December 2, 2020

Are We Blogs? Or Ads? (Coming Clean)

mangreed.jpegI’d like to come clean about a couple of things.

I’m not getting on anyone’s case here. I just believe I should get this on the record for my readers.

First, I have a book review agreement with a major web site. They send me books to review every few weeks, and I actually review them. (They are not a publisher btw, and my reviews only appear on my site.) I don’t like all the books, but some have been good. My reviews have been a mixed bag, but I got the free book, and I want you to know that. Sometimes I kept it. Sometimes I gave it away. Last week, I tossed one in the trash.

Secondly, I regularly get notices (apparently I’m on a list) from a couple of Christian publishers/publicists giving me the opportunity to get a review copy of a book in exchange for a plug or review. I rarely take advantage of this, because most of the books don’t interest me and already have a commitment to read and review for the previously mentioned site. But I can get lots of free books if I want, and I have asked for several in the last year.

Third, I review many books that I have purchased myself. No deal with anyone. No plug. I just want to review the book, usually with the purpose of recommendation, sometimes to disagree, sometimes because there’s some angle that interests me.

I just looked at all the reviews on the site, and it’s about 60-40 in favor of books that I purchased myself.

Fourth, I have an advertiser on this site who pays me for the primo ad space. So far, they haven’t asked me to review any books or plug any products, but I am happy to commend New Reformation Press in general as good people with a good business. They send me a check, and I’m glad they do. I could probably get a coffee mug out of the deal, but I haven’t asked for one.

What’s this all about? Well…it may seem silly to you, but I occasionally get a bit uncomfortable with the connection between bloggers and Christian publishers/ministries promoting products. The relationship is a bit too cozy on some blogs, and I don’t want to be in that situation.

The cyber world is full of all kinds of sites. Some are the way the owner makes his/her living. Others are ministry oriented. My site is a personal site. It’s a blog in the purest sense of the word: a “web log” of my thoughts and interactions with the world. When I review a book at the request of a publisher, I’m compromising my vision of this site a bit, and I don’t want to presume or abuse my readers. I respect you guys. Even the Catholics trying to convert me.

The fact that I make a few dollars on here, get the occasional free book, have received some speaking engagements and achieved minor league notoriety in a small circle of people who need to get out of the house more doesn’t change what this site is and will always be. I’m not looking to make Internet Monk an ad masquerading as a blog.

It will always be a blog. It will never be an ad. It will never be a place where publishers or booksellers are getting advertising/recommendation access to my audience under the guise of a blog.

I probably need to review a few books that really suck and just say so, but that seems like a waste of your time and my space. I won’t review or recommend what I don’t think has value. If I recommend that my students purchase “The Message,” it should be because I believe in it, even if I got a free copy. And never because I got a free copy or other compensation.

I’ll be determining the course of integrity for me. It won’t be a “formality” or an “arrangement.” As my students say, I will endeavor to “keep it real.”

IM will be a blog, not a ad. Even with the occasional ad. But if you want space on the sidebar, I can be corrupted. A little bit 🙂


  1. good to know! 🙂

  2. Michael,
    Just disclose book by book whether you got it for free and then forget about it.

  3. When I did the “God-blog demographics” a few years ago it was amazing the number of blogs that ran ads. I was stunned.
    Out of a couple of thousand blogs I visited only a handful didn’t run ads or accept something from companies wanting to sell things.
    The bloggers refusing tended to be quite artistic and cared about design, function, content and their readers not having to deal with clutter.

    For me it goes to trust, integrity, honesty, need, aesthetics and how a blogger sees themselves, their readers and their on line presence.

    Christians were nothing if not entrepreneurial.

    The observation deeply impacted me, and I wrote into my site policy I’ll close down BDBO before I’ll ever accept advertising or pitches. I’ve certainly had approaches from publishers, I’ve turned them down. That was hard, I like books.

    I personally cannot accept ads or goods, and I won’t.
    For me it is a personal matter of conscience.
    Peace of mind, undue influence, honesty, transparency and misplaced entitlement, arrogance also influence my decision.
    A decision I’ve never regreted.
    It’s not worth it on any personal level and I sincerely believe giving in would impact me spiritually.
    Doesn’t make me better than bloggers that have made different choices.

    I appreciate bloggers who are upfront about taking stuff – books, trip,cheque, goods, etc.
    I question how many actually need to and how many just want to.

    As a journalist accepting something free would have been cause for immediate firing, so it’s natural that caution has bled into my blogging.
    A site I administer does not accept advertising, and I deeply respect the owners for making that decision independent of any input from me. I’ll go the second mile for them.

    Costs are getting higher, blogging is a labour of love and I’m still able to make financial sacrifices as long as I can to kept BDBO going free of primary or secondary pressure from economic interests.

    Blog on!

  4. I have no trouble with advertising just so long as it’s made clear what’s the ads and what’s the copy.

    I was just reading an old column of mine last week. In it I complained that my publisher was trying to insert “stealth ads” in the articles. By “stealth ads” I mean we’d run an article — about a local vintner, fr’instance — and at the end of the article, which was meant to be a purely interesting feature, she’d insert sales information. “The Merlot is only $9 a bottle; the Pinot is $10, and the Shiraz is also $9. They take Visa and Mastercard at their website or over the phone. Tax not included.” You see the idea.

    I objected and refused to include the insert. “If we did that, people would stop reading ’cause they wouldn’t trust the articles anymore,” I complained. “And I’d quit.”

    But if the vintner wanted to run an ad, I’d have no problem with it. (At least until he started marketing to children, or something evil like that.)

    Stealth ads aside, a case could be made for publications that are purely advertising. People read catalogs, of course. If you were up-front about it, there shouldn’t be a problem. Why not just put your for-hire book reviews on a separate book review site? Regardless of whether you got paid for them, I expect some people would visit it just to know your take on one book or another. (Just so long that it’s really your take, and not a paid endorsement.)

  5. Michael, I’ve never had a doubt about your intentions. You strike me as honest and real. I think the majority of people that frequent this place feel the same as I do.

    But thanks for the self-disclosure all the same.

  6. Michael,

    I think that you have a nice balance, especially since you make it clear whether the review is from a free book or one that you bought.

    I don’t mind sidebars of ads, but when the whole blog is an advertisement, I don’t go there. Prime example, a Christian counselling site. They have some quizzes to take, but the tests are designed so that if you don’t get a perfect score, they recommend that you contact them for counselling.

  7. You will never get a lamborghini at this rate!

  8. Heh, yeah, what if Martin Luther had waited to nail the 95 Theses to the cathedral door until after he had secured several local business sponorships? 🙂

  9. I have an even worse problem: when I review a book, it’s because I come across them while doing research or just browsing through other sites. If I read them and they impress me, I can’t help but tell the world about them. It doesn’t matter if they were published yesterday or a decade or so ago.

    The problem is that afterwards, I may find out that they are now out of print. However, maybe with and other services, that is no longer the handicap that it once was. I say, if you find something good, share it.

    But then, I read William Stringfellow, who pretty much was out of print on everything before he died. That doesn’t make those books any less valuable.

    P.S., I think I’d go for the coffee mug.

  10. I’ve struggled with this a bit. (and my blog isn’t nearly so wonderful as yours 🙂 ) I enjoy helping authors get the word out about their books. I often feel almost guilty accepting the free book and try to do my best to make my review seem natural and to promote their book without making my readers feel like my blog is an ad. But honestly, I would review books anyway as I spend several hours a week reading. Of course the books I read are mostly fiction and not so much scholarly.