Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brief Notice of Book Reviews

From time to time we publish book reviews, and I want to take just a moment to explain how that all comes about. On any given day, we normally have at least one or two books being delivered, so in consequence, I have a backlog of about 100 books waiting to be read. Since a large library is an excuse to go off on tangents, it is likely that some of those waiting volumes will be waiting a good long while.

Nevertheless, when we do eventually find a book that we like -- and when we think you would like it as well -- then we sometimes give it a little write-up, and give you a link to the publisher or bookseller. We do this without regard to precisely when the book was published, i.e., we do not concentrate solely on "new" books, at the expense of "old" books.

We do not get kick-backs or anything like that -- we're not Amazon "affiliates" nor do we wish to be -- and we do not get review copies from publishers. Every book we review is a book we have paid for, at full-bore retail, just like you.

There are four main publishers of English-language dharma books -- Shambhala, Wisdom, Dharma Publishing, and Snow Lion -- and they dominate the marketplace, the former more so than the latter. Certain of these publishers maintain some sort of print periodical, and all maintain intertwined relationships with various online media. So, what happens is -- more often than not -- they wind up cleverly reviewing their own books. I believe Dharma Publishing is the only outfit that doesn't engage in the practice, so in consequence, you see them woefully under-reviewed in the media that are controlled by other publishers.  I do not want to be any more specific than that, because I think we all realize this has been going on for some considerable time.

I don't want to criticize these publishers -- I have been in and out of publishing many times throughout the whole of my life, and well understand how difficult it is to survive and flourish in a niche market with a well-established ceiling, smack-dab in the middle of the digital age. Nevertheless, I think readers deserve to read reviews that are not written by somebody's marketing department, tame author, or house pundit. Don't you agree?

So, I think we will try to do more reviews, and with this thought in mind, I want to invite everyone to submit their book reviews for publication here. Just please make it a book you have purchased, and please make sure you write independent of any incestuous  affiliation with a publishing firm.

We have an extremely large readership -- much, much greater than you might suppose -- and our readers tend to value our advice. I have been told that when we publish a link, it can drive an enormous amount of paying traffic, and I see this is possible when I study our out-click reports. Why don't we harness that power, and start to break the intellectual stranglehold that finite publishing has on the books we enjoy? I mention this because I would really like to see books that are published by centers, independent publishers, and small operations. These are the publishers I particularly want to encourage, and these are publishers that captive media pushes off the shelves.

If we are able to express what we really want to see -- as distinct from sitting back and accepting what a small cabal thinks we should see -- then we can drive the editorial decisions in better directions. You know, speaking very personally, if I see another icky self-help, self-improvement cut and paste job masquerading as Buddhism, I will probably toss my cookies. There are a lot of really skilled translators and scholars sitting around on their hands, slowly starving to death, because the publishers make more money selling sizzle than steak. We can turn that around.
Fair enough?


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7 reader comments:

cloudhand said...


me said...

Excellent use of power!

Anonymous said...

I am sick and tired of Shambhala, Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and all the rest of that phony-baloney marketing but I did not know how to change it. Now I do. Thanks!

Cliff said...

Awesome option.

Anonymous said...

This is so exciting! I can't wait to see what arises with this open window of invitation!

I do love your blog! for so many reasons. It is alive, it is alive, it is fresh with possibility, devotion and the laser of wisdom/compassion!

Unknown said...

Very excellent use of your forum, thank you.
I truly appreciate all you clear-headed, cleaver and always enlightening essays and comments and your choice of subjects.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Wikipedia. Like it or hate it, Wikipedia is becoming the de facto source of referenced information for the digital age. If Google search is awareness, Wikipedia would be wisdom, and news and blogs compassion. Just as the OED brought consensus on the English language, Wikipedia is taking its place as the pivot of consensus that defines our cultures and histories.

Wikipedia's scope and accessibility impels it to a position of prominence above any university or closed publication store. It is the acme of our civilization's desire for liberty. A quote and reference to a work here will go miles on the Internet. The best part is that feudal fiefdoms of knowledge can no longer trap themselves and their unwitting attenders in charming ideas and elitist language. In this arena, information is forced to substantiate and define itself in relation to other more or less authentic traditions. There is a natural panning out of what is considered real and what is imagined. Judicious writing will win every time. I think Dharmakirti would be pleased.