Several Snarklings emailed me about "recommendations" they've gotten from Writers Digest. As I've surfed the blogosphere I've seen sites for writers that have banner ads from places like iUniverse and AuthorHouse. This leads me to the question: what, if any, responsibility do publishing professionals have about taking advertising.
When the Snarklings emailed me about the information they got from Writers Digest, they identified exactly as that: info from WD. I asked to see the exact email and it is in fact NOT from WD but from "one of our marketing partners" which is a fancy word for advertiser. Someone paid WD a chunk of change for access to their email list. PW does the same thing. Took me weeks to get off their spam list.
However, my question is this. Does WD have a responsibility to screen their advertisers before they take their money? Do they have a responsibility to not take advertisers who offer "pie in the sky" to writers?
Some say no; authors aren’t children, we can all read, let the reader make his/her own determination. After all, the services offered are neither illegal nor immoral.
Miss Snark says different. Rather than think of this as merely advertising, people would do well to think of people who rent their mailing lists or appear on their site as people renting their brand name. Remember, the Snarklings who sent me these emails clearly identified them as coming FROM WD even though the first paragraph was pretty clear about "marketing partner".
This is the same trick my bank uses to try to sell me mortgage insurance. The offer comes in an envelope with the bank's name on it.
The folks who understand the danger of this very clearly are at Consumer Reports. They don't accept advertising in their magazine at all. They say it taints their image of objectivity. Not that it DOES taint them, but that it looks like it does.
So, what's the difference between the New York Times Book Review running full page ads from Author House and WD sending emails about "great opportunities". Both are marked advertisement. You sign up to read both online.
Well, to quote Miss Snark's favorite philosopher, the Mayor in River City from the Music Man: it's the phraseology.
Here's the lead, so to speak, on the email:
SUBJECT: Special message brought to you by Writer's Digest
It's like TV ads in the 50's and 60's: now a message from our sponsor Geritol. You'll notice they don't do that much anymore. People came to associate the product with the show and savvy product marketers realized (probably before the tv producers) that this was a double edged sword. Geritol got burned in the Quiz Show scandals, and fashion mags were quick to dump Kate Moss when pictures of her doing cocaine were on the front page of the paper in London.
But that still doesn't answer the question of responsibility. Whether something is savvy marketing is not the same as responsible.
I'm not sure of the answer. Writers are adults. They're not stupid. Most of them lead organized, productive lives. Free markets, and democracy, depend on unfettered access to information so people can make decisions with as much information as possible.
I wonder if Michael Jordan has his panties in a wad over shoe companies that advertise "for the athlete in all of us". Probably not. But then, people buying those shoes aren't sending him letters asking for tryouts for the team either.
What do you think?