Posted by: Emily | September 29, 2008

Why doesn’t LJ pay their writers?

This popped up in my Google Reader today. Whenever I see Library Journal putting out a call for book reviewers, my impulse is to jump at the chance. I love book reviews. I love reading them (I subscribe to three different review sources, plus the NYT book review and some-dozen review blogs) and I love writing them (and have done so for Out magazine, the SRRT newsletter, Left Turn, and Newsday). I’ve been writing little 150-word review one-offs for nearly a decade, and am actually pretty skilled at the form–it takes practice to say anything at all in such a tiny space, and I’ve got lots of it. So I should apply to review for LJ, right? And I would, except that they DON’T PAY THEIR WRITERS. Now, I am totally pro-librarians sharing information among themselves for free. I haven’t been paid for reviews in the SRRT newsletter or Left Turn, and didn’t expect to. But these aren’t profit-based magazines published by major corporations that have plenty of the kind of money you can earn via arms dealing. Out, on the other hand, puts my review on a page in large part so they can slap an ad for Svedka vodka on the other side. I ought to be paid for my role in generating profit for the publishing company. Same seems to hold true for LJ. I’ve seen the terms, and unless they’ve changed, LJ tries to pitch reviewing for them as a community service, and I would totally buy that if they weren’t taking cash for print ads and institutional subscriptions. They also tell you can keep the book. You could also check the book out of your local library, as we all know.

So, why doesn’t LJ pay, and why don’t librarians demand to get paid? It’s an honest question, and if I’m way off base here, I’d like to know it–I would, after all, love to review for them.

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Responses

  1. You’re correct. Keep making noise about this—the Choicepoint acquisition is even more upsetting than military arms.

    If they don’t pay, you can reprint them here, you know…..

  2. As I understand it, the practice arose at a time when librarians took on reviewing as a professional opportunity to share their expertise with their colleagues. For many of our reviewers, writing reviews continues to be both personally and professionally rewarding. Many still prefer to get the book instead of the minute stipend that other library review organs pay. Furthermore, we have been told that some libraries still restrict paid outside professional activities. In recent years, the shrinking number of review pages in consumer publications makes these librarian contributions even more valuable in the culture at large. Like those consumer publications, we face very real financial considerations and have fought to maintain pages for reviews. As much as we might like to pay our reviewers a satisfying amount, that is not possible for us to do and keep publishing. So we continue to offer reviewers the only benefits we can: access to new books before publication; an opportunity to contribute to their field; a platform for publication of their ideas; a way to gain professional recognition; and the eternal gratitude of LJ’s editors and readers. (P.S., the parent company no longer owns an arms exhibition business; and we are being sold by the parent company.)Francine (fialkoff@reedbusiness.com)

  3. Hi Francine! Thanks for responding!

    You know, I feel like I really do understand the economic realities that limit the ability of print journals to survive. I work on a small independent publication called Radical Teacher, and can tell you from that side just how frightening the universe is for print publications. RT has only enough cash in the bank for one or two more quarterly payments to our publisher. The day I sent out my ‘please subscribe’ email to friends and colleagues, I received one about Bitch, too. Everybody’s struggling to stay afloat, and it’s only going to get harder. But I’m not convinced that paying your reviewers a buck a word would really put LJ out of business. How much would that be per issue? $5K? $10K? How much do you sell in ad space each issue? Can we see numbers? Are you a public company?

    Regardless, I think it’s always wrong to balance your own financial strain on the backs of the creative people who produce the content that gives you what you have to sell in the first place. Since the reviews are a big reason any of us pick up LJ (I’m a fan, don’t get me wrong), it seems like paying the reviewers might actually be the *first* check you’d want to write, not the last.

    Glad to hear LJ is out of the arms dealing business! Librarians should never have stakes in violence, I think. Who is buying LJ?

    Thanks again for your comment! It’s great to hear your perspective!


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