More on Review Copy Disclosures

Following up on yesterday’s post about the FTC telling bloggers to disclose when they’ve received comp or review copies. In all this discussion, several points (as I see them) have been overlooked:

1. Readers, when made aware of the situation, want to know if a reviewer got something for free, especially when it comes to a recommendation as to how the reader spend her money. Based on this one comment, public relations folks want the reviewer to be honest as well.

2. It’s the good folks, the trustworthy ones, who are up in arms about the perceived double standard (since disclosure rules don’t apply to traditional media: print, TV, etc.). That ignores just how much abuse there was going on, in terms of lots and lots of freebies, adding up to serious money, that wasn’t being revealed. If someone got a free trip to Disneyland and then wrote about what a great place it was to take your family on vacation without saying they didn’t pay, I’d find that unethical. (Since I’m getting ready to take a Disney World trip, I’ve been using sources that are clear about spending their own money to research their books and websites. Which gets back to point one.) If the blogverse didn’t have such bad apples in some corners, this wouldn’t have been necessary. It’s very unfortunate that the good ones are the ones most upset by this, because the unethical won’t pay attention to it anyway.

3. It is a double standard, and I fully support all media being required to reveal free gifts and comps. But that’s unlikely to happen, because the more traditional media is older and has more pull in making the rules.

4. Not all bloggers object to this. In the NY Times article, a mommy blogger says:

“I think that bloggers definitely need to be held accountable,” said Ms. Young. “I think there is a certain level of trust that bloggers have with readers, and readers deserve to know the whole truth.”

Although she also said that “if she doesn’t like a product, she simply won’t write about it,” so she’s not looking to get off the gravy train, either.

Some have raised the spectre of paying tax on review copies and Amazon link revenue. Small businesses, which include blogs and websites as soon as the owner demonstrates a profit motive, should already be paying tax on income from advertising and Amazon payments. I look forward to seeing official guidelines, if released, on how to treat review copies, although I think they most likely fall under “gifts”, not income. (Disclaimer: I am not an accountant.)

While I’m quoting, if you’re looking for an example of why some people find review copy revelations obnoxious, check out Chris Butcher’s post. And it worked — I’m jealous he’s got a copy of What a Wonderful World and I don’t. (I’m teasing him, of course. Because I’m flattered he linked back to me.)

15 Responses to “More on Review Copy Disclosures”

  1. david brothers Says:

    I just read and loved Inio Asano’s Solanin (and had the obligatory mid 20s crisis that goes along with it), so I’m extremely psyched for What A Wonderful World.

    What’s interesting is that Amazon says volumes one and two of What A Wonderful World come out on the same day, which is also the release date for 20th Century Boys volume 5. Viz gets all my money lately.

  2. Joshua Macy Says:

    Not only is it not necessary, it’s unconstitutional. I predict it’ll get struck down as over-broad and vague the moment they go after somebody with deep enough pockets to fight it.

  3. Torsten Adair Says:

    It was reported that Consumers Union watchdogged various blogs, and reported those who were “hand puppets” for various corporations.

    If CU is smart, they will create an Internet division which monitors various sites and blogs, and bestows certification upon worthwhile sites. (Remember the early days of the Internet, when sites would plaster their homepages with various awards and acclimations? We might see that again.)

    I do expect to see boilerplate disclaimers soon. I’m sure Google/Blogger will react soon, if they have not done so already.

  4. Johanna Says:

    How is regulating advertising unconstitutional, Joshua?

  5. Greg McElhatton Says:

    Let’s get down to the REALLY important stuff, though. When are you going to Disney? Are you staying on the property and where? How many days? What’s your must-see attraction?

    (I’m going there in January for some races… and visiting the parks!)

  6. Hsifeng Says:

    Now I’m just wondering, where does the FTC draw the line between blogs and non-blogs? I mean, blog is just short for web log which just applies to any web page that displays its updates in reverse chronological order (everything from Comics Worth Reading to the BBC News’s Magazine’s Paper Monitor to I Can Has Cheezburger? to my Facebook wall…).

  7. Johanna Says:

    Disney: a week later this month, all four parks, staying at Coronado Springs. While I anticipate enjoying a number of rides, my favorite thing to do is going to be going to some of the restaurants, especially the Pub and the California Grill. Thanks for asking!

  8. John Mundt, Esq. Says:

    I guess I can see the kernal of reasoning behind this whole thing, especially when one imagines that political groups may be hiring bloggers to spread skewed opinions (which are not “products,” per se, but…well, you know what I’m saying), but it really does seem to fly in the face of “Freedom of Speech,” don’t ya think? Imagine that the Interweb is a soapbox in a public square and the concept becomes clearer. And I’ve actually seen soapbox speakers IN REAL LIFE, and they are always received with (sometimes begrudging) respect for the speaker’s right to say whatever they want, as well as healthy amounts of skepticism about their motivations and qualifications to say it. That’s also how I view anything I read on-line, as I assumed we all did. I think, speaking as the pessimist I am, that to require bloggers – so specifically bloggers – to disclose that they have been compensated for reviewing a product (no matter how reasonable it may seem to us now) may someday be used as legal precedent to somehow further infringe upon the rights afforded to “the future media.”

  9. Johanna Says:

    Once you’re accepting review copies, I think you’re more of a small business/ journalistic outlet, so I don’t have an issue with advertising regulations being applied. (Especially since I’m in favor of more disclosure.) That’s why I don’t see it as a free speech issue as much. This isn’t a law about “you can’t say that”, it’s a law about “you can’t hide relevant facts from your readers”.

  10. Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 7, 2009: Full disclosure Says:

    […] Hogan and Johanna Draper Carlson offer further commentary on the FTC’s announced intention to regulate bloggers’ […]

  11. goodfellow puck Says:

    I have to say that I’m glad to see at least one blogger not pissing and moaning, and acting all arrogant over this FTC thing. I’m sooo sick and tired of bloggers whining, “But the ‘REAL media’ doesn’t have to do this! Besides, you guys should just KNOW I get comp copies. I don’t want to make you jealous or anything…”

    Yeah. Howabout you guys just get over yourselves and do something that HELPS those readers you claim to care so much about, hmm?

    Glad to see one blog on my list today that didn’t give me “rage face” and an “unsubscribe.” :P

  12. Johanna Says:

    Thank you. I’m glad I could be of service. :)

  13. Rick Bradford Says:

    Personally, I always assume the item being reviewed was a freebie unless the reviewer states otherwise. I thought everybody did that.

  14. Hsifeng Says:

    Rick Bradford Says:

    “Personally, I always assume the item being reviewed was a freebie unless the reviewer states otherwise. I thought everybody did that.”

    Unfortunately, not everyone does. Some people read a review and react as though the reviewer made the item being reviewed instead of getting it as a freebie or buying it. There are a few examples here, here, and here, and I bet it happens to other reviewers too.

  15. Rick Bradford Says:

    Hm, that does seem a bit odd. Kids, maybe?




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