Book Bloggers and the FTC

I don’t consider myself to be a libertarian or anything, but I have to admit, I bristle at the talk of government regulation of book bloggers.

Seems the US Federal Trade Commission is passing expanded “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Book bloggers, they say, must include a line of disclosure so that their visitors know the blogger is being “compensated” for his reviews, “compensation” referring to the review copy of the book. 😯

Never mind that print media members have been receiving free books for years and years and years without any such disclaimer and will not now be required to include such a disclaimer (see Edward Champion’s article summary of an interview with FTC’s Richard Cleland). Seems the FTC views newspapers and magazines as fair and balanced but individuals as evil and corrupt. 🙄

As such, the FTC apparently believes poor, helpless consumers are being buffaloed by us greedy, lying bloggers who say we like a book when really we don’t, thus bilking book buyers out of … what? The responsibility to think for themselves? To think about the reviews they read? To compare and contrast one blogger with another and bloggers with print reviewers?

What mystifies me is that the FTC thinks blog visitors are too stupid to tell which bloggers are writing endorsements instead of reviews. Or that once burned they might continue to visit an endorsement blog and get burned again, and again, and again.

Above all this silliness is the FTC admission that they can’t in any way visit all the blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (yes, this also applies to social networking sites). Of course these guidelines also have no power whatever over bloggers located outside the US. So what do they accomplish?

And another question for those in the US. How is it that an agency we did not vote into office can pass new laws like this, for certainly, if they can fine bloggers up to $11,000 they are passing a law. Well, not “passing” a law. That’s what Congress does. I guess in this case it’s “declaring” a law.

Then my other question: Why is the government seemingly so concerned about due diligence when it comes to protecting consumers from bloggers but couldn’t manage to look into banks and savings and loan companies to keep them from mismanaging millions of dollars?

Makes me wonder about motives and priorities and such, ya know? 😕

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10 Comments

  1. We’re just a bunch of lawless reprobates who pull the wool over the eyes of the masses of bibliophiles who look to us for their ultimate guide. Like you said, they had no critical thinking skills to determine on their own if they are being “unduly influenced”.

    In-ter-es-ting

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  2. I can’t figure out how it’s ‘compensation.’ You can’t review a book you haven’t read. Therefore, they have to give you something. I suppose maybe if you read the book and returned it. *shrug* Plus, if it’s an ARC it’s not the final anyway.

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  3. This is certainly a thing going around right now.

    Yeah…

    …wait… does commenting on this blog mean I’m endorsing the message?!! [smile] But I’m with you: Consumers are more savvy than the FTC seems to be giving them credit for, and people seek out the information they want. That’s the whole point of this new social media: We can’t push stuff on people any more. They come to us!

    Granted, as I wrote yesterday: There is real trading going on (review for a copy of the book, or a couple of pennies) so I can see how the FTC would be interested. But it does feel a tad, well… overambitious [smile].

    ~Luke

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  4. Becky,
    This is really disturbing. Has this already been enacted?

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  5. […] Becky Miller speaks eloquently to the issue, as usual. […]

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  6. Yeah, Jason, when I first heard about this, I could hardly believe it was happening. I still don’t know how an agency like the FTC gets to pass laws.

    Becky

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  7. Kaci, I agree with you. Compensation? Taking into account the time it takes to read a book, then write and post a review, what does that boil down to … a dollar an hour? Why would an agency like the FTC care about such a thing, especially since they don’t care that paid journalists have been getting this added “compensation” for years. And one commenter to Edward Champion’s article asked if that meant we also had to declare the books as income. How ridiculous is this!

    And if we had to return the books, then we are actually losing money just so we can give away our writing.

    Well, I don’t think it’s that hard to write a disclosure, and I plan to do so in compliance to these silly “guides,” but I don’t like this intrusion of the government. They’ve been looking for ways to regulate the internet for some time, and now they’re finding ways. My guess is, that’s really what this is all about.

    Becky

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  8. Luke, you are so right. If a blogger does a poor job or lies or takes advantage of those who visit his site, nothing forces those consumers to go back to that blog. It’s self-regulating. Bloggers who want traffic and who actually do make money advertising on their blog understand that they still must provide attractive and helpful content or people will just stop coming.

    The FTC doesn’t need to protect these people from making the choice to visit blogs they find helpful and buying products because of what they learn there.

    But as you said in your post on the subject, what’s next? I suspect there’s a bigger target and this is just the baby step toward regulation, similar to the process I wrote about the other day regarding moral changes in society.

    Becky

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  9. Kim, the date I saw was December 1, 2009. I know some bloggers are urging people to contact their congressmen about this issue, and I suspect someone will find a way to get this in court. I’d like to see what the Supreme Court would say about treating bloggers one way and print reviewers another.

    Anyway, I plan to write up a standard disclosure statement, something like: Special thanks to [publisher] for supplying a review copy of [title].

    I’m tempted to add something about how the FTC assumes my review will be positive because I didn’t pay for the book, but that is against my personal policy and against the CSFF Blog Tour policy. I’ll see about that.

    Becky

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  10. Are we talking about a law or a regulation? Governments make laws. Bureaucracies make regulations.

    I saw some reports about this issue. It did not seem to have books in its sight. It was more about making visibile the plans of marketers to use the new social linkages online to insidiously infiltrate the readers pockets. Like when an old friend unexpectedly rings you up and wants to visit, “just to catch up”. The regulations would require them to say, oh by the way, I’ve become an Amway rep. Then the purpose of the visit is clear.

    I’ve read lots of articles which end with a short statement about the writing owning share in the company, or being provided with free travel to a destination, or similar. The world doesn’t come to an end.

    The world almost did come to and end when unregjulated financial hogs tried to get their snouts too deeply into the trough.

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