Fines for Bloggers?

October 5th, 2009 • Kate

book_moneyI know I’m horribly late with today’s post — which is pretty inexcusable, considering my day started at 6:30 am. Anyway, the big news of the day hit this evening, so I’m almost glad I waited. GalleyCat tipped me off to the new FCC guidelines (pdf) for reviewers, which now includes bloggers. According to a more expansive interview with the representative of the FTC,

What this means is that, under the new guidelines, a blogger’s positive review of a product may qualify as an “endorsement” and that keeping a product after a review may qualify as “compensation.”

In more detail:

In the case of books, Cleland saw no problem with a blogger receiving a book, provided there wasn’t a linked advertisement to buy the book and that the blogger did not keep the book after he had finished reviewing it. Keeping the book would, from Cleland’s standpoint, count as “compensation” and require a disclosure. […]

Cleland insisted that when a publisher sends a book to a blogger, there is the expectation of a good review. I informed him that this was not always the case and observed that some bloggers often receive 20 to 50 books a week. In such cases, the publisher hopes for a review, good or bad. Cleland didn’t see it that way.

“If a blogger received enough books,” said Cleland, “he could open up a used bookstore.”

You can read more about this via articles at The New York Times and The Washington Post.

I’m curious to know what you think, and honestly, I’m curious what this means for me. Every link to an Amazon page for a book on my site includes my Amazon Associates ID, which means I may get some small kickback if you hear about a book on my site and then go to Amazon to buy it. Do you think this is unethical? Does the FTC? Maybe it doesn’t matter in the case of my clients’ books, which are all clearly noted as such, and I should think my connection with them is obvious. But what about my “Recent Reads” posts, where I comment on a book I’ve read for pleasure?

What do you take from this ruling? I’m eager to hear more from other book bloggers.

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13 Responses to “Fines for Bloggers?”

  1. Steph Bowe Says:

    I usually receive 2-3 YA books a week for review. I always review honestly (I have posted negative reviews in the past) and

    Honestly, I'm 15. I review purely to spread the word about books for teenagers. I don't have a source of income, and I don't pay taxes. What about all those underage book bloggers? And book bloggers like me, that pass on all their books to friends, and in competitions? I keep hardly any of my books, and if someone sends me a book for review, I will review honestly. It's not like I'm being paid to say that something is good.

    I'm not sure whether this will affect me, since I live in Australia and the majority of my books come from within Australia, but I think it's a bit unnecessary. Fair enough for things like beauty products or instances where a blogger is being paid, but I don't think this works the same when it comes to book reviews.

  2. Steph Bowe Says:

    Oops, I didn't mean to press enter between 'and' and 'honestly'. That should read: I usually receive 2-3 YA books a week for review. I always review honestly (I have posted negative reviews in the past) and honestly, I’m 15; I review purely to spread the word about books for teenagers…

  3. Julia Says:

    I'm underwhelmed by the ridiculousness (is that a word) of the FTC. How on earth do they plan to police this? And, what about overseas bloggers? And, how will they know if someone keeps a book or passes it on? Pul-lease…

  4. Kathleen MacIver Says:

    Here's my question…what about those of us that review with ARCs? With Amazon, I've agreed NOT to sell these books, so how could I open a bookstore with them?

    And no, I don't see a problem with including the Amazon link on your site. If that's your plan for getting rich, good luck! LOL!

  5. Krista G. Says:

    How does this compare to movie reviews? I assume that film critics (the big ones, anyway) don't have to pay to see the films they review, so in that way, they're being compensated (with a free theater viewing) for their review. Since the product is a service in that case, it's impossible to take it back. Unless…

    Book pitch: "Laura Yates didn't realize she was signing up for mind erasure when she became the Seattle Times's junior movie critic. But that's just what she got after she reviewed her first film, a documentary on the life of Salvador Dali, since retaining the memory of that theater experience violates recent FCC ethics rules. The problem is, the mandatory mind erasure wiped out a few other memories, too. And she's not the only one forgetting.

    THE PERSISTENCE OF FCC, my 156,000-word science fiction thriller, comes complete with four appendices of related FCC regulatory legislation…"

    Any takers? 🙂

  6. Kate Says:

    Krista — According to the interview I linked to, movie reviewers are exempt because they only get to to keep the experience of seeing the film. If they walked out of the theatre with a DVD, then I imagine they'd be targeted in much the same way book reviewers are seeing the guidelines.

  7. Michelle Says:

    Well, for overseas bloggers, this new ruling obviously would have no impact. The Federal Trade Commission has no authority to promulgate or enforce laws in other nations.

    I read the interview and the rule, and it seems like the FTC and its representative either lack a good understanding of new media (the internet is made of tubes!) or they just have some bias against it. As annoying as the new ruling is, I don’t think it will impact you too harshly.

    The rule only applies to endorsements made when the blogger has received some form of compensation, without making a disclosure of said compensation. This means, that 1) if you didn’t get the book for free, this rule doesn’t apply to you; 2) if you don’t keep the book, this rule doesn’t apply to you, and 3) if you disclose that you got the book for free, the rule doesn’t apply to you. I don’t think that’s too harsh. All you have to do is post a disclaimer at the end of your post, or at the top or bottom of you website, stating that all books featured on the website were gifted to the blogger, though not all books gifted to the blogger have been featured on the website.

    I do wonder how this would affect Amazon Vine members. Presumably not at all, because Amazon links to the Vine FAQ, which tells you these members get their products for free, so no reasonable consumer could not realize the link between Amazon and the reviewer. I think the same principle would apply to your Amazon affiliate link. Your “Recent Reads” post is different. I have no idea if you got those books for free, or if you purchased them. Most likely, the FTC would consider those endorsements, because your blog has “wide readership within a particular demographic group that is the manufacturers’ target market.”

  8. Trish Says:

    I'm kind of wondering how the FTC plans to put a retail value on an Advanced Reader Copy that's not for sale…and how a blogger is going to claim that no-value book on her taxes.

    I get that the FTC is trying to go after the big-time bloggers who are being comped vacations and cruises and appliances in exchange for their positive reviews, but I fail to see how book bloggers are somehow cheating the system.

  9. Trish Says:

    Along the same lines, I wonder what the repercussions are for someone like Heather Armstrong (a.k.a. dooce) who whines on her blog about how crappy her Maytag washer is and then gets a brand new one delivered to her door by Whirlpool. She didn't ASK for it, but now she's in possession of a brand new appliance for which she paid no taxes. Seems like that's a bigger issue than a few ARCs.

  10. Kate Says:

    My understanding about the washing machine situation with Dooce was that her tweeting got Maytag to fix her machine, and she arranged for Whirlpool to donate the one they offered her to a women's shelter. But still, yes, I agree, it raises bigger issues!

  11. Gracyn Says:

    To think, I was cnofeusd a minute ago.

  12. rclavgf Says:

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  13. New Rules for Book Reviews: As Set Out By The USA | Website of Megan Burke Says:

    […] stuff about blogging and book reviews, from Ask Daphne, which in turn came from Galley […]