Reveal Those Review Copies, Bloggers
If you’re in the U.S., as of December 1, the Federal Trade Commission has made it mandatory for bloggers to disclose any payment or free items they receive in return for reviews. If you don’t, “penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.” No specifics were provided on how the items must be disclosed.
(Update: The FTC has clarified through questions from the affected: the fine potential is for advertisers, not bloggers.)
Last time the subject came up, at the beginning of the year, those who were in favor of explicitly disclosing review copies were told they were acting like amateurs because old-school media didn’t make similar disclaimers. However, the FTC has clearly demonstrated that they see online media, especially blogging, as different, with different rules applying.
Update: To go into more detail, this excerpt is from the FTC press release:
The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers — connections that consumers would not expect — must be disclosed. … [T]he post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
Update 2: More links. Key quote from this interview with an FTC representative:
A book falls under “compensation” if it comes associated with an Amazon link or there is an advertisement for the book, or if the reviewer holds onto the book.
That’s two out of three that this site falls under, Amazon links and keeping the books. (In part because I don’t have a postage budget to return books at $2.38 and up a pop.)
And having skimmed through the actual government notice, I’m more convinced than ever that this site, and others like it, need to run disclaimers listing review copies, as we have done and will continue doing. Given this statement,
advertisers who sponsor these endorsers (either by providing free products — directly or through a middleman — or otherwise) in order to generate positive word of mouth and spur sales should establish procedures to advise endorsers that they should make the necessary disclosures and to monitor the conduct of those endorsers.
I am very curious to see how the press releases and boilerplate instructions I receive with review copies of books and DVDs change, if at all.
My thanks to all the commenters for providing additional information and viewpoints on this issue. It’s been helpful in refining my opinions and decision on how to proceed. There’s already a lot of anger out there about the double standard between new and traditional media (such as a newspaper, which is not required to disclose), although it doesn’t bother me. I still don’t understand why people are resistant to saying “I got this for free”. Heck, how you found something you liked is often a neat part of someone’s story about their reactions to a new book.