Tuesday, October 06, 2009

FTC To Go After Blogger Freebies

I originally posted this back in July and thought we should revisit it today since the FTC has finally outlined its blogger compensation guidelines and the fines involved. See updated to add for new information at the bottom of this post.

From Cnet News
June 22, 2009
By Caroline McCarthy

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to crack down on bloggers who review or promote products while earning freebies or payments, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
This would, for the first time, bring bloggers under FTC guidelines that ban deceptive or unfair business practices.

"New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers--as well as the companies that compensate them--for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest," the article explained.

The rules could be quite strict, even extending to the practice of affiliate links--for example, a music blogger who links to a song on Amazon MP3 or iTunes that earns an affiliate commission in the process.

The practice of free products for bloggers, most of whom are not bound by ethical guidelines that journalists have historically followed, has been making headlines for some time now. Read the Full Article Here.


Now, since Book reviewers are essentially critics, I am not sure how all of this is going to hold water, since we don't actually endorse the products we review: we merely state our critical opinion. However, free books is free books. So I am not sure how fine a line will be drawn or how pointy the stick will be. Updated to add: Here is your fine line via a choice excerpt: "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."

As far as the Podpeople go, well, we tend to be fair minded and report negatively as well as positively on the self-publishing industry and the companies within that industry that we come across. Facts are Facts, and if it's our opinion, we make sure we state it. We might link to a book we review, but these are by no means "affiliate links" in that we don't profit from advertising on our site nor do we endorse or profit from the links we provide. Linking to our own author sites is acceptable, since we, as authors, have to report revenue from that anyway. Again, we have always taken a strictly professional editorial approach here. As far as books being reviewed, most often we accept PDFs or eBooks, which are provided to us at no cost to the author. We like it that way. Indie authors are generally poor, so why make them pay, and in many cases, we actually buy copies of the books -- Emily does this quite a bit, as do I. When we are sent ARCs, those ARCs are reviewed without bias and are offered as a giveaway during the month or donated to libraries and charities.

So, what does all this mean. Well, it means that the FTC has taken notice of bloggers, and that the issues of conflict of interest, journalistic integrity, and ethics are being called into question. So how can bloggers avoid being on the receiving end of an FTC enema? I got one answer for you: Full Disclosure. If you are making money, it better be on your books and fully disclosed to your readers. Not to mention the IRS.

Smart Blogging 101: Quote the Facts; Attribute, Attribute, Attribute; Clearly delineate your opinion from the facts; and disclose, disclose, disclose.

We can have a discussion about Libel and Defamation laws another day, or you an pop on over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and review their Bloggers' Legal Guide. Consider making a donation while you are there.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

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