Monday, October 5, 2009

Fines for Blogging?

The Federal Trade Commission's chairman set out a new set of guidelines to take effect on December 1st, 2009 relating to bloggers who review products. Yes, this includes book bloggers. The main points I got out of a very odd and painful-to-read interview the chair, Richard Cleland, had with literary blogger Edward Champion were as follows:
  • Bloggers who receive books for free to review must clearly state this in their review;
  • If you review a product and then link to a site that sells the product (i.e., the Amazon, IndieBound, AbeBooks websites that myriads of bloggers link to), then you are "endorsing" the product;
  • If you keep a book that you are sent to review, then you are being compensated and are expected to write a positive review.
Point #3 is the one that upsets me. This is mainly because I already comply with Point #1 and I guess I can sort of understand Point #2 (though I don't get any sort of money from any links I put up, and thus can't see how I am endorsing anything). But #3 annoys me. Yes, I receive books for free to review. Yes, I (usually) review them. And then, so sue me, I generally keep them. This does not mean that I feel compelled to write a positive review. I would hope that I write honest reviews, regardless of where I get the book.

More importantly, it is only bloggers who are being "compensated" when they are sent a book to review. People who review for newspapers or journals, or people who actually are paid to write reviews, are apparently not being compensated when they receive free books. Why? According to Richard Cleland, it's because:
“In the case where the newspaper receives the book and it allows the reviewer to review it, it’s still the property of the newspaper. Most of the newspapers have very strict rules about that and on what happens to those products.”
I don't know any newspaper reviewers, sadly, but my guess is that they get to keep the books, too. I have a feeling quite a few paid reviewers keep their books. And those who don't often sell them to used bookstores, or donate them and get tax write-offs. I don't think there are "very strict rules" in place there.

Really, I don't have an issue with the rules for full disclosure themselves. What annoys me is the double standard- that somehow, as bloggers write reviews for free, that we are somehow being "paid" in books to write favorable reviews, unlike reviewers on newspapers who are always, always completely unbiased. It annoys me because reviewing a book can't be an unbiased activity at all, in my view. No one reads the same book; my reaction to a book like Twilight is very different (depressingly so, really) than my sister's. That doesn't make either of our opinions moot, it just makes them different.

I like blogs because I can find people whose reading tastes closely resemble mine, and get book suggestions from them. I can trust those suggestions because I know I react in a similar way as that blogger to a certain type of book. I cannot say the same for a newspaper reviewer, whose reviews I scan only when the title or subject of the book being reviewed interests me. And so I vastly prefer people who read and review without getting payment, because these people read books they want to read, and not books that they have to read. (And really, by having to read and review a book to earn your living, doesn't that mean you are being compensated by books?)

And that's all I have to say on this subject for now. Apologies for my rambling rant- it's late!


  1. I read this today as well and was really curious as to one statement from it ...
    "“The primary situation is where there’s a link to the sponsoring seller and the blogger,” said Cleland."

    My interpretation of this is that if Amazon provides a book, I can't have a link back to them or it becomes an endorsement. But if Sourcebooks provides the book, why can't I link to Amazon? Sourcebooks (as the example) hasn't asked me to provide the link, right? It's not the same as the mommy blogger who gets a free outfit from and then is expected to link back to them for future sales of said outfit.

    This interview really highlighted the differences between book blogs and other blogs in the receipt and "review" of products. Too bad the FTC doesn't see the same difference. I have a feeling that we are going to see some of the big name book bloggers step forward soon on this issue.

  2. Just thought of something else too -- when someone is given a Wii or a baby monitor or any other major product, they are EXPECTED to provide a link for their readers to buy said item. But can anyone name me a publisher or publicist that has demanded that, if they provide an ARC or a review copy, you must have a purchase link in your review? Probably not because it's not that kind of review structure.

  3. What?! I hadn't read number 3 yet, if I get a book I HAVE to say nice things?! What if I totally hate it, or as I usually do, write a neutral ok review. Is that bad or good?
    Sighs *grumbles under breath*

  4. This kneejerk reaction of the regulating bodies to regulate absolutely everything, without completely understanding what they are regulating, is astounding. Boo urns to the FTC.

  5. My thoughts are pretty much in line with yours, though I'm still trying to process that article. I've never felt like a positive review was expected, and there are many times I've given just so-so or downright negative reviews of books I've received from publishers or authors. Honesty is most important to me, and if I don't like a book I'm going to say that I don't like the book.

    A free book is compensation but someone being paid to write reviews isn't being compensated? That's absurd.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  6. I can kind of understand that a blogger would need to disclose whether or not a book has been provided to them in exchange for a review, but the third rule totally bites! So now I am supposed to cater to everyone who provides me a book, even if the book is terrible? Does this also mean that I am no longer going to be able to trust the various opinions of other bloggers who write reviews because they will also be catering to the people who provide the books? Aarti, I totally agree with you on this subject, and think that it will be a sad day in blogland the day we all have to start shelving our real opinions and start kissing behinds. I could say a whole lot more about this, but I am trying to remain calm and wait it out. Hopefully the FTC will soon come to their senses and realize what an idiotic ruling this is.

  7. I think the whole thing is slightly ludicrous except that I do agree with the full disclosure bit. I do know that once I discovered just how many books reviewed in book blogs were ARC's, I stopped making it a point to read book blogs if I was at all pressed for time. No matter how unbiased the review may be (and they generally are), the book wasn't picked out by the reviewer but either sent by the publisher or was on a list sent by the publisher.

  8. Well, part of me is outraged and thinks it's ridiculous and a slippery slope and all that.

    And then part of me thinks, well, there are plenty of other ways to get books rather than getting them from publishers. And personally I wouldn't mind the book blogging world being used less as an extension of the publishers' marketing departments - good review or bad, it's still marketing, and I have to admit I'm less inclined to visit a blog if it's filled with ARC reviews, author 'guest spots' and all that.

    Oh yes, and you're correct about paid reviewers keeping books - I've done freelance reviews (not on my blog) before and have never been asked to return a book.


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