Confessions of a Shill

Last week's "Mother of All Off Topic Threads" has generated some interesting points, and I plan to address two of them. Let's start with the question of "shilling." Chuck Martin raised a concern I think is worth taking up, so I'll quote him and then reply:

I am slightly worried that Mark may be tempted to shill for some of the publishers, particularly R.L. Allen. I've noticed a large number of reviews for R.L. Allen and Cambridge products, and it appears that Mark is receiving not just one advance copy but entire sets from R.L. Allen. Yes, I do see that Mark has reviewed some products from other publishers. No, I don't believe it is inappropriate for a reviewer to receive one advance copy of a product. Yes, I understand that R.L. Allen and Cambridge are two of the highest quality houses. And no, I'm not sending Mark any supporting funds while I access his site for free. I'd just like to see a little more diversity if it is feasable.


First, let me thank Chuck for raising the question. I appreciate the frankness. To reply, let me reiterate a point made in the Frequently Asked Questions, which I suspect many readers haven't noticed. Here, I explain where the Bibles I review come from:

Q. Where do the Bibles you review come from?

These days, I'm able to request review copies from some publishers, which allows me to cover a lot more ground than I could relying only on my budget. (My wife is grateful.) When I can't get review copies, I go to the piggy bank and see what I find.

By the way, if you're a publisher and you'd like to talk about review copies, check out the Publishers page.

Q. How do you choose which Bibles to review?

I'm drawn to editions that demonstrate quality production and innovative design. By "quality" I mean what some people mistakenly label luxury: sewn bindings, limp covers, good paper. There's no science to the selection process, only passion. I give priority to Bibles I think my audience will appreciate, and those I think the publishing community can learn from. I don't review everything that's suggested to me -- but I'm happy to receive the suggestions.

So yes, I get review copies from publishers. I've been getting them since the beginning. And I've never made a secret of it. In fact, I am always trying to make contact with new publishers so I can bring about the "diversity" Chuck mentions. 


Now I was a shill (or, to dress it up in marketing speak, a "brand evangelist") for R. L. Allan long before anyone in Glasgow knew who I was. I'm happy to have helped raise the profile of their amazing editions. When it comes to them, I'm a shameless fan. And long before there was such a thing as a blog, I was cadging glimpses of the Cambridge catalog from behind the bookstore counter, ordering things sight unseen based on a line or two of text. One of the raisons d'etre of this site is to introduce people to quality editions like theirs. I'm always candid in my reviews about what I like and dislike. Hopefully my readers would affirm that.

As far as my receiving "not just one advance copy but entire sets," well, all I can say is, it's hard to write about something you've never seen, so the only way to do review three versions of a particular edition is to have three copies. R. L. Allan's isn't "buying" a positive review by sending me review copies. They're getting a positive review because they put out a great product. But I can't tell you whether something's good or not if I never see it.


In case it isn't clear, I want to point out that Bible Design Blog isn't a job. I don't make a paycheck here. In fact, I don't make a dime. You might consider review copies a form of compensation, but since I'm not converting them to cash via eBay, my wife doesn't agree. And she gets final say because it's her who pays the bills. My hope is that people reading this site will think, "Hey, this guy is worth reading," and as a result will click on the links to the things I do sell, namely my books. If publishers like Crossway, Cambridge, R. L. Allan, Tyndale, Zondervan, and Hendrickson (who've done a marvelous facsimile reprint of Tyndale's New Testament in cooperation with the British Library, which I'll be writing about shortly) didn't see fit to send review copies, I'm afraid the flood of reviews would dry up. My hope is that more publishers will work with me to prevent that happening. 

One thing the blog has allowed me to do is consult with publishers on future projects, which brings in enough to convince Mrs. Bertrand that there's a point in continuing. That gives me the ability to influence things before they reach the market, instead of criticizing them afterward. And I'll tell you something that may surprise you: the folks who've hired me tend to do so because of my criticism, not my praise. Which suggests that writing negative reviews would actually be better for my bottom line than the reverse. 

But rest assured, when I say I like something, I really do. And when I say I don't, I really don't. No one's paying me to misguide the public ... no one's even offering. Despite the impression some people have of the publishing industry, my experience suggests that everyone is trying to put out a good product within the constraints of the marketplace, and when someone comes along who can suggest ways of making that happen, they're receptive. 

Forgive me for writing at length about this, but I figured it's worth reiterating. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer.