FTC Regulations and the Reviewer

If you’re a book reviewer, chances are you’ve heard about the new FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regulations concerning bloggers who review products online.

What’s going on and what do their new guidelines mean for you, the book blogger/reviewer who writes reviews? Is the FTC keeping records of who’s doing what online? Can the reviewers be fined for accepting books for review if they don’t have a disclosure posted on their blogs stating how they got their books, and whether or not they bought them themselves or were provided by authors or publishers?

The truth is, the FTC has been struggling with how to deal with bloggers for a long time. The FTC doesn’t see book bloggers as journalists, so the guidelines that apply to, say, The New York Times, wouldn’t apply to an independent book blogger. The people at the FTC see blogs as a new type of communication so blogs must be treated in a different way.

What’s the difference between a reviewer who works for a newspaper or magazine and a book blogger?

Basically, their reasoning is that in the case of a newspaper reviewer, it’s the newspaper that gets the compensation, not the book reviewer, whereas in the case of the blogger, she gets to keep the book. So there’s a direct connection between the compensation and the review. Many people think this is silly. After all, there’s nothing stopping a newspaper reviewer from keeping a book. There’s no one at the newspaper making sure all review copies are stored in a secured shelf once reviewers have read the books.

How do you deal with this new regulation if you don’t want to get into trouble and want to come across as an ethical reviewer?

The FTC has made it pretty clear: A disclosure is required.

In order to meet the standard, all you have to do is put a disclosure on your blog, a brief, clear message prominently displayed on your sidebar or on the ‘About the Blogger’ or ‘Review Policy’ pages. Your disclosure could be something like this: “Review copies are provided by authors and publishers. I don’t receive monetary compensation for my reviews.” (If you receive monetary compensation or, let’s say, a gift such an Amazon gift certificate, you must state this clearly). The clearer and more straight forward the disclosure, the more you’ll come across as an honest, ethical reviewer. It’s all about integrity and good practice behavior.

If you go to my blog, www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com, and scroll down a bit, you’ll see my disclosure on the right sidebar. As you can see, it’s pretty short.

Here is an example of a longer disclosure from a mom blogger: http://www.theclothdiaperreport.com/2009/07/disclosure.html.

Though the degree of prominence isn’t spelled out (as far as I know), some bloggers are including this disclosure at the bottom of every review they post, but this isn’t really necessary, not as long as the disclosure is easy to find somewhere on your blog.

The FTC regulation is a good thing for the consumer. If you’re a reviewer with Amazon Affiliate purchase buttons all over your blog, I want to know if you’ve accepted monetary compensation in exchange for your reviews. Granted, most bloggers earn only pennies from their affiliate buttons, but I still want to know.

The FTC guidelines also put responsibility on the authors, publishers and other marketing people (such as publicists) who are trying to promote a book. For example, if you’re an author looking for bloggers to review your book (as in the case of virtual book tours), you should make sure those bloggers you send your book to have that disclosure. Or at least, this is what the guidelines suggest.

But to go back to one of my initial questions: Can reviewers be fined for accepting books for review if they don’t have a disclosure posted on their blogs? The answer is, it will depend on each individual case. The FTC has stated that they will look at this on a case by case basis.

There are millions of blogs out there, and most of them do some form of reviewing in some sense or another. It would take the FTC a lot of money and resources to check what every single blogger is doing, but at least by following their guidelines you can be sure you’ll be on the safe side. I should also point out that these new regulations are especially targeted at bloggers who often receive expensive items for review, such as furniture, electrical appliances, beauty supplies, etc.

Here are two great audio interviews that book publicist Penny Sansevieri conducted on the subject. Be sure to listen to them at your convenience if you want to be better informed.

Interview with Intellectual property specialist and attorney Michael Donaldson.

Interview with Liza Barry-Kessler of privacyCouncel.net.

 

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