Thursday, October 08, 2009

The FTC Issue

Having just waded through the 81 page PDF of the Federal Trade Commission's ruling commentary, I clipped just the following sentence:

"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 (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed."

In my opinion, we were doing just fine before the FTC added its two-cents, but if the rules have changed, then I've got to make sure I'm compliant.

The issue is this. As a blogger, I sometimes review a book or a product. If I got the item free, I need to tell my readers so. Looking backward in time, this book review is the only one that I did from a free copy (an emailed advance reader copy). In the future, I'll find a way to mention that I got the book free somehow. Everything else I've reviewed were things I bought. I'm annoyed that I have to even do that much. If I let it slide, it would probably still be okay because of that parenthetical exception in the quote; (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience). Does anyone really expect that book reviews are done exclusively by reading paid-for books? Especially book reviews in advance of publication?

But I'm also on the other side of the fence. I write and sell books. Getting book reviews is absolutely crucial to letting people know that they exist. To get book reviews, I send out quite a few free books to reviewers. Now, all of a sudden, I'm on the hook with the federal government to make sure that those reviewers, if they should decide to write about my novels, disclose that they got a free copy.

I can't do anything about that for books I've already sent, but I suppose I'll have to come up with a boilerplate comment that says something like, "Don't forget to mention that you got the book free or the Feds'll come after you." Grump. Grump. I hate all the extra work the my government is handing me.

And now the point I'm still unsure about; the quotes. When I get a new review, I typically read through it, looking for a quotable sentence or two, some magic words that will instantly cause potential readers to plop down their nickels and buy my book instantly. I take those quotes and use them on the back of the book, in advertising flyers, and in my catalogs. Does the FTC rules now demand that I go back through all past and future quotes, and find out which ones came from free reviewer copies and which didn't and stamp some ugly disclosure text on them? Does it mean that every book publisher in America has to do the same?


Benjie said...

So, Henry, I'm in the midst of catching up on reviews -- one of which is for Golden Girl. Does this mean that I have to caveat every ARC that I receive from anywhere? I review everything that I read, whether it's been sent to me free by the publisher, or I picked it up at a book fair or even paid retail price (which I try to not do very often).

My policy is to review only what I have read (it's a rare occasion that I review something I couldn't make it through), give my honest opinion of the book (good, bad, or otherwise) regardless of the source of the book.

I haven't started being paid for any of my reviews--unless the feds want to count the generous copies of writers and publishers that make my bookshelves groan.

Does it mean that my opinion is tainted because I received my reading copy gratis?

Henry Melton said...

Benjie, it's still pretty new, but from what I hear, I think you could probably be safe by putting a sentence or so in your profile stating that some of your reviews are from free books. But I'm no expert. I suspect that within a year or so, there will be some kind of standard verbage that most book bloggers will use. Some bloggers are setting up a policy page which contains the words you just left in your comment, which you can link to every time you feel the need for a disclaimer.

But as it stands, yes, getting a free book is something the FTC mentions as something that needs a disclaimer, as ridiculous as that might sound.

Of course, the FTC will be going after high profile targets like big organized companies that sign up groups of reviewers to get a stream of books by publishers. So don't get too famous!

Benjie said...

Not too much chance of that happening -- I'm no Cliff.