes” so long as it does not significantly affect regularly scheduled updates. You do such a great job that this blog is the only “firearms industry news” blog I subscribe to. So, as far as the blog is concerned, I’d be happy with a couple reviews a year. It would be an interesting change of pace from time to time.

    The other concern you raised is about publishers and collecting books. If publishers will send you books knowing that you will only review a couple books per year (ie. only the very best books make the cut), I say let them do it. It costs them nearly nothing to send you a copy, but if one of them happens to be the “golden ticket,” they could reap a huge benefit from being featured on your blog. The fact that you get to keep a bunch of free books is just a byproduct of their acceptance of the risk.

  • I used to do book reviews when I co-authored a political weblog for about seven years…it worked out pretty well. I think as long as there is full disclosure as to the source of what you review your readers will have no problem with it. Like us, I seriously doubt you would want to sully the reputation of yourself and your site for a handful of free books that, in some cases, you likely wouldn’t have purchased anyway…so I don’t think editorial honesty is much of an issue.

  • Kurgen99

    As long as you stick to guns, and not politics, why not?

  • Old Windways

    I see no problem with receiving the book for free, as long as you disclose that in the review.

    If you are still concerned that a free item might skew your readers’ trust in the review, you could always donate the books to a local library once you have completed them.

  • Thomas

    Do what the gun mags do, find someone that you trust and have them do the reviews. Usually, a publisher, or author, will provide a copy for review. Then you can concentrate on your regular blogging.

    Stay away from reviewing garbage, and, as long as a review is professional and accurate, most authors and publishers can handle it.

  • Thanks everyone for the insightful comments.

  • tommy2rs

    I voted yes. It would be nice to see what’s out there in the way of new gun books. I take most reviews with several grains of salt anyway as what’s interesting or useful to one is junk to another. But knowing the options is always helpful. Plus, you could always use the books as contest prizes for your subscribers. As long as said contests don’t involve signing up for that thrice damned Facebook.

  • Jerry

    Blogs, like book reviews, are based on trust. We read your blog because we enjoy reading it. Underneath that enjoyment is a foundation of trust, implied or otherwise. Welcome to Ethics 101. If you desert that trust, it will become evident, regardless of whether you’re paid or not.

    Run with what you enjoy and don’t be ashamed if you make money (free books or whatever).

  • Burst

    Cameron states, and clarifies my original position admirably.

    If it’s something that you’d enjoy occasionally, why not?

  • charles222

    Yeah, I’d like to see book reviews too-haven’t really read them regularly in quite awhile now, but it’d be nice to know what’s out there.