Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Take on the FTC New Guidelines -- c.anne.gardner

After reading the 81 page PDF, here are my thoughts on the new FTC Guidelines regarding "endorsements."

Most of the document doesn’t apply to us as far as our “product” focus goes. I am talking book bloggers and reviewers. Actually, the consumer protection part of it is definately warranted, specifically when it comes to food products, medical products, things of that nature etc. But because the guidelines have to be broad so they are not 10 thousand pages of exceptions, all consumer products must be included. And so they decided that the guidelines shouldn’t focus on products they should actually focus on “endorsements.”

There is a dilineation made between traditional media and “new” media: that being the independent editorial function traditional media has always had. It’s method of obtaining products and disseminating them for review for some reason isn’t called into question.

For the purposes of book reviews, which as far as consumer products go, pose no health or safety risk other than ratings and the contextual risk to say minors or something, the book reviewer would be considered the "endorser" and the publisher, or self-published author, would be considered the “advertiser.” According to example 7, a disclosure of a free book would be unnecessary as the endorsers relationship to the advertiser is inherently obvious. Other forms of payment between Advertiser and Endorser would need to be disclosed, like review fees, because authors paying for reviews directly to book reviewers is not the traditionally and inherently known model and does affect perception and credibility.

The gist of the whole thing is: Endorsements (Book reviews in this case) must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences of the endorser (the reviewer). Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if directly made by the advertiser (self-published author in our case). The only time I can see this being an issue is if the book review is glowing and the author paid for it. Or if the author would be reluctant to admit publically that the review was paid for.

As far as material connections disclosure: When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is notreasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.

I did find a nice little bit in there that does protect the Endorser should the advertiser take excerpts from the endorsement and use them out of context in a misleading way to increase sales. Someone is thinking of us a little bit anyway.

So, what I am getting from all of this is not really as miserable as it seems, at least not for book reviewers.

255.1 General considerations.(a) Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of theendorser. Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representationthat would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser. [See §§ 255.2(a) and (b) regardingsubstantiation of representations conveyed by consumer endorsements.

§ 255.5 Disclosure of material connections.When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product thatmight materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is notreasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.

In reality, for us, this really isn’t that big a deal or even a deal at all. Nothing a policy disclosure posted on your site won’t immediately fix. If Sony calls you up and offers your reviewers free e-readers to get you reviewing more e-books, just disclose it. No biggie.

For what we do -- book reviews -- this is really just nuisance, but for products that could cause harm or even kill people, I would want to know if the product reviewer received compensation in some way for the review, especially if it was a good review. Wouldn’t you?

Emily recently posted our disclosure at the bottom of the the site here for reference. I don’t think we need to worry about any more than that. But I ain’t giving legal advice here. Just giving my interpretation of what I read. If I, personally, accept a free ARC and keep it, I'll let you know it in the review copy. Simple as that.

Fellow Bloggers. Should anyone want to skim through my highlighted copy of the FTC document, leave a comment with your email address and I will send it along.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

3 comments:

Emily Veinglory: said...

Thanks for doing the heavy reading for us :)

Mrs Giggles said...

Nice article. A nice change from the sky-is-falling type of articles out there.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Your welcome Emily and Mrsgiggles. I am sure for some bloggers the implications will be far far greater, especially if their reviews are biased based on their compensation. But for us, and most book bloggers. Meh.

The big brother over the shoulder thing always gets people in a stir, but in this case, the FTC is really just trying to protect the consumer, and us too.

Of course on a final note, this just reaffirms our opinion here about "paid" reviews. People don't find paid reviews credible, particularly the glowing ones.