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Why I'm Not Reviewing That Book That You Sent
May 12, 2014 - 9:00pm

One perk of writing book reviews is that people suddenly want to send you free books.

Each week I get wonderful e-mails from colleagues in publishing and communications generously offering to send me a book for possible review.

Almost never do I accept these offers.

Why not?  

Perhaps my refusal is all about a purity of reviewer integrity. The knowledge that by accepting a free book I'd be hopefully biased in writing a critical review.

Not really. I tend to think that as long as it is mentioned that the book was not purchased but sent out for possible review that it is OK to accept these free books. Let the reader of the review judge if the reviewer was biased.

The reason that I don’t review free review copies is that nobody sends me books in the format that I prefer to read books.  

Nobody sends me Whispersync enabled audio (Audible) and Kindle books.   

When I have an audiobook that automatically syncs to an e-book I will actually read that book.  I will listen to the book when I drive, when I cook, when I run, and when I do the dishes. I will read the book at night in bed (Kindle Paperwhite) or when I am standing in line or waiting to pick up my kid from tennis practice (iPhone Kindle App).   

When I read with my eyes I read pretty fast.  When I read with my ears I can also be doing something else.  

Whispersync is a machine to efficiently move through books. Seeing the percentage completed advance on the Kindle version hits all the brain reward centers.  

Whispersync is the opiate of the bookworm.   

So I only end up reviewing books that I’ve purchased myself. I’d probably be willing to review your book, but you are not getting me the book in the format that I want to read it. 

About now you should be able to spot where I’m going with all this.  

I’ll say:  “Why should we expect our students to be any different from us?  Why do we expect that they will read all the books that we assign if we can’t give them the books in the format that they want?  Isn’t it possible that our students are as busy as we are - and that they would love to have a Whispersync enabled audio and digital versions of the books that we assign in our classes?  Instead of complaining that our students won’t read books, why don’t we change up how we deliver these  books and see what happens?”

You’ll say:  “This is a terrible idea for about a million reasons. Even if the books we were assigned were available as audio and Kindle books (which they almost never are by the way), the last thing we should be doing is bending over backwards to make the academic book reading experience like the consumer book reading experience. Learning is hard, and the effort and time to actually read the books we assign is a critical part of the learning experience. Further, any effort to assign course books that have audio and e-book versions (much less Whispersync enabled versions) will push us to assign books based on format and not content.  That is a bad slippery slope to go down, particularly as most of the books we do assign are not general interest or popular books, and therefore exist mostly on paper.  Finally, have you thought about the costs of trying to offer audio and e-books in our classes?  Sure, some students will be able to pay for both formats - but many students who can’t afford these (more expensive) digital formats will be disadvantaged.”.

You are very convincing.

But I have to admit that if I were a student today that I just might not get to that book that you assigned. 

As educators we might wish that we didn’t live in an attention economy. That our students are also consumers, and that Amazon and Apple and Google has changed forever how information is created, distributed and consumed.

I don’t know how much we can or even should pursue a strategy to provide multiple digital formats in the curricular materials that we provide. Amazon doesn’t seem all that interested in working with academia on this front - and Amazon has a near monopoly in the digital book game.

How do you read your books?

Has your method of book reading changed your thinking at all on how we should assign books to read in our classes?

Will anyone read this and then send me a Whispersync enabled Kindle and Audible book to review?

 

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