We are under constraints to reduce our expenses and must reduce the fee we pay to reviewers. Any reviews assigned after June 15 will be billed at $25 per review. However, you will be credited as a contributor in issues where your reviews appear. Please know that we value the work you do for us....Et cetera.
The comments section at Critical Mass is, naturally, en fuego with discussion, and it seems to have tapped into a great deal of ill will toward PW and its policies. Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of PW, weighs in with a response that reads, in part:
I hope that PW reviewers, like one of the people who posted here, see the pay as an honorarium rather than a salary, and will continue to review because they love books and believe in PW as much as we believe in them....In the past, I've reviewed exactly twice for PW, at terms not much better than $25 per review. I won't discuss the exact terms of the "honorarium," but it was 5%-15% of what I could, and do, get elsewhere for the same amount of work. (We parted ways fairly quickly, though not, mostly, for financial reasons.)
The problem with PW's reviews, I think, is that they're so very, very weighty -- a good review in PW can result in hundreds of libraries buying a title, and a marketing department devoting more energy to promoting it. The reviews are front-and-center on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, influencing online buyers for years. In short, a good PW review (particularly a starred one) can affect sales in the same disproportionate way that a New York Times rave theater review can disproportionately affect a show's box office.
Conversely, a pan from PW can sink a fledgling writer before he or she gets out of the gate.
That's a hell of a lot of clout for a $25 review. And a hell of a lot of responsibility to give to someone who can afford to work for $25.
When your pay scale is that low, you're necessarily going to be attracting inexperienced reviewers. Not to say that they can't be good, but I wonder if editors and agents explain to authors (particularly first-time authors) that the fate of their books can lie with a reviewer who can afford the time and energy to take $25 as payment.
Is a $500 review necessarily "better" or more authoritative than a $25 review?
(Other bloggers are talking about it here and here.)