In a controversial move that divided the magazine's advisory board and prompted at least one resignation, ForeWord magazine, a Traverse City, Mich., monthly focused on independent publishing, announced plans to launch an online, fee-based book review service in partnership with OverDrive Inc., an e-publishing technology and services provider.
Victoria Sutherland, publisher of ForeWord, told PW that the new service, to be called ForeWordreviews.com, will utilize an online database of fee-subsidized book reviews, set up as a separately managed company and using OverDrive's software applications for content management, e-commerce and DRM. ForeWordreviews.com will charge publishers $295 per title. OverDrive will own 49% of the new company.
ForeWordreviews.com will be formally launched at BEA. Sutherland said she has already hired about 250 book reviewers and has received applications from 60 more, including writers from other review publications and members of the National Book Critics Circle. Reviewers will be paid $50 per 400-word review. Mary Tyler has been named chief review editor for the new venture. Sutherland has agreements with Ingram's iPage and Baker & Taylor's Title Source II to allow the use of the reviews on their Web sites.
Sutherland told PW the service is a response to an industry swamped by an ever-growing number of titles. She cited a contraction of book review space in print publications, and also the costs involved in trying to review thousands of titles. "We get 1,000 book submissions a month," said Sutherland. "We reject 950, and not because they're bad books." She told PW, "Digital publishing enables us to solicit, review, edit and electronically publish significantly more reviews." Sutherland emphasized that the new firm will be managed separately from the print magazine, and that reviews will be independent and objective. "People are not guaranteed a good review. There will be no change in the editorial process," said Sutherland. "Why not pay for it? I'll take the flak. I believe in this idea," said Sutherland.
But the new venture has generated criticism, and its plans to allow any publisher or self-publisher to pay a fee to have its books reviewed clashes with respected book reviewing practice. Tom Woll, president of Cross River Publishing Consultants, resigned from the magazine's advisory board over the issue. Woll said, "The board wasn't consulted. I question the ethics of allowing publishers to pay for reviews. Paying will influence the reviews eventually. It's a good magazine; I don't understand why they are out to compromise its integrity."
Sutherland acknowledged to PW that the advisory board was about "half and half" for and against the review service. "I didn't approach the board formally. We should have done it better," she admitted. But she was adamant that ForeWordreviews.com is the wave of the future: "Watch what comes out of the process. We've thought about this for more than a year. If I don't deliver, then I'll have pie all over my face."