blueinkPublishing Perspectives is carrying a column by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News and co-founder of BlueInk Review, a fee-based book review site. In this column, Thorn makes the case for fee-based reviews as a solution to sorting through the avalanche of self-published titles.

Drawing on her experience at the Rocky Mountain News, Thorn writes that there are already too many professionally-published works for free reviewers to handle, let alone self-published titles. She points out that, in the era of social networking and Amazon reviewer fraud, it can be hard to trust crowdsourcing—and going by the most popular doesn’t always work either. And well-meaning bloggers can find the flood of titles too much to handle.

But, Thorn says, there is a solution:

We believe fee-based reviews are the answer. In the digital world, it has become necessary to find new ways of supporting editorial ventures. (Just ask one of the thousands of unemployed journalists.) Trying to sell ads online simply doesn’t pay the bills. With a fee-based model, each book pays its own way. The fee supports the business operation and the compensation to professional reviewers and lessens the potential for overall reviewer burnout.

It also allows us to fund our bigger mission of discovering great books, which benefits everyone.

Thorn explains that BlueInk’s reviewers are professional critics and editors, and that they are instructed “to write honest reviews noting both the positive and negative points of any book.” They are paid for their work, and write professional, unbiased evaluations. The author pays in advance and has no input into what they write, but can choose not to have the review posted on the website if it turns out to be disappointing.

The column does not go into detail about what these reviews cost—I had to go to the website for that. It turns out that the fee is $395 for a standard review (to be completed in 7-9 weeks), or $495 for a “fast track review” (which would only take 4-5 weeks). I’m not sure how that would look to most self-publishing writers, but from where I’m setting that looks like a pretty significant amount.

Yes, I know, quality work costs money. But it seems like charging $400 for a review that might not necessarily even be positive sets the bar pretty high. One of the great things about modern self-publishing platforms is that there are few or no fees for many of them—they take their cut out of the sales rather than up front, which means authors don’t need to have a lot of money to get their work posted. (It also means they can publish without being gypped by money-grubbing vanity presses.) Relying on willingness to lay out several hundred dollars for reviews as a gatekeeper could leave out a lot of people who are excellent writers but lack the financial means to submit their books for review.

(I also note that BlueInk is running a story on self-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking on its front page at the moment, in which it warns aspiring authors not to expect her kind of success—but doesn’t seem to have reviews of any books by Hocking on the site. Apparently she was able to make it big without having to pay someone to review her books.)