Writing tip – avoid promoting particular booksellers…

By Grant Jacobs 31/10/2010 11

… by linking to a neutral intermediary, such as OpenLibrary or GoodReads, rather than a bookseller.

I often write about books. Something to do with enjoying reading!


Some readers might have noticed that when I link to a book, I almost always the link to OpenLibrary.

While reading many blogs I found most people linked to one particular very well-known US-based international on-line bookseller. In doing this they were effectively promoting that company over alternatives, driving potential clients to them.

It struck me as conflicting with the notion of not promoting particular companies when writing neutrally.

A number of sites present books, but don’t themselves sell them. They may list among descriptive information different places that they might be purchased.

Linking to an neutral intermediary such as these solves the problem of you promoting one company over another.

One drawback with OpenLibrary is that relatively few of the entries have a description of the contents of the book, and there are few reviews.

The OpenLibrary blog indicates that they are soon to open a full-text ‘search inside’ feature.


An alternative option, that I might make more use of in the future, is GoodReads, a website of user reviews and opinions.

Another neutral(-ish) source to link to would be Google Books.

Other possibilities might include the book websites listed at wikipedia.

There are a few too many there for me to review them all. If readers have their favourite neutral sources of information about books, let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Other articles in Code for life:

Fainting kittens — feline myotonia congenita? (Must-see video!)

The best places to read (Glorious libraries)

Science-y reading and open book thread (Where you find your reading and book ideas)

Dictionaries, the OED, and what do you use? (The title says it all)

GoPubMed – PubMed browsing using ontologies (Find those papers, assisted by ontologies)

11 Responses to “Writing tip – avoid promoting particular booksellers…”

  • Y’know how you get ideas after you’ve written the post…? One very neutral, if geeky, way of referring to the book would be to cite its ISBN number in a similar way that we use DOIs to refer to papers. Of course ISBNs have been around a lot longer. I’d have to check what databases/sites convert ISBNs into book information. (Something for another time. A sunny… lawns to mow…)

  • I must admit to often linking to Amazon for book details. In mitigation I have noticed that librarians and book purchasers very often use Amazon as a sort of database for book information even though they don’t purchase there. I do to in that it’s often the first database I go to to hunt down information even though I rarely buy from them.

    I guess its the old conflict between purity and practicalities.

    In my book reviews I usually link to the Amazon information (and also the local Fishpond. True, having associate status could be seen as an incitement – but not really. I currently have accumulated the small fortune of about $20 at Amazon and one day I may actually use it to purchase something.

  • I have a question: Why should we be impartial?

    When I read a review of a book or other item on a site such as this I’m not expecting a completely impartial response, nor is that what I’m looking for. To each his own, I don’t think there is a gold standard in this area that we should be striving for.

    Also when I provide a link I do so with a particular purpose in mind, ie to give the reader more information. By your own admission openlibrary is information poor whereas Amazon has a large amount of info available.

    ps. I do not have affiliate status with any commercial site

  • Darcy,

    I’m not talking about if reviews should be impartial (they’re invariably opinions), but that if it’s reasonably possible writers should avoid (however innocently) promoting one company’s services over others.

    Two points for clarification:
    1) Open Library includes direct links to several booksellers – readers can choose which they wish to follow no be limited to what I offer;
    2) I mentioned that Good Reads looks an alternative that I might use more in future as it has a lot of review information, etc. for many books.

    Considering also an example from local television. I watched a recent current events program “reporting” on a “natural health” remedy. At the end they said to look on their website for links to the seller’s website for more information. Not a neutral sites, the seller’s site. They may mean in wanting to offer further information, but by linking to a commercial site they’re effectively promoting that company — acting as a (small scale) shill. If there is a reasonable opportunity to link to a neutral source, even if it, in turn, links on to the company, at least the news medium isn’t promoting a product.

  • Use phonetic spelling 😉

    I’ve yet to look for more formal services based on ISBNs. They’re unlikely to have reader reviews, but they may still have blurbs, etc. Another approach some use (I think I have just once or twice) is to link to the publisher’s site, rather than the resellers.

  • I notice that when PZ Myers refers to a book he has a number of links to different sellers as superscripts. (eg LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). As he is a busy man I can’t imagine him going to all that trouble each time. Perhaps there is a plug in or application that does this automatically.

    It would, to some extent, get around the appearance of commercial bias on the part of the reviewer. And be helpful for the reader.

  • Ken,

    I’ve seen a few people do that. Never have caught onto how they’re pulling that trick 😉

    I personally would prefer to refer to something like Good Reads that offers reader reviews and discussion – it’s not exactly a huge task for readers to copy the title, go to whatever reseller they like and bring up the book. Or is it? (I’m kidding.)

    The problem with offering some, is that you are invariably leaving out others. You can’t win. I for example occasionally by textbooks from DADirect, an Australian outfit that probably relatively few have heard of. (My impression that they mainly serve libraries and institutions.) I doubt DADirect would be any of these plugins. Or the local resellers for where-ever the reader happens to be. (A few of the intermediary sites check your country code and load links for a local reseller, who probably is paying them, etc.)

  • Mind you – book publishers and sellers are a real maze. they probably own each other in many cases.

    And as a recent purchaser of a Sony eBook reader I find that as far as eBooks go there is really no choice anyway. Suddenly I find that I can only purchase eBooks from Whitcoulls in New Zealand – Borders or Angus & Robertson in Australia. This might change with time – but I am seriously considering the possibility of getting a credit card with a US billing address.

    At the moment I might search for a book on Amazon but have to buy it from Whitcoulls.

  • The reason I pointed out linking to the publisher’s website as an alternative is that with the exception of books whose copyright have (long) expired, there will usually only be one publisher at one any time selling a particular title so there are no “other” companies that you are not referring to by omission.

    I don’t think it’s quite as clean a solution, though. Publishers do sell the rights to other publishers so you have make sure you’re linking to the current publisher. (Likewise a title might move from an imprint to the parent publishing house, etc.) I’d still prefer to link to the likes of, say, GoodReads.

    As for eBooks, I’ve never linked to them 😉 As it happens the very few eBooks I’ve bought can be purchased in dead-tree format and for the time being I’d just let readers find their own way to these. I’m disadvantaged through not having an eBook reader, and hence familiarity with the market, Makes it harder to help readers properly, etc.

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