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Jim Cox Report: June 2005

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

It's time again for another episode of that on-going drama called the "Jim Cox Report"!

1. Amazon Selling Book Reviews:

The big story this month has to do with trying to sell book reviews disguised as "articles" on their massive bookselling website. I first learned of this practice about two months ago when some of our volunteer reviewers sent me emails inquiring as to if the Midwest Book Review had some sort of deal going with Amazon to let them sell reviews posted in our online book review magazines "Reviewer's Bookwatch" and/or "MBR Bookwatch".

It seems that reviews by some of our volunteers appearing in our online magazines were showing up word-for-word on the Amazon website with the offer to Amazon visitors to purchase the review (which Amazon was calling an "article") for $5.30 -- I was amazed upon visiting Amazon myself to find that this was indeed going on!

I was stumped. We do not post the reviews from volunteers on the Amazon website. That is the choice and responsibility of the reviewer who owns all rights to their review. We post only those created "in-house" for the print editions of our monthly library newsletters, which also form the contents for our online magazines "Internet Bookwatch" and "Children's Bookwatch", plus our newest online magazine "Small Press Bookwatch".

How could Amazon be selling reviews apparently gleaned from our website without our knowledge or consent!

Then just a couple of weeks ago the mystery was solved thanks to the hard work of one of our reviewers. What followed is nicely summarized in a letter that I sent out to all of our reviewers and which I will reprint here:

Dear Reviewer:

Please forgive this form letter approach, but there are 76 of you and as a volunteer reviewer for the Midwest Book Review I need to inform you about the following:

Several weeks ago some of our volunteer reviewers brought to my attention that copies of their reviews were appearing for sale on and that Amazon did not have permission for this to occur. It is the policy of the Midwest Book Review that volunteer and freelance reviewers utilizing the Midwest Book Review as a forum for their reviews retained all rights to their reviews. At the time I had no idea how reviews appearing in the pages of our two online book review magazines "Reviewer's Bookwatch" and "MBR Bookwatch" were being made available for purchase as "articles" on the Amazon website.

In consultation with my webmaster I thought that perhaps Amazon was spidering the Midwest Book Review website and simply availing themselves of reviews found there -- without consultation or permission from either me as the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review, or the individual reviewers themselves.

My emailed inquires to the Amazon staff were unanswered. Indeed, during this same time period I was approached by an Amazon representative with an invitation to embed an HTML command into the reviews on our website that would permit a visitor to "click through" to a particular book's Amazon webpage. For doing this the Midwest Book Review would receive a financial consideration. I refused the offer because the Midwest Book Review must avoid any possible conflict of interest issues that such a commercial relationship with the nation's largest retail bookseller would inevitably entail.

So how reviews published in our two volunteer reviewer based magazines were showing up for sale on Amazon was a complete mystery. Then through the efforts of one of our reviewers, Bonnie Jo Davis, the mystery was solved and we discovered just how this was happening.

The Midwest Book Review has a three-point mission statement to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. In furtherance of these objectives, we had made all of the reviews comprising our five online magazines (The volunteer reviewer publications "Reviewer's Bookwatch"; "MBR Bookwatch", plus the reviews generated "in-house" by our editors and staff members for our "Children's Bookwatch"; "Internet Bookwatch"; and "Small Press Bookwatch") available to Thomson-Gale for inclusion into their online database, which in turn made them available to corporate, academic, governmental, and community library systems who subscribed to their services.

The contract that I originally signed for this purpose had a clause in it that gave permission to Thomson-Gale to include our reviews in any future "products" that Thomson-Gale might develop. It turned out that they had recently developed some. One of these is the creation of contracts between Thomson-Gale and third parties like, Lexus-Nexus and others. In the case of Amazon, if a review (which Amazon called an article) is sold, half the money is retained by Amazon and half the money goes to Thomson-Gale.

After Bonnie contacted the folks at Thomson-Gale, they discovered that I did not know about this subsequent arrangement and called me. What followed was an informative discussion that led me through all the details. Because these new "products" were developed after the original contract was signed (and because the folks at Thomson-Gale are really quite honest and well-meaning) we have arranged for volunteer reviewers wanting to continue to utilize the Midwest Book Review as a forum, but who do not want those reviews being offered for sale at Amazon, can opt out of being included in our monthly provisions of reviews to Thomson-Gale. That is, their reviews which run as bylined columns in the Midwest Book Review (and those who are "one shot" reviewers and therefore clustered together in the "Reviewer Recommendations" column) will be deleted from the "Reviewer's Bookwatch" and the "MBR Bookwatch" before the content of those magazines is forwarded to Thomson-Gale.

Anyone whose reviews have already appeared for sale on Amazon can also have those reviews deleted from the Thomson-Gale online database. The Thomson-Gale folk will see to it that those reviews-for-sale are also deleted from Amazon as well.

What I need from you is to know if you want your reviews included in the Thomson-Gale database (which includes being made available for their other clients like library systems and Lexus-Nexus) or if you prefer to not have them included.

For those who decline the Thomson-Gale database inclusion, your reviews would continue to be posted on the Midwest Book Review website. I should also emphasis that although our "in-house" reviews are posted on Amazon by our webmaster, the volunteer reviewer has always been (and continues to be) responsible for any Amazon postings they may want to do with their own reviews.

Finally, my personal opinion about Amazon trying to sell reviews. I think it is unsound. Who would ever want to buy a review that they could see for free on Amazon's webpage? I can see immense value for those who want to expand the readership of their work by having their reviews included in such databases as Lexus-Nexus (used primarily by journalism, academia, and researchers). To me that falls in the same category as making the reviews available to librarians and the general reading public. But to try to sell them for $5.30 on Amazon? I bet that this particular experiment in online entrepreneurship will soon fade away.

Please let me know if you want to be placed on the "No Thomson-Gale" list. If I do not hear from you I will assume your permission to continue to include your reviews as appearing in the regular monthly issues of "Reviewer's Bookwatch" and "MBR Bookwatch".

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

I got feedback from almost all of our volunteer reviewers with about two thirds of them wanting to opt out of the Thomson-Gale arrangement. About one third didn't care -- with a good many of them feeling that the wider the audience for their reviews the better.

So beginning with the reviews in our June issue this matter is amicably resolved and Thomson-Gale will be deleting any unauthorized reviews that have up to this time been included in their "project" with Amazon, and I will now serve as a gatekeeper with respect to which volunteer reviewer's work gets forward to them, and whose does not as the volunteers themselves have decided.

Basically, I consider part of my job as the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review to also include looking out after the best interests of our volunteer reviewers. This is every bit as important as trying to promote the interests of the small press community, libraries and their patrons, authors, and the general reading public. What I find so gratifying is that reviewers who go the extra mile like Bonnie, as well as our roster of volunteer reviewers, the legions of authors and publishers throughout the small press community, and the good folk at Thomson-Gale, take such a whole-hearted, actively cooperative, selflessly collaborative interest in helping my carry out all of the mission statements of the Midwest Book Review.

2. Google Book Search Engine:

I keep surveying and surfing the web in search of things that are relevant and useful for bibliophiles and the small press community. Here's something I came across from Cork University Press (a British academic publishing house whose books I occasionally review) that I think well worth sharing. It's about a new development courtesy of the Google online search engine folk:

Cork University Press

Google improves its book search tool

Google Print book search has announced a new way for Google users to search exclusively for books. Now users can go directly to and search the ever-expanding collection of titles in Google Print. No web or newsgroup results: just books.

This means your books will be visible to users whether they run a general search on Google or a specific search on Google Print. It's one more way of helping potential buyers to find your titles.

Google are also integrating Google Print with Google Accounts , their new user account management system. Here's how it works: most of your selected book pages will remain visible after search by all users, but some pages will now be fully viewable only if users sign in to their Google account. This gives your books an extra level of security, as those who want to see multiple pages must sign in to do so. Whether they sign in or not, all users are still restricted to viewing only a limited portion of any book, as provided through the Publisher program.

Whether you are an author or a publisher (or both!), I think you should check this out because it may be adapted and adopted by other search engines and online book marketing venues as well.

3. The Midwest Book Review Honored Again:

I also got the following incoming email from Dan Snow that I thought I'd share:

Dear Colleague,

Please see below. You (or your company) are featured in the following bulletin for thousands of authors and publishers, due out next week. We hope you will benefit from the added exposure. Please consider adding a link to our site ( from your own, and please tell your contacts about the newsletter, which is free upon request to anyone in the book world. Thanks for your time and consideration, and please keep in touch!

Kind regards,
Dan Snow, Co-Author/Publisher,

What follows are small articles with web addresses on a number of things of interest to the publishing community that you should go to the U-Publish website to see in their entirety -- very well worth doing! Then comes this:

*** Reminder: Support MBR, as MBR Supports You ***

Thank goodness for the Midwest Book Review: an outlet that not only reviews books from independents, but favors them! Veteran editor Jim Cox has worked tirelessly for years, supporting the small press community and scores of self-publishing authors. MBR does not accept cash donations, to avoid any conflict of interest. But their bylaws have recently been amended to allow donations of postage stamps, which offset their costs in getting the word out about independently published books.

Please join us in sending your "stamp of approval" to:

Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575

*** Quotation of the Month ***

"I'd review Dan Poynter's laundry list if he were to publish it! :-)"

-- The Jim Cox Report, May 2005

To demonstrate the value of their free online newsletter I'll also include the following so you can have a bit of a "taste" for the kinds of things it provides, along with some subscribing info:

Inside tip from Poynter and Snow: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!

Here's ours:

This is a free e-mail bulletin from, the Web site named for the book by Dan Poynter and Danny O. Snow.

Bulletins are sent by subscription only. You may subscribe or unsubscribe at any time. Simply e-mail with "Add" or "Remove" in the subject line.

We do not endorse specific products or services, and we do not accept advertising. We will not sell your name, address or other personal information to others.

Our goal is to serve as advocates for the self-publishing author and independent publisher, large or small. We welcome your participation, feedback, criticism, and suggestions. We learn from our readers, and value your input. Please visit at least once each month, for periodic updates of interest to writers and publishers. Please feel free to forward copies of this message to fellow writers and publishers. This is a free service, available to to anyone in the book world upon request.

E-Mail Tips:

To reach the public more effectively, check your e-mail settings and consider using "Text Only" format.

Some e-mail software such as Microsoft Outlook may send messages in the same format (HTML) as a web page, which can cause problems for recipients who use other software. Backgrounds, textures, "emoticons" and other bells and whistles simply waste bandwidth. Send plain text instead.

File attachments (especially large ones) also cause problems for many recipients and should be avoided unless they are specifically requested by the recipient. Put pictures on your Web site and include the location (but NOT the picture) in your e-mail messages. For example, if you want to see a photo of Poynter and Snow, click the link below:

Finally, when you type messages, we STRONGLY suggest ending each line by pressing the Enter key after typing about 60-80 characters, as we are doing here. This allows recipients to forward your message to others with fewer formatting problems. If you are sending e-mail to the public, you want all of your messages to arrive simple and problem-free. The suggestions above will help you reach the public more effectively.

By way of full disclosure, I should state for the record that I am now, and have been since about 1976, a charter member of the Dan Poynter fan club. He was an invaluable and generous source of advice and encouragement when I first started up in book reviewing. He continues to be a kind of cyberspace pen pal to this very day.

Now on to some other stuff:

4. Multiple Reviews Of The Same Book:

Fran is another "cyberspace pen pal" and a seasoned small press publisher who knows what she's talking about when it comes to marketing books in today's fiercely competitive world. Recently we got to talking about why I have a policy that allows two or more reviewers to review the same title for our various publications. Here's our correspondence:

In a message dated 4/7/05 7:49:25 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

Hi Jim:

I asked this question of Shirley Johnson and she answered as best she could. Then she directed me to you.

I am writing an article for the Author Advocate, Infinity Publishing's newsletter, on how my book managed to snag 8 glowing reviews. Shirley's review will appear on MBR in May. I wrote her that Liana Metal's review was accepted by MBR and is now on the "recommended" page and wondered what will be the implications of two reviews of the same book. She responded that you have no trouble with that since it gives two opinions of the same book. What about publicity? Has it been in your experience that the book sold better with two reviews? Can you add anything to what she already said? I would deeply appreciate your input.

All the best, Fran

Dear Fran:

It's been my observation that the more reviews the better -- even when appearing in the same publication or on the same website. That's because 1. different reviewers bring different qualities, abilities, degrees of expertise, and experience levels to assessing the same books; 2. readers will sometimes see one review but not the other(s); 3. there's no such thing as too much publicity.

Incidently, I think there are a couple more reviews on your book that came in from our volunteer reviewers besides Shirley and Liana. As always, I'll pass along the tear sheets and publisher notification letters each time a review on your book pops up in one or more of our publications -- at least as long as the stamps hold out! :-)

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

5. How To Find An Appropriate Reviewer:

In a message dated 3/9/05 9:35:12 AM Central Standard Time, writes:

Dear Mr. Cox:

I recently wrote and am in the process of publishing a short non fiction book. I am looking to find a listing of book reviewers throughout the country to send complimentary copies to in hopes that it might be read by a few and possibly reviewed? Can you direct me to a comprehensive listing of reviewers? Is there a trade organization? thank you so much for whatever info you can provide.
-- Mark Shemtob

Dear Mark:

Go to the Midwest Book Review website at

Click on "Book Lover Resources"

Click on "Other Reviewers"

This will give you a long list of links to freelance reviewers, review publications, book review websites, and more.

I would also suggest that you click on "Advice for Publishers" and read the several articles I have written on book reviewing and the book review process -- beginning with "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer".

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

6. Folks Saying Thank You!

Now it's time for my favorite part of my monthly reports to the small press community -- The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation:

The following folk have sent in wonderful "thank you" letters accompanied by postage stamps in support and appreciation of what we try to do here in behalf of authors, publishers, librarians, readers, and a rather substantial number of freelance publicists!

Margaret A.Harrell - "Toward A Philosophy Of Perception"
Brenda Avadian - "Where's my shoes?"
Niki Behrikis Shanahan - "Animal Prayer Guide"
Harry Field - "Down By Two"
VanderWyk & Burnham
Island In The Sky Publishing Company
Emanuel A. Frenkel - Delta Vista Press
Merry L. Gumm - NSR Publications
Michael Maniatis - Zenga Publishing
Barb Walker - Taming Your Computer Inc.
Edgar J. L'Hereux - Sabal Palm Press
Susan Faith - Purple People Inc.
Margie Clouser - Robert Quackenbush Studios
David Channing - Asgard Publishing Company
Kathleen Marie Marsh - Otter Run Books, LLC

If you have a book you'd like reviewed, or if you have a review that you'd like to have an audience for, send the book (published copies only, no galleys or uncorrected proofs) accompanied by a cover letter and a publicity release to the attention of:

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

If you have a review, then send it within the message body of an ordinary email to -- be sure to note in the Subject box of the email that it is a review -- this will help avoid you getting accidentally deleted along with 500+ spams that I get every day.

Until next time -- Goodby, Good Luck & Good Reading!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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