Sunday, October 26, 2014

#BeCritical From a Blogger's Perspective

Note to my blogger babes: A lot of my you may not keep up with the "BookTube World," which consists of people talking about books rather than writing about them, but I do and have for years.  Bear with me, blogger buddies, because this is a note to them.

I'm not a part of BookTube, which means you can take my opinion as you want.  I have no influence over BookTube and very rarely have an opinion on the workings of it, but I thought that because I am a blogger, I might be able to add an outside opinion to the discussion that might be of some worth.

The recent debacle regarding "critical" vs. "non-critical" reviews has, in my opinion, blown itself out of proportion.  Both sides of #BeCritical have made blanketed statements that I honestly find erroneous and I think there is a middle ground that both could also agree about, but seem to be missing due to some mistaken word choices and anger/defensiveness.

I watch a variety of BookTubers.  I watch people like TheBookTuber, JessetheReader, MaureenKeavy, VincentVanStop, LittleBookOwl, Elizziebooks, and CharleyReads - all of whom talk about YA most of the time.  I also watch RonLit, JVPurcell, BazPierce, LizLovesLit, ReadSusieRead, Katrina E, and Books and Pieces - all of whom primarily talk about literary texts.  (I also watch Ariel Bissett, but I don't know where to place her. [I watch a lot of other BookTubers as well, but I don't want this list to be astronomical.])

All of the above, however, are well worth checking out.

Before I start, there are two great videos for you to check out regarding both sides: Barry's Liveshow and CharleyReads' response video.  

I want to condense what I think to be the main point of both sides: 

#BeCritical's Side: If you want to be taken academically serious as a reviewer, then you need to write critical reviews.  If you do not, then you can't expect a review that hasn't thought critically about a book to be taken seriously by academics.  If you write reviews for fun or as a hobby, then you can write them however you like.  If you are being paid to talk about and review a book, then you need to take it seriously because it is not longer a hobby, it is a job.

Where I think they went wrong: The usage of the word "worthless" and saying that unless a reader can produce a critical or negative review then they have no place on BookTube was a bit too extreme.  They also failed to mention the difference between a paid reader and a reader who is reviewing for fun, at first, so it did come off as a blanketed statement and, of course, a lot of people took offense to that.

#DontBeADick's Side: (This is the hashtag I've seen floating around so I'm using it, ha.)  All opinion has merit and every opinion is valid because it is the voice of the consumer.  There will be different audiences for different types of reviewers.

Where I think they went wrong:  They failed to realize that #BeCritical's main argument is for those who are wanting to reach a specific kind of audience and for those who are being paid to review. Also, the conflating of the words "critical" and "negative."  There are fantastic critical reviews that are positive, and I recommend anyone check out Wendy Darling on Goodreads for an example of this.

The truth is, both sides are agreeing on the same thing: that if you review as a hobby and for fun, then you can review however you want.  #BeCritical went on to establish their point that if a person is reviewing as a hobby then they do not have to write critical reviews or be a critical reader.  However, if that person is being paid, then that changes everything.

The truth is that it was revealed that the BOOKSPLOSION members get paid a lot of money to showcase the books that they read each month.  Now, some of these members, like JessetheReader, I have to applaud - because he has been very transparent.  Whenever I watch a video of his, he always mentions whether or not it's being sponsored and I have to say that I really admire him for doing that, especially in light of recent revelations.  I cannot say the same for other BOOKSPLOSION members who have never (at least that I've seen) mentioned that their videos are being sponsored and that they're being paid to review.

The truth is that as soon as you accept money to do something, it is no longer a hobby, it is a job.  As a job, it should be treated more seriously.  You have a responsibility to your viewers to be as honest and open as possible.  You should say that your videos are being sponsored and the opinion that you give on a book should be thought about before saying anything because it is now your job.  BookTubers were never meant to be simple booksellers, which is what seems to be happening with this lack of transparency in sponsorship. 

Personally, I feel a bit offended that there are these big BookTubers who are being paid to mention a certain book in at least two of their videos and then never mention that they're being paid.  I find it offensive that they seem to be quite flippant about the responsibility that they have towards their work.  As a viewer, it feels dishonest and, dare I say, a little disgusting when I compare it to the Book Blogging Community.

When a book blogger receives an ARC from a publisher or something like Netgalley, they always say that they received the copy for free.  Our number one goal is honesty, both in how we receive something and in how we state our views on it.  I can't even imagine a book blogger being paid to review something.  And, as a whole, we tend to take our reviews seriously because we want to really explain why we liked or disliked a book. 

By attacking each other over the idea of critical reviews and misunderstanding each other's points, I think that the BookTube community is missing the vital issue at hand: that there are people being paid to review and receiving free books that are not mentioning it and are not being transparent.  That is very problematic. 

There does not need to be a schism in your community.  You do not all need to get along, but I think you agree on more than you think.

As I said, I'm a blogger, so you can take this with a grain of salt.  Just thought I'd throw my two cents in as an observer.


  1. I'm going to have to tweet about this post because it was amazing! To be honest, I had NO clue that some booktubers were being paid by BOOKSPLOSION. I watch Jessethereader, and have definitely seen him mention what videos are sponsored, along with a few, keyword is few, other people has well. I'm one of those bloggers that even though right now book blogging is just a hobby for me, I take it very seriously. I aim for non-spoiler, detailed, and informative reviews, (which is why they're always so lengthy lol) and I also like to have to fun with them, adding my personality into my content. Lord knows, I hate reading a review that sounds like it was ripped out of a college textbook. I definitely understand both sides, but I agree with your statement, " If you're being paid to talk about and review a book, then you need to take it seriously, because it's no longer a hobby, it is a job."

    1. Thanks, Tika! =)

      Do you remember who are the other Booktubers you have seen mention that they were being sponsored? (Besides Ariel, because I know she does.) I'd like to support whoever does.

      I think there is quite the difference between blogging about books and talking about them. I've considered from time to time making a BookTube channel - and I still might one day - but I feel as if my verbal reviews would contain different content than my written ones and I'm not sure I could go into much detail. I like Ariel's set up and Barry's set up - how they do multiple reviews in one video.

  2. I definitely think the problem with this was that it got so personal so quickly. As soon as name-calling and knee-jerk defensive reactions started to happen, the interesting questions and discussion BEHIND them got lost, for a while at least. Too many rallying war cries, not enough debate, haha.

    I'm a book BLOGGER too - though a BookTube addict - and I honestly think 'sponsorship' of videos is a problematic term. What does that mean? Does it mean the creator got the book for free? A book AND swag? A monetary payment? All of the above? Getting a book from a publisher is one thing - many bloggers do the same, and from what I've seen in book blogging AND vlogging, individuals state as much quite clearly and it rarely influences the final review. But if a substantial sum of money is being thrown about - I have no idea how much we're talking here - than that has serious implications from a viewer's perspective, as far as whether I can trust those reviews and want to spend my money on a book whose BookTube coverage may have been completely biased. Does that make sense?

    I'm glad these balanced pieces are appearing now to pull both sides together and do what discussion is MEANT to do - consider problems, encourage reflection and move things forwards in a constructive way. Brilliant post. :)

    1. Yes, I think a lot of people took it really personally - but I honestly can't blame them all that much, tbh. Some people might not be familiar with Barry's humor and have taken it the wrong way.

      To my knowledge, they are getting in the thousands for their reviews. It honestly doesn't bother me, as long as they SAY that they're being sponsored. That's all I think a lot of people want: honesty. I think you're right that it could possibly make them want to say positive things because of the money, but I sincerely hope that is never the case.

      Thank you! =)

  3. I have never checked out any BookTubers, and frankly, I had no idea that was even a thing, Jules. I think that all booklovers (and probably a lot of other bloggers and youtubers) are very passionate people, and so, when they feel offended or poked fun at, they react quickly, and passionately.

    I often review ARCs, and when that's the case, it's stated at the top of my review, before my catch-phrase. I think it's only normal to divulge that I received a book for free and that I'm expected to review it. It doesn't mean I'm going to love all the ARCs I read, though, and I am always honest in my reviews. If I don't enjoy a book, I say so, but I also try to explain why.

    This is a great post! Thanks for sharing - I just may spend some time checking out some of your favorite booktubers now ;)

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    1. BookTube is a really cool world and I think you'll find a lot of fabulous people there. The above mentioned are definitely a great place to start in the YA, genre and literary world. =)

      I honestly have never really seen any false reviews in the book blogging world and everyone always states when they got an ARC in the beginning or ending of their review. I appreciate my fellow book bloggers who review ARCs so much for that!

  4. First, thank you for writing this post and explore both sides but personally, I was offended by Ariel's words specially because I really like her as a youtuber and I admire her honesty regarding Booksplosion, for example, and her reviews but her choice of words was poorly (describing as "worthless" what she believes is a non-critical reviewer is just so very wrong, on so many levels). There is one with we say in Spain that is something like this: "cuando se nos calienta la boca, decimos cosas sin pensar". I don't really know if there is something that equals this in English but basically means that when we are in a heated conversacion we say things without thinking (thinks we actually belive in) and in that we end up hurting others. I do appreciate her apology but still, I don't think there is a general rule about how to be critial when writing a review because the beauty of reading is that is subjuntive and maybe I love a book and maybe some others don`t... so if I write a review where I profess my love for that book you hated I'm not being critical enough? I honestly don't think so. But then again, I'm not being paid for review....

    And this leads to the other problem, I've been watching Booktube videos for over a year and a half now and for a few months now there has been quite a few dramas. First it was the wishlish, which I was completely against with especially the ones with the address included and then, those booktubers who were receiving ARCs or finished copies from different publishers (which is something I did not really care about). Recently it's been Booksplosion.... I agree with you about for example JesseTheReader. In all his videos he says he's been sponsored as well as Ariel even though we didn't know how much money they were being paid for (now we know it's "a lot"). If that's the case I appreciate (and I want) honest and thoroughly analysed reviews (mainly because they are advertising a product) and to be honest? I'm not getting them, not with all members of Booksplosion. And in this particular case I'm talking about Christine... I think she is quite likeable but I have stopped watching her booktalks because she doesn't review, at least for me. First, all her videos are spoilery so if you haven't read the book, you can't really watch the video. It's true she includes a non-spoiler section but the only thing she does is summarising the plot of the book. So yeah. I wanna see professional stuff here because they are working as reviewers, it's no longer a thing you do for fun (obviously you can still have fun but you need to take it more seriously, at least in my opinion).

    I have the feeling I'm rambling but basically what I wanna say is that people review the way they review and nobody can say to others that their way of reviewing is not valid. That's just wrong. But, if you are being paid to do it, at least be professional. That's the very least you can do because you are making an impact to an audience who is gonna spend their money on those books.

    So yeah, this is all over the place I know, but I just can seem to gather my thoughts in a better way. So, yeah, sorry lol

    1. Noelia, I do love you. <3

      What I gathered from this comment is that we're basically agreeing on the same things: that it's impossible to judge the worth of a review based on subjective interpretations (like the word 'critical') and each review is valid in its own right. I do think that the word critical is the right one, though. They're called critical reviews when a scholar or academic takes on a work and writes a review of it. #BeCritical was saying that if you want to go into that sort of field, then you do need to read critically and you do need to think more about your reviews. A poorly constructed review will never make it in the New York Times, for example. Barry, who invented the hashtag #BeCritical, did go on to say that if a reviewer is doing it as a hobby or for fun then they can review however they like and it's all valid, but if one wants to be taken seriously or if they want it as a job, they need to step up their game. (I think his comment was mentioned towards people that, like you also said, don't really seem to be reviewing at all.)

      I do agree that the word "worthless" is the wrong word and I know both parties have apologized for it. But if I'm not mistaken, when I watched Ariel's liveshow, she was quoting Barry and she even said that the word was a bit harsh. I think that #BeCritical is a necessary conversation that has been waiting to happen in the BookTube world, but it certainly could have come about in a much more eloquent - and less offensive - way.

      I do agree with their pressure on those who are being paid to produce higher quality reviews, though. Like you said, they should be professional. They have a lot of responsibility to bear now that they have accepted this as their job. They have the choice of backing out, as Ariel did, and leaving BOOKSPLOSION, but so far she is the only one to take that stand. (Also, in Barry's live show, I'm pretty sure the "a lot" was translated to "thousands of dollars.") I think that the amount, at least for me, isn't what is important. What's important to me is that people always say that they are being sponsored. Otherwise, it's just dishonest. I'm honestly not watching a lot of BookTubers I used to watch unless they become transparent. It's just a pity to me that the largest BookTubers with the most audience are the ones that are being the least transparent. I guess that's how it always is, but I really don't want the BookTube world to turn into the Beauty Guru world - and this was a big deal in the Guru world too back before FTC Disclaimers became obligatory.

      I think you hit the nail right on the head with the #BeCritical movement: "If that's the case I appreciate (and I want) honest and thoroughly analysed reviews (mainly because they are advertising a product)..." <-- This is the discrepancy that those who support #BeCritical were seeing. It was just an overall feeling of disillusionment and dishonesty and I think that's the main reason why the movement was born. Their biggest mistake was not being specific in who they were talking to.

      I honestly think the biggest issue here is that people are getting paid heaps of money to promote an audience and aren't even saying anything about it. It's problematic because they are deceiving their audiences by hiding something that has no business being hidden. And the more it's hidden, the more nefarious it becomes when, really, sponsorship is not necessarily a bad thing. When I watch Jesse's videos, I don't think that his quality is less because it's sponsored, but if he hid that fact from me, I would think there was something a bit off.

      I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    2. YEP! You summed up my messed up written thoughts perfectly. I just hope this whole thing is bringing awareness of the main problem of sponsorship but don't end up like a battlefield. Anyhow, I think too those who were in favour of #BeCritical movement would have chosen different words, that's all. Maybe if they had expressed themself in a different way it could have prevented the whole drama but then again, I love a good debate hahaha