Today’s pet peeve

What is it with the comic book reviewers who include this in their reviews?

This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of ethical high ground thing, but, ironically, it makes the reviewer look like a complete amateur.

Because the way the world works is that publicists are SUPPOSED to send out free product so it can get reviewed.

Does Roger Ebert go to the movie theater every Friday and stand in line and go back to the Sun-Times to say “Hey I caught some good flicks this weekend. Can I write them up?”

Does Michiko Kakutani spend her time down at Borders browsing the stacks and then call up the NYT Book Review editor to say “Hey, I really want to review this new T.C. Boyle book, whaddaya say?”

I’m sure there are times when any top reviewer covers something they paid for with their own dime, but the thing that makes them top reviewers is that IT DOESN’T MATTER. They”ve reached that not-so-rarified state that they can praise or slag a work independent of how it was received.

Every day at Publishers Weekly, we get dozens of “complimentary copies” of books and I assign them to various reviewers based on how important the book is and whether the reviewer will give it a fair reading. It doesn’t matter who paid or didn’t pay for the book itself.

I would be more interested in knowing if a book was reviewed from a .pdf or a B&W galley and so on — those things can affect the accuracy of a review.

Who paid shouldn’t.

NOW, if the author or publicist is a personal pal of the reviewer and sent them a copy of whatever with the note “I just KNOW you’ll love this! Alan Moore Updike is coming out to promote his new YouTube series and he’d love to talk to you about it”, that’s a different matter.

In that case, it’s more upfront to say “My good pal Swifty Kingsley sent along a DVD of this new Alan Moore Updike YouTube DVD, and it’s the dog’s bollocks.”

But that’s hardly reviewing, either. The NY Times and other reputable media don’t allow people to review a book if they even KNOW the author. That is how to maintain distance. In the tiny circle jerk world of comics, maintaining distance is almost impossible. That’s why I cut back on doing reviews — too many conflicts of interest.

But if I ever did go back to it, whether I got a book for free or whether I paid for it would be the least of my concerns.

Comments

  1. I dunno…I don’t generally do reviews, but in a world where a LOT of people run their own blogs and post their own reviews based on copies they paid for, I can’t fault someone for offering the disclosure. I might know to assume it was a free copy depending on who the source is, but a lot of average-joe users might not know how prolific review copies can be and assume otherwise.

    I’m unlikely to fault someone for NOT including it, either…but it doesn’t make me think less of a reviewer, particularly online, for mentioning it.

  2. Thanks – this has bugged me for a LONG time now. Reviewers get advance copies – that’s how we get a review AS A PRODUCT IS BEING RELEASED as opposed to a week later. Nothing wrong with that, and no reason to point it out.

  3. I guess it’s my training as a newspaper reporter to be very scrupulous about these things. I do think the information should be out in the open, but sometimes I feel like adding “and if you think I can be bought off for a free book, you’re reading the wrong blog.”

  4. I think Patrick’s point is important–one of the benefits of reading a professional review can often be that the reviewer is granted an ADVANCE copy, which of course is also free. Just today I had to go sit in a record exec’s office and listen to an album that isn’t out yet because they didn’t want anyone to take it out of the room for fear of leaks. So it’s not the money that’s the issue, it’s the timing, and if a review is published ahead of something’s release so that buzz is generated and people can start making their decisions in advance, it helps both the producer and consumer. I think that’s why the disclosure is moot.

  5. cbrown says:

    That sort of disclaimer is of course meant to be an indicator of full disclosure. But it also has also always struck me as a self-serving way of declaring, “Hey! Look! I’m a REAL reviewer, not just someone with a blogger account and a pull list at my local comics shop! Publishers send me their books for FREE so I can review them!”

  6. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I agree 100 percent with Heidi.

  7. Kenny says:

    Tucker and Nina Stone and Matthew Brady pay for their own books. I dare you to find better reviewers.

    It sounds like the problem you have, Heidi, is with the comics industry itself. The Big 2 aren’t comping the best reviewers. You can hardly blame the lesser ones for admitting they’re comped.

  8. Kenny: Marvel doesn’t comp anybody.

    I agree that it’s kind of a superfluous thing to tack onto a review, but it doesn’t really bug me either. Our site doesn’t post that disclosure, but we also started out as a music magazine, where that kind of disclosure isn’t expected.

  9. michael says:

    I dunno, I guess I used to hold it against those who did not pay for their own copies, but now….I guess it really doesn’t matter. I was just sick of hearing about the already privileged recieving ‘gifts’ then commenting on them without even a thought as to their cost, for real world people. And sounding as if they didn’t have a clue as to earning an ‘honest’ dollar.

    But I guess it’s not like any comic book reviewers are so thusly loaded, right? O.o

  10. Thanks for that Kenny, but let me clarify two points: Matt Brady kicks the hell out of me on the reviewing front, and Nina won’t pay for shit.

  11. Tom Spurgeon says:

    You can sometimes get stuff from Marvel.

  12. Mark Coale says:

    I’m much more interested in knowing who is pals with who when they review a product or constantly hype it up than whether or not something was provided for review purposes.

  13. Charles Knight says:

    ” but, ironically, it makes the reviewer look like a complete amateur. ”

    I’m trying to think of a polite way to put this and failing – if it makes them look like an amateur, why does pretty much every post here have spelling and grammar errors?

    Is that out of line? I don’t know but I think it’s a fair comment if we are talking professional standards in (comics) journalism.

  14. I tend to disagree.

    While it may be desirable for the comics industry to operate more like other industries in that respect, it’s really not. Consequently, a lot of comics are reviewed not because they happen to be out there, but because a creator or publisher mailed them to a reviewer. As a reader, I’m interested in knowing that; as a reviewer, I think it makes enough of a difference to point it out, simply because the process of selection is rigged considerably.

    (A somewhat related pet peeve of my own: interviewers who don’t indicate whether conversation was conducted in person, over the phone, via E-mail or through smoke signs. That sort of thing affects what is being said and how tremendously, to the point where it’s so obvious that doesn’t even need to be stated, in some cases. For instance, people blowing smoke are obviously prevalent in comics-related interviews. But still.)

  15. The Beat says:

    Charles, that’s a fair point, and sadly, I have never been able to proofread my own stuff without leaving it sit for a while and RARELY able to proofread anything on a computer screen. I should slow down and proofread but the hurry scurry world of online sometimes gives you very little time.

    The arrival of our trusty copy editor Steven has cut down on some of the problems.

    However, very few people are professional grade copy editors or proof readers. I’ll try to do better in the future.

  16. Mark Coale says:

    @Marc-Oliver

    I think the “email interview” is always easy to identify, since there are often no follow-up questions and rarely a “flow” to them.

    I say that as someone who, 9/10 times does things via email these days, since it’s more convenient for everyone’s schedule. My first book had over 80 interviews in it and I believe all of them were done via email.

  17. I personally appreciate when bloggers do it. I do it because I want to be honest about what I’m doing. I, at least, try to do it gracefully and not just tack it on at the end.

    I have read that it’s recommended that bloggers disclose when they’ve been sent something and I think it’s fair to do so. I may change my mind after a while, but right now, it feels right to differentiate complimentary copies from things I’ve purchased myself.

    As for non-personal, more commercial sites, I do think it’s unnecessary. I usually assume that it’s a complimentary copy or at least some else’s money may have gone into the purchase of the review copy.

  18. Amen, sister. Doesn’t matter how you got it, just that you got it. And, of course, what you think of it.

  19. ephraim says:

    fun to watch the old folks tear their hair out on this one.

    as media institutions wither, mightn’t it be fun to think about the myriad of reasons why? cause the perception of the media as biased certainly fuels some of this. Review labelling can be seen as a response to this perception.

    but regardless of the reasons why, it’s happening. surely postings like this will reverse the trend, no?

  20. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’d like to write disclaimers but they’d probably be longer than the reviews.

    “I knew Ed Brubaker when we were in Seattle and we had some of the same friends but I don’t think we liked each other much or even thought about it and we never spoke to one another even though we went to the same parties every now and then. We did end up talking one day at an SPX in front of Roger Langridge’s table like we were old friends, which was weird, but I remember it was a nice conversation and it wasn’t the first time I had a conversation like that. We’ve interviewed a couple of times since and now I think we’re generally friendly, but maybe in that way where you kind of understand a person from a semi-similar background more than that we exchange Christmas cards, if you know what I mean. If we lived in the same town, we’d probably be socially friendly. We say hi at cons. This copy of Criminal Vol. 2 was paid for by a Amazon gift card I got for helping out with the Rotary charity auction.”

  21. Mark Coale says:

    Of course, we’d also see this more and more:

    “This review was provided by an illegal download from Piratebay / Bit Torrent / Rapidshare.”

  22. It’s just another way of saying that the person who wrote the review doesn’t know how professionals do it.

    Not to be a snob or anything, but it would behoove them to find out… if they, ya know, wanna do that thing.

  23. Mark,

    I don’t have any objection against E-mail interviews; I’ve done them, and they’re often the preferable method when the guy you’re talking to sits on the other side of the Atlantic. (And I do think it’s quite possible to conduct them in ways that allows for the conversation to be reasonably organic. Personally don’t even consider it an interview to just mail somebody twenty questions.)

    I just like it when the interviewer lets me know about it. It’s a little thing that gives me an idea of the context.

  24. Tom Spurgeon says:

    “This interview was conducted over the phone on a Tuesday morning. The interviewer wore purple underwear and chocolate brown fur booties and sat in his poorly ventilated office. The interviewee was occasionally watching his four-year-old watch Space Chimps. It was corrected via an angry combination phone and e-mail exchange. The interviewer spent three minutes of the interview looking at the Chicago Bears homepage.”

  25. Stepping back for a minute, I think the overall thing is maybe this: when you’re reading a review, you want it to be that person’s honest, informed opinion about a work. In the generally accepted standards of arts criticism, it shouldn’t matter jack how the reviewer got it, and the basic point of sending freebies isn’t to kiss ass but to try to get something reviewed that a critic might not have found or decided to purchase on his or her own (now if you send along a t-shirt with it, maybe that’s kissing ass a little). So when someone makes a point of saying “this was free,” it sends a variety of possibly unintentional signals regarding how he or she is approaching the work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the disclaimer, but the reason it strikes some as unprofessional is that a “professional” is, one hopes, playing it straight by default.

    I should add that I think this is a separate issue from possible conflicts of interest or personal relationships–those should be disclosed when possible. I can be 100% objective about a complimentary review copy of something because I get all kinds at all levels of quality; if my cousin wrote it, however, I would probably just straight up pimp it on my blog and not “review” it in any professional sense. (None of my cousins write comic books, btw.)

  26. Huh. When I reviewed stuff, it was always stuff I’d bought. I’m trying to think of the last comp copy of anything that I actually read and reviewed. A lot of stuff that would have gotten my reviews more attention sat on the shelf because I didn’t feel like coughing up cash for it (write off or not).

    And I always conduct interviews wearing only a velvet smoking jacket that the guy on Ebay said was Hugh Hefner’s and had a price tag to match.

  27. Tom,

    I’d probably work some of that in as we go along rather than put it all up front, but why not? I especially like the part about the purple underwear, which occurs to me is a great way of livening up particularly dreary passages.

  28. I also agree 100% w/ Heidi. The reason?

    I’m tired of seeing the same issues being reviewed more than once on the same website. It marginalizes an already marginalized medium.

    Sure, some guy may have the rare not-in-the-top-100 pet title that he likes, such as Young Liars (which is great, btw), but a lot of quality books get ignored.

    When I spent 2006 inking Gen13, I was very aware that it was not a big seller, but I wanted to promote it, or at least let people know it was out there. But once Gail Simone departed the book I would find few or no reviews of Gen13 in the web wilderness but old solicit copy. I offered one reviewer some free issues for review, then was informed that the reviewer would have to publicly announce that they were comps supplied by one of the artists. I rescinded my offer, because I thought it would taint the reviewing process.

    There’s a ton of great (and crappy) comics out there that could use some exposure that would benefit the general comics-reading public (either “Tell your friends who like Brubaker’s work” or “Buyer beware”).
    Just because one can’t afford all the comics out there doesn’t mean one should just settle in with the same old comfy pull file. That limits the scope of reviewing comics in general.

  29. Most of the time when I saw something like that on a reviewer’s website, I took it as a signal that I (as a creator or publisher) was unlikely to get a review unless I sent out comp copies. It was a polite way of saying to send comps if you want a chance to get it reviewed. And there’s nothing wrong with that as I wouldn’t expect reviewers to have to pay for everything if they’re in the position to explore new things. But it is difficult to determine who is a true “reviewer” or just a blogger except some of the more notable names. As a publisher, I get hit up for the “comp list” from a lot of people and when I check, seldom to I find someone putting reviews out on a consistent basis.

    As far as the interviews go, almost every one I do now is email. It just saves so much time. Generally, I try to answer them fast in hopes of capturing at least some of the stream of consciousness that a verbal interview has and I don’t usually edit it (and unfortunately, sometimes don’t run the spell check either). You can usually tell the email interviews where the interviewee spent quite a bit of time in providing the answers.

  30. Huh. I currently do put a “disclaimer” of sorts on my blog when I review a comp book (and Heidi’s example may well have been taken from me, since it’s exactly what I use, italics and everything), but maybe I’ll have to rethink it. I had kind of assumed it was standard operating procedure, as far as amateur, non-paying blogging was concerned (and it’s not a note that I include when I’m writing for other sites than my own). Sure, if you’re working for pay, that’s one thing, but for hobbyists like me, it’s kind of a way to keep things honest and offer full disclosure. Also, the difference between a paid book and a free one can color the review; maybe I liked a book but would have been disappointed if I had bought it and felt it wasn’t worth the money. Or maybe I’m reading something that I wouldn’t have even considered picking up unless it had been sent to me. Or, why do I always seem to review Viz manga, but not so much Tokyopop, Dark Horse, or Del Rey? That simple note can add a bit to the consideration of the book, in my opinion.

    But at the same time, I definitely don’t want to seem like I’m telling publishers that the way to get a review is to send a free copy, or gloating at the free stuff I might get, or hell, just plain acting unprofessional. I’ll have to give it some consideration as to whether it’s a practice I should continue.

    And Kenny, I don’t know if you’re still following this thread, but I love ya, man!

  31. notnecessarilythesameguy says:

    Do you folks not stop to think that maybe a person’s standards are lowered when they don’t have to spend their own money? I’ve often wondered this myself as someone who gets certain things for free on a regular basis. I doubt whether I would have enjoyed something as much if I had been forced to pay for it. Then there’s the opposing possibility of getting a pure review by getting it for free because then the reviewer spends their time worrying about the content rather than the perceived value of their experience.

    It was not pointed out in the original post whether that disclaimer frequently appears in print or online only reviews, but I will postulate a reason for fun. Roger Ebert and print magazines don’t need to have this disclaimer because everyone assumes (and with good reason) that what they’re reviewing was given to them for free. However, an online reviewer at a D I Y website wouldn’t automatically be part of the legitimate press and consequently may not receive complimentary access to the things they review, and in the interest of full disclosure, they’re going to point out when they’re reviewing something they did receive for free so that the reader can decide how they will view that person’s opinion.

  32. Drew,

    “I offered one reviewer some free issues for review, then was informed that the reviewer would have to publicly announce that they were comps supplied by one of the artists. I rescinded my offer, because I thought it would taint the reviewing process.”

    All due respect, but your anecdote illustrates quite nicely why I do use a disclaimer. The only “signal” it’s meant to send, in my case, is what it says: that it’s a copy provided free of charge by people who have a vested commercial interest in seeing that particular comic succeed. Because, quite simply, by sending a comic to me, they make it more likely for me to review it, because, unless I throw it away upon arrival, it’ll be lying around at my place.

    Like Matthew, I’m taken aback by the kind of vitriol this notion provokes among professionals. I’m not a professional reviewer (although I certainly aspire to professional standards and don’t mind being held to them), and I don’t have a fraction of the insight in publishing that Heidi and Tom have.

    That said, I can’t claim to grasp in logical terms what’s supposed to be unprofessional about this kind of disclosure.

    The reasons brought forward so far seem to fall in four categories:
    1 – “Because you just don’t do it.” (I’m famously unimpressed.)
    2 – “Because the notion that a review might be affected by a free copy is completely preposterous.” (Well, it’s really not. The mere fact that you’re reviewing the book at all is probably dependent on it. Pretty big influence, that, no matter whether your verdict ends up negative or positive.)
    3 – “Because I insist on reading things into the disclaimer that it doesn’t actually say.” (Welcome, this is the Internet. Beer? Chips? Help yourself.)
    4 – “Because it might create the impression that we sent you the book for free to talk about it.” (Oops!)

    I have to say, I remain rather unconvinced. But maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, so if anybody would like to explain it to me one more time in terms that don’t fall into the above area, I’m open.

  33. I use a similar disclaimer because my readers asked for it. The internet should be about providing more information, not less, so I have no problem doing so. Whether or not a review is “amateurish” should be judged by the content of the review, not the format and add-ons; old-school definitions of “professionalism” can be interesting guides, but they rarely translate directly to new media.

    If one is trying to increase the professionalism of the comic review process, one might start by attacking instead the publicists who don’t understand the basics (like the one who sent a promoted holiday issue out a week after on-sale date instead of prior, or those who are quick to cut off sources that are honest about product quality). Then again, if whether or not the public is reminded reviewers get content for free is the most we have to worry about, well, times are good.

  34. Joe S. Walker says:

    Really professional journalists augment their income by selling on things they get free and write “interviews” without ever exchanging a word with their subject by any means whatsoever. I’ve done both..

  35. Back in the net.middle-ages when I used to do reviews regularly online, I’d usually mention it when a book I was reviewing had been sent to me by the publisher, mostly because it was unusual. My readers would naturally assume that anything I reviewed was something I had picked out myself, giving it an implied endorsement, so it served to explain why on earth I was reviewing (for example) an upcoming Vampirella mini-series.

  36. I’m a regular reader of The Comics Reporter but I’d be an even bigger fan if Tom starts including those disclaimers!

    Comics is a world unto itself (and a small one at that). Too often in comics reviews what I read is tainted by the thought that the person wants to be a writer or editor at a company and might be biased in their reviews towards not harming their future employment prospects. I guess I’m less bothered by the disclaimer than I am the notion of people using their positions to help personal friends or gain employment. I’d prefer if people didn’t report on the every move of their personal friends but perhaps the fish bowl is too small to expect that.

    The guy who writes movie reviews for King Features Weekly Syndicate (D.N.A. Smith- who also happens to be a bit of a comics nerd based on his reviews) admits to not accepting free tickets as he’d rather buy his own way into a movie and review it based on whether it was or was not worth paying full admission price or is more worthy of a rental. I think in a way that’s what people are attempting to do by publishing those disclaimers although some may just be begging for more comp books!

  37. “I use a similar disclaimer because my readers asked for it. The internet should be about providing more information, not less, so I have no problem doing so.”

    Same here. We do roleplaying game reviews, and I see cries of “shilling” if it’s not made clear that the product in question was free. By providing that one line, amateurish or not, we give a proper context and our readers appreciate that.

    Plus, it really is different if you’re an established journalist versus one of us amateurs who had to work really, really hard to get our blog to the point where we’re recognized enough to actually receive review copies.

  38. John Tebbel says:
  39. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this. Heidi, since you quoted someone doing this, why didn’t you provide a link to the source of your quote?

  40. Man, that Spurgeon comedy machine worked overtime in this thread.

    “The interviewer spent three minutes of the interview looking at the Chicago Bears homepage.”

    That would explain this turn in last year’s Lucy Knisley interview
    (http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/cr_sunday_interview_lucy_knisley/)

    “SPURGEON: How did you end up in Chicago?

    KNISLEY: I went to four different high schools in three years, and wound up pretty freaked out by the experience. …
    I really love Chicago. It’s fascinated me since I’ve moved here, in various ways. Sometimes it’s this really American city, all new and industrial and shiny, and then you look beneath the surface and find all these hidden facets. After the great fire, all the new buildings were made of brick and adobe, because they wouldn’t burn. Unfortunately, adobe is not a material that lasts in this kind of inhospitable weather, and it’s begun to erode. The architecture here is a mix of fancy new glass skyscrapers, and crumbling, eroding old facades that are only really a few decades old.

    SPURGEON: What was up with the Bears’ squib kick against the Falcons last week?

    KNISLEY: Excuse me?

    SPURGEON: Sorry, I meant to ask has your interest in comics grown as you’ve become more interested in doing them?”

    Nice recovery, Tom, nice recovery. ;)

    Seriously though, I can understand that the Internet may demand to know if you have a comp copy–but how much of the Internet even knows what an ombudsman is? I respect the need for transparency between reviewer, consumer and the dog, but by the same token, if a reviewer works long enough his or her audience learns to trust their instinct and won’t worry if the copy that is being reviewed was bought or a comp copy.

    As for email interviews, that’s all I do. I think most people familiar with my interviews know that. That being said, I still tell folks it’s an email interview in the intro (for those of you scoring at home, I write the crappiest intros).

    When I first started doing interviews, I would leave the dud questions in (hell early on, most of them were dud questions). Now if I realize I gave the interviewee a crappy question, I edit the exchange out (with their consent). But what if I start a disclaimer of “interview edited so as to not bore the crap out of you”?

  41. First off, Joe Williams’ point is well-taken!

    Second, Marc-Oliver, I apologize if my comments came off as too harsh.

    My personal hang-up (and I understand it’s MY hangup, not universal truth)with reviews is the limitations of having only the same titles reviewed to death simply due to the reviewers buying habits. We know all things X-Men/Avengers/Superman/Batman will be reviewed because the sales figures reflect that’s what most fans buy.

    With a comp disclaimer, my concern is that it would segregate a comped review from a ‘real review’.

    Go Steelers!

  42. Huh. I have never made note of whether I got a book gratis from a publisher or bought it from my friendly neighborhood bookstore / comic shop because… well, I never thought it mattered to say so.

    I tend to review books that I receive both ways the same way, altho yes, the ones I receive as comps tend to be up a bit closer to release date than otherwise. It took a while to get on publishers’ comp lists — and I don’t get advance copies from every publisher, but I find that the ones that don’t at least send me press releases, newsletters or advance copies kind of end up in “out of sight, out of mind” land.

    But until you mentioned it, it didn’t cross my mind that people who did add that kind of notation were somehow less professional? My pet peeve is reviewers who use the entire review to rehash the entire plot of the story, spoilers be damned, and never quite offer more of an opinion than “it’s pretty good.”

    Excellent comment from Marc-Oliver. I sometimes make note that an interview was done via email — but not 100% of the time. I also find that while it’s sometimes awkward to do so, I do ask if I can send follow-up questions after I receive the first batch of answers, because sometimes it seems like something’s missing if I don’t.

    All in all, an interesting conversation! Thanks for instigating this one, Heidi!

  43. Alan Coil says:

    “My personal hang-up…with reviews is the limitations of having only the same titles reviewed to death simply due to the reviewers buying habits.”

    I wrote a few reviews several years ago. I quit for this very reason. It was boring to me, so I assumed it was boring to the readers. How many ways are there to say Book A is great/Book B really sucks before people stop reading your reviews. Most periodicals don’t have different writer/artist teams every minth, so what is true this January might still be true next January.

    And I never have received a comp copy from a publisher, so I never had to deal with that situation. I do, however, like to know what the reviewer got for free. If a reviewer continues to purchase a series, it adds to the impact lof that reviewers opinion.

  44. The Beat says:

    Some guy: “Do you folks not stop to think that maybe a person’s standards are lowered when they don’t have to spend their own money?”

    Me: Not if you are professional.

    M-O: “2 – “Because the notion that a review might be affected by a free copy is completely preposterous.”

    Me: Not if you are a professional.

    JDC: “Whether or not a review is “amateurish” should be judged by the content of the review, not the format and add-ons; old-school definitions of “professionalism” can be interesting guides, but they rarely translate directly to new media.”

    Correct, on the first sentence, but an crappy amatuerish format will also make me think less of the person presenting the reviews. And as for the second part…what the heck does new media have to do with it, except that anyone with a computer and access to blogger is now a “reviewer”? As the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki said of free content on the internet driving out old school reporting, “Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.”

    Johanna does use the disclaimer, and she is one of my regular reviewers for PW, so I do consider her a professional as well as a smart, informed (and opinionated in case you haven’t noticed) commentator on comics. If I thought for one moment that the tone of her reviews was colored by how the review item was acquired, I would not use her, period.

    I find this idea of “transparency” completely baffling. You get on the comp list or screening list or whatever, by showing you are professional. If you are in the ranks of the professonal reviewer than you have the right to have access to the tools that help you do that job.

    To put this in another way, I go to some movie screenings, but I am not a regular movie reviewer, so 80% of what I write here is about movies that I paid to see. Once in a while I get a free screening because it’s comics related, but I wouldn’t expect to be on every movie studios movie list because that’s not my scene.

    Now…was that interesting? Germane? Do you have any idea whether I paid to see Wanted or The Dark Knight? Do you CARE?

    When I see the complimentary copy disclaimer it says two things to me:

    “I am so a pro! See! I get free shit too!”

    or

    “I am easily paid for.”

    I know neither Johanna or Matthew means either of these things, so it’s particularly odd to see them using it.

  45. “I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of ethical high ground thing, but, ironically, it makes the reviewer look like a complete amateur.”

    Heidi, FTW.

  46. I don’t mean any disrespect to those who’ve taken the opposite view, but I just cannot agree.

    Including such a little note with a review just makes you look like an asshole.

    The notion of “professionalism” doesn’t come into it at all. The quality of your work will demonstrate your professionalism or betray your lack thereof. How you came to read, watch or listen to the subject in question is wholly irrelevant. And as if enumerating such details would somehow change the fact that The Beat or the L.A. Times reviews page or Entertainment Weekly or CBR are anything but mechanisms by which promotion can be achieved.

    The only possible defense for this annoying disclaimer would be if you DON’T regularly receive comp copies, and you want to send a message to publishers that they should get on it so they can get their books reviewed as well. But even that is kind of bitchy.

  47. I’d never state the source for whatever I’m reviewing…seems rather silly.

    As far as comps go, well, a comp is no guarantee of a mention in the Comics Curmudgeon section of The Chronic Rift, but with the mass of product out there in any given month, not sending a comp for a book is pretty much going to reduce the likelihood severely for releases that don’t get the bigger push.

  48. notnecessarilythesameguy says:

    “Some guy: “Do you folks not stop to think that maybe a person’s standards are lowered when they don’t have to spend their own money?”

    Me: Not if you are professional.”

    So these are professional reviewers you’re complaining about? What constitutes “professional” now anyway? There’s a difference between acting like a professional and being a professional. I already pointed out that professionals do not need the disclaimer because people know they’re getting paid for their opinions and get to experience things for free. A disclaimer would be redundant. Also, I mentioned the opposing viewpoint that a review could only be legitimate when the reviewer doesn’t have to pay for it because they are then unemcumbered by personal monetary baggage before viewing the content. Maybe I should have called it the opposite viewpoint because using opposing makes it seem like it’s opposing my own viewpoint, which it isn’t–how unprofessional of my word choice. I don’t really know which side I fall on. I was just pointing out that the case can be made for either side.

    “I don’t mean any disrespect…Including such a little note with a review just makes you look like an asshole.”

    I really find this humorous. (you don’t mean any disrespect for those who disagree with you, but those who use a disclaimer in the interest of full disclosure are totally deserving of your disrespect?) Did you consider that you–as a professional in this industry–view things a bit differently than the average reader? They may look like an asshole to you, but to their readership they’re being fair and honest. It’s easy for you to be critical of these people because you’re not their target audience. You don’t have to put up with comments like “you’re only saying good things about Secret Invasion because you just want to keep getting free comics from Marvel” (this is a hypothetical example.. it has already been pointed out that Marvel typically doesn’t send out comps). An easy way to avoid being accused of bias is to state up front that what you’re reviewing was or wasn’t free and then you can just ignore those types of comments when they almost assuredly arrive. If I’m writing a piece for The Comics Journal, the disclaimer is redundant, but if I’m writing a piece for my Livejournal, the disclaimer is an attempt at full disclosure. Using the term “asshole” for someone who uses the disclaimer is heavy-handed and unnecessary, though I suppose it is true for you and your viewpoint.

    The Beat: “When I see the complimentary copy disclaimer it says two things to me:

    “I am so a pro! See! I get free shit too!”

    or

    “I am easily paid for.””

    Again, you’re looking at these reviews from a different viewpoint than their readership. “I am easily paid for”–even if the disclaimer preceeds a negative review? The first quote makes sense, but that’s what it says to you and in addition it says “I’m an asshole” to Andy Khouri. That’s probably not what it means to the person’s regular readers, and quite frankly there isn’t much separating you from the rest. Professionalism can come and go regardless of whether a person is a professional or not. Maybe the motivation of this post is as simple as “If you want to be considered a professional, then act like one… and pros don’t use disclaimers.” In that case, I agree. However, I believe this disclaimer can be used in a professional manner, and is not indicative of a lack of professionalism by its mere presence.

    I guess what I’m trying to say after so many words is “I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as you’re trying to make it out to be.” I get what you’re trying to say, but just because it’s true for you doesn’t make it true for everyone. Although I guess you already covered that by calling it a “pet peeve”. Regardless, it was fun to write about.

  49. Drew,

    I didn’t read your comment as harsh – I can see why publishers or creators would object to the disclosure, and I don’t blame them.

    As a reviewer or reader, though, my interests are obviously different from a publisher’s or a creator’s interests.

  50. Heidi,

    “When I see the complimentary copy disclaimer it says two things to me:”

    Oh, come on. That’s just absurd.

    What’s the issue here again? Professionalism? I’m getting flashbacks to the days when blogging became popular and all those “amateurs” started doing strange and outlandish things, all of a sudden. Seems like the same kind of territorial pissing match all over again.

    Right now, frankly, I have bigger concerns. Amazon sent me a copy of JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS VOL. 3 and though it states in the contents that MISTER MIRACLE #10 is meant to be included, it’s really not. Is the table of contents wrong, or is my copy defective?

  51. Ed Sizemore says:

    I’ve never seen so many people, construe so much meaning from such a little phrase. Honestly, one camp calls into question my integrity, another questions my competence, another calls me greedy, etc. Feels like your trying to interpret a verse from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Tom, you’ve inspired me I’m going to modify my disclaimer to read: “I know that this is an indication that I have no integrity and am a complete amateur, but I just wanted to let you know that the publisher provided a complimentary copy for this review. Please pray for the unprofessional soul I’ve sold.”

    {Please note tongue was placed firmly in cheek as I typed. Just saying that in the interest of transparency.}

  52. I think I’ve decided that this all just goes to show what a young, fresh, nubile endeavor comics criticism is, and we should all be grateful that we have uncharted territory to go off our trolleys about.

  53. Marc-Oliver,

    It is a misprint in the Table of Contents. MISTER MIRACLE #10 is the first story in Volume 4.

  54. John DiBello says:

    When I send out comp copies I always stuff a fresh new twenty dollar bill on page 51. Gauche?

  55. Charles Knight says:

    This has been an interesting thread- and really it’s been about the old guard (“we are professionals and this is how it’s done in the media”) who are being left behind and the new and the young (“this is how we do it because this is how we do it, so fuck off”).

    It’s weird – the beat as an entity has aged twenty years as I’ve read this thread, I can see the grey hair.

  56. not mike carlin says:

    Well, let’s remember the journalistic standards we’re dealing with in comics:

    “Heidi [MacDonald, Publishers Weekly] and Matt [Brady, Newsarama] both acknowledged altering their coverage to keep publishers happy to maintain the possibility of future stories.”

    - Johanna Draper Carlson, TCJ, 6/25/2008

  57. John,

    What’s your E-mail? I’m very interested in reviewing your comics.

    (For an extra five bucks, I’m also willing to discuss the disclaimer. I’m an amateur, so I’m still fairly cheap.)

  58. Jarrett,

    Thanks! I’m fairly relieved that I won’t have to return the book.

    I presumed it was the table of contents that was wrong, but I couldn’t find any information about it online.

  59. The Beat says:

    Charles Knight:

    Old guard vs. the new way? Can I be Hypatia on the steps of the library of Alexandria, and the Coptics or Visigoths or Iceni or whoever are standing below yelling “Tur is Tur” or “Eat no meat!” or “You fucked up!” or “We’re gonna win the cup!” or whatever? That would be totally cool.

  60. For all the people who like and want to continue using the disclaimer, can I ask for just one change? Instead of referring to free copies as complimentary, let’s call them promotional. Complimentary suggests, as Michael said upthread, that these copies are gifts from the publisher to deserving fans who might talk them up in a review.

    Promotional, on the other hand, implies that the publisher is sending out free copies of comics because it will somehow lead to selling more copies. If Marvel doesn’t send out review copies, it’s because they don’t think they need to (and, apparently, they’re correct). Either way, it’s a business decision. The publishers have no intention of bestowing blessing on the lucky recipients. And the practice shouldn’t be confused with payola to buy off the reviewer and encourage good reviews.

    John Tebbel linked to the New York Times ethics handbook, in which review copies of books, CDs, computer programs, etc., are referred to as press releases. Review copies of comics are the same thing–nothing but another form of advertising (and a pretty cheap form, at that). If we must use review disclaimers, let’s make sure they convey that message.

  61. //”Including such a little note with a review just makes you look like an asshole.”

    Did you consider that you–as a professional in this industry–view things a bit differently than the average reader? They may look like an asshole to you, but to their readership they’re being fair and honest. //

    No, I’m pretty sure the average reader thinks it makes you look like an asshole, too.

    //You don’t have to put up with comments like “you’re only saying good things about Secret Invasion because you just want to keep getting free comics from Marvel”//

    Nobody’s going to say this if you know how to write. That’s where the professionalism really comes into play. And if they still say it anyway, well, they’re assholes too.

  62. Mark Coale says:

    Modern Day Rule about Pro Wrestling: If it’s on TV, it’s a work.

    Modern Day Rule about Comics: If someone said it on the net, the author and reader are probably assholes.

  63. Who cares if somebody is an asshole? Assholes are some of the funniest, most intelligent, creative people I’ve ever met.

    Non-assholes, on the other hand, are the most irritating, unrepentantly boring and stupid people I’ve ever had to suffer through. I’ve never, not once, had a good time with a non-asshole. I’d rather shoot myself, and them, in the face, then sit around with some cheery cocksucker who says shit like “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” or “golly, I really hope it doesn’t rain” or “gee, isn’t there a more constructive way to say that” or “hey, there’s only one set of footprints because that’s when I carried you”. I mean, if you want to hang out with your grandparents all the time, why read comic blogs? Just go work at a nursing home. That way you’re never but a minute away from somebody telling you how much they love you and your pretty smile.

  64. I wouldn’t dare get between Tucker and Andy, so I’ll just respond to Heidi’s post: Heidi, I agree 100% and every time I see that disclaimer it implies, to me, “I’m pointing this out to you because my standards are different depending on how I get the material.” Since it shouldn’t matter HOW the material ended up in the hands of the reviewer, such a disclaimer is completely irrelevant.

    How much faux-transparency do readers want? Do they want to know if the issue was bought at a discount? Do they want to know if it was purchased with cash or credit?

    The whole notion is silly. Review the book/comic/movie, not the process through which you received it.

  65. notnecessarilythesameguy says:

    Khouri, “No, I’m pretty sure the average reader thinks it makes you look like an asshole, too. ”

    I’m pretty sure you’re incorrect. We could poll the entire comics readership to find out, but then what are we going to argue about?

    “//You don’t have to put up with comments like “you’re only saying good things about Secret Invasion because you just want to keep getting free comics from Marvel”//

    Nobody’s going to say this if you know how to write. ”

    I can’t believe you said that. Are you new to the whole internet thing? Talent doesn’t protect someone from criticism. Talent does make criticism easier to ignore, though. I think you just wanted to call a bunch of people assholes. Mission accomplished.

    From a personal standpoint, if I write a review for Publishers Weekly, I wouldn’t use the disclaimer, but if I write a review on my blog, I might use the disclaimer.

  66. Tim Bird says:

    Has anyone done a critique of comic blogs?

    Just wondering.

  67. Tom Spurgeon says:

    The Comics Journal did. I think they proved conclusively that none of them are as awesome as the Journal, but no one’s read the article yet.

  68. Steven R. Stahl says:

    Re professionalism: Isn’t the professionalism of the review related to the professionalism of the reviewed material?

    Someone might write a review, in the broad sense of the word, because he wants to see good things prosper, and so will publish only favorable reviews of worthy projects; he might take a highbrow approach and focus on aspects of the artwork and writing that he believes are often overlooked by other reviewers; reviewing might be his occupation, so he’ll review whatever he is assigned to cover; he might do reviews on his blog as a way of communicating with other comics fans; or, he might be an industry shill and compliment whatever he’s covering, even if mistakes are flagrant, because the success of his employer’s Web site requires, in part, staying on good terms with the people in charge at DC and Marvel.

    Whatever the motivation for doing a review, how many people do killer reviews, in which they describe the comics as garbage, unprofessional junk that should never have been published,, and are unconcerned about hurting the creators’ feelings?

    IMO, it’s not uncommon for storylines to have major problems that would justify killer reviews. A premise could be obviously flawed; the storyline for an event might rely on an idiot plot to set events in motion; characters might be grossly mischaracterized. An inept writer might make all of those mistakes and more in a single storyline.

    An upcoming example of a fatally flawed storyline could be the McCann/Lopez NEW AVENGERS: THE REUNION miniseries. Mockingbird supposedly returned to Earth in SECRET INVASION #8, but she actually died in AVENGERS WEST COAST #100. She died, period. McCann’s attempt to wish away the death in a CBR interview was nonsensical. If the Mockingbird in the REUNION storyline is supposedly real, then the premise and the plotlines stemming from it are invalid, and the storyline and its consequences will unavoidably be garbage.

    Will reviewers be willing to take such a stance toward the miniseries, or will they rationalize, “Well, none of this is real, the deaths aren’t real, there are multiple versions of characters — you just have to take what you can get from an issue.” In other words, superhero comics are generally junk without any literary qualities — but if that’s the case, why review them at all? In such a situation, identifying a comp copy is a minor issue at best.

    SRS

  69. Sorry I’m coming to this late. But:

    Heidi asked: “Does Roger Ebert go to the movie theater every Friday and stand in line and go back to the Sun-Times to say “Hey I caught some good flicks this weekend. Can I write them up?””

    Film critics in Chicago (of which Roger is one) generally see movies for free in a screening room in the city. But it’s a paradoxical policy, because most newspapers have policies against comps and gifts. For example, I worked at one major daily newspaper early in my career and was not allowed to accept a comp ticket to a concert I reviewed. I had to buy a ticket and then get reimbursed. Other newspapers instruct employees to donate comps and gifts (even thank-you flower baskets) to local hospitals or other facilities.

  70. As for e-mail interviews: This, too, is becoming common in all forms of journalism. Here’s why it’s important to point it out: Unlike a telephone or in-person interview, the reporter HAS NO PROOF the person answering the questions actually is the person they’re trying to interview. Anyone on the source’s staff can be typing and responding as JohnDoe@webgooglemail.com. And believe me, I know I’ve conducted interviews in which the source I was interviewing had staff help crafting the answers.

  71. jimmy palmiotti says:

    I read reviews to see if there was anything i might have missed…and if they dont like MY stories, i just figure they are having a bad day.

    See? and thats how I continue to write daily.

    I make it work for me.

    lol

    Jimmy

  72. Tucker: //Who cares if somebody is an asshole? Assholes are some of the funniest, most intelligent, creative people I’ve ever met.//

    Well, when it comes to people reading a comic book review and thinking, “WAIT A GOD DAMN MINUTE — I wonder how this writer even got ahold of this comic book! This review is suspect until I know THE TRUTH!” — that guy is an asshole, not the sort of venerable asshole you’re describing, and shouldn’t be given too much weight.

    notnecessarilythesameguy: “No, I’m pretty sure the average reader thinks [the disclaimer] makes you look like an asshole, too. ”

    I’m pretty sure you’re incorrect.//

    For you to be correct about my being incorrect, you have to assume that comics site readers do not read reviews of any kind on any other subject from any other source of news or commentary. Why? Because hardly anybody uses this stupid Disclaimer. Why? Because it’s stupid. Total ignorance of the existence of the larger world of reviews and criticism is the only means by which The Disclaimer is not conspicuous to the reader. As such, when a reader is presented with the The Disclaimer, they are likely to think, “Wow, why would you go out of your way to say that? I never see that anywhere else. Who cares how he got the book? This writer sounds like an asshole.”

    I know what you’re going to say: “Is it so hard to believe that comics fans don’t read other sorts of reviews from non-comics-related sources? We’re talking about comics fans here!” Yes, yes, ha ha. But surely you’d agree that such willfully ignorant people are serious assholes.

    //”Nobody’s going to say this if you know how to write [and if they do, they're an asshole] ”

    I can’t believe you said that. Are you new to the whole internet thing? Talent doesn’t protect someone from criticism.Talent doesn’t protect someone from criticism. //

    We’re not talking about criticism. To criticize a piece of criticism, you have to take the writer to task on his assumptions and understanding of the material in question; on whether any comparisons he might make are relevant; in other words, the substance of the review. But we’re not talking about criticism of criticism, we’re talking about The Disclaimer, which you seem to think is useful in deflecting accusations of bias. You may be right, but accusations of bias in the face of an otherwise wholly legit review are not criticism, they’re bitching and moaning, and readers who’d do that are plainly assholes.

  73. Mark Coale says:

    If I could, I’d post a picture of Oroboros here and then just lock the thread. :>

  74. Jimmy wins.

  75. Peter Urkowitz says:

    After reading all these comments, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of disclaimers in comics reviews, whether they are professional or not.

    However, in lots of other fields, disclaimers and full disclosure seem to be widely required or encouraged. Doctors and researchers have to disclose gifts from drug companies, politicians have to disclose gifts from anyone, witnesses in court have to say if they have been paid for their testimony, etc.

    So I think it’s not unthinkable that comics reviewers might want to disclose gifts too, whether or not there is any actual influence there, or just the potential appearence of influence. I don’t think you have to read in anything to the disclaimer. But maybe I’m wrong.

  76. notnecessarilythesameguy says:

    Andy Khouri, I believe you have just proven that you’re thinking about this issue a whole lot more than the average person. I also believe this is because you’re inside the industry, somewhat. It is funny watching you call people assholes, as well.

    “accusations of bias in the face of an otherwise wholly legit review are not criticism, they’re bitching and moaning”

    I agree, but “bitching and moaning” and porn are the foundation of the internet. It’s easier to just deflect some bitching and moaning with a disclaimer, but apparently one is then branded an asshole.

    Again, as it would affect me personally, up until yesterday I was planning on creating an advocacy website which would feature reviews of books I wanted to say good things about, but should I get to the point where I’m sent comics for review by their respective publishers, I would have included a similar disclaimer on negative reviews because a negative review would have been against website policy and should be explained.

    Overall, the disclaimer is pointless. The review should speak for itself, and accusations should be ignored whether or not there’s any truth to them because we all know anyone can be bought but it’s the reviewer that has to live with himself or herself at the end of the day.

  77. Penelope says:

    “However, in lots of other fields, disclaimers and full disclosure seem to be widely required or encouraged. Doctors and researchers have to disclose gifts from drug companies, politicians have to disclose gifts from anyone, witnesses in court have to say if they have been paid for their testimony, etc.”

    Isn’t there a ton more at stake in those cases than in the case of book reviews?

  78. Steven R. Stahl says:

    Re creative writing: In REUNION, McCann apparently does what an amateurish fan fiction writer would do, by coming up with a facile but false explanation for how a favorite character didn’t really die. Relying on Mephisto’s trickery as the explanation doesn’t work, because that sets up a steep slippery slope, or, one might say, an amateur’s retcon machine. Mephisto has been involved in far too many events for a writer to pick one event at random and say, “That didn’t really happen. Mephisto fooled people.” The implication is that an unknown number — potentially all — of those events could be false. There goes the Marvel Universe, to the hell of good intentions.

    A good editor would have told McCann that if he couldn’t restore Mockingbird to life the hard way, he couldn’t use her.

    SRS

  79. Does someone know when Wheelman for Xbox360 will be released?

  80. I’ll repost what I posted on Icarus Publishing.

    I am on Publishers Weekly’s side. If you can’t maintain an amount of distance from something just because you got it for free, you’re either a Busch league idiot or you have some sort of debilitating mental issue that forbids your from speaking ill of someone who gave you something.

  81. I know I’m coming in WAY late on this and only after the FTC ruling, but in any case, I completely disagree that it makes a person look amateurish. If anything, I think that disclosing that you got a sponsored copy allows your readers to know whose interests are at stake. My readers sponsor my reviews mostly, not companies. I don’t ask for review copies from companies, although I sometimes get them. In general, I *always* thank whoever gives me a copy of something, to acknowledge who made it possible. It’s not a bad thing to let readers know that you, unlike them, did not pay for a copy of a book.

    Cheers,

    Erica

  82. cool pics

Trackbacks

  1. [...] If you tell people you accept comps, some people call you amateurish (because apparently, professionals get everything for free so there’s no need to mention it, which means there are no professional comic reviewers). If you don’t, then some people call you unethical and biased for “hiding” the key fact that you didn’t pay for what you’re talking about. [...]

  2. [...] Heidi wrote: What is it with the comic book reviewers who include this in their reviews? This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. [...]

  3. [...] Complimentary Provisions I rarely check the internet over the weekends.  I usually am using it trying to problemsolve a software issue.  But earlier today, I stumbles on an bit at the Beat.  Heidi MacDonald, whom I have much respect for as a source of comic/geek pop culture expressed a pet peeve.  The basic gist of it was that she takes issue with reviewers pointing out that they received a complimentary copy.  Instantly I thought of Johanna Draper Carlson and Comics Worth Reading.  Comics Worth Reading is one of the few review sites I visit with regularity (although lately it seems to be to debate the value of Blu-Ray).  Even if I don’t agree, I find the Reviews of Johanna and her team insightful.  Especially, because I suck at reviewing.  But that is another issue entirely. [...]

  4. [...] Back in January, apparently there was some debate over whether or not reviewers should add the “Review copies provided by publisher” tag to their reviews.  @LostPhrack found the links and posted them on Twitter.  It started here and continued here.  When I first started reviewing, I thought it was proper to disclose if the manga was received from a publisher.  Most of my first reviews were my own titles, and getting review copies was a big deal.  It was like a validation of my reviews, that they were liked enough that a publisher would sent me more to review.  But the whole argument that “Since professional reviewers like Ebert doesn’t have to, so why should we?”, is just plain silly.  It’s a choice, not a requirement (for the moment), and to rail on about whether it should be included is right up there with the “sub vs dub” or “comic vs manga” arguments.  There’s no right answer and to get annoyed by its presence seems absurd.  As a reader, I didn’t really care one way or the other if it was there.  It won’t matter to a good reviewer who provided the book.  They’ll still give their honest opinion. [...]

  5. [...] Earlier this year Heidi MacDonald went on a bit of a tangent, ripping on comics bloggers who included whether or not a book was provided gratis by a publisher in their reviews. Like adding the phrase “This review was based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.” to the end of the review. The comments section of that post heated up too, with respected newspapermen-and-women like Tom Spurgeon and Brigid Alverson coming down on opposite sides of the debate (Spurge openly-mocked the concept of noting when a book was provided by a publisher, Brigid wanted to cover all of her ethical bases). Well Guess What? Looks like the F T C came down like a sack of hammers in favour of fessing-up to your filthy filthy swag. [...]

  6. [...] Speaking of the latter: Christopher Butcher notes that Heidi MacDonald went after Carlson earlier this year for daring to note when her review copies were provided by publishers. For those keeping score at home, that’s Obama Administration: 1, Heidi MacDonald: 0. [...]

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