Breaking News – FTC Ruling Affects Bloggers

5 10 2009

OK, have to break a rule here: I don’t typically regurgitate a news item here that originates elsewhere on the web – I just provide a link.  But this is pretty big news for us Civil War bloggers, many of who review books regularly.

FTC: Bloggers must disclose payments for reviews

PHILADELPHIA — The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short Monday of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

See here.

Up until recently, most of my reviews have concerned books that I’ve purchased.  Lately I’ve been receiving more unsolicited, free books for review.  I’m not sure that I’ve been clear when those are reviews of books I’ve received in this manner.  When I say I received a book for review, that means I didn’t buy it.  But I guess I need to come up with some sort of stock comment that states the case more clearly – I don’t want a “free” book to end up costing me $11,000.

See NYT article here.

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17 responses

5 10 2009
Rea Andrew Redd

Harry, Thanks for the update. I too have a stack of review copies. It should be simple to boilerplate: Review copy provided by publisher or author. There are review copies sent by authors to whom I reply “not my cup of tea.”

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Rea,

I typically receive an email first asking if I’m interested. I tell the sender – usually the publisher – that I’ll take a look at the book, and worst case will give an informational review, kind of like my Six-Pack reveiws but without the rating system. At this point, what with my family and my jobk and my paid review work and the maintenance of this site, I can’t commit to reading the whole thing. I know that some folks have been reluctant to include me on their review mailing list because I tend not to gush and say “you’ve got to buy this book.” As you know, there is far more crap out there than good stuff. I even had one author chide me for stating in the review that I received a free copy of the book.

A template is what I’m thinking of too – something to show prominently at the bottom of the post.

5 10 2009
cenantua

In my opinion, this reflects an ever-pressing effort by the powers that be (no matter the party… Dem, Rep, etc) to reach into the Web and get money for the government. It’s a real pincher on the “realized freedom” that we know and enjoy in the Web. The slightest squeeze, and we will definately feel it. Some people want to talk about their freedoms being restricted, but I think we have an incredible amount of freedom in the Web that really bugs some other people, especially those that see so many things on the Web as cash-cows waiting to be tapped. I’m not surprised that they stopped short of explaining how they want to bloggers to reveal their “gift inventory” (which for most of us is actually non-existent).

Robert

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

I’m wit you, Robert. Imagine how much we could accomplish on the web if folks weren’t so intent on being compensated.

I’m guessing I’ve received about a dozen books for review since the site started nearly three years ago. But most of those have been in the last year.

Can taxing these “gifts” be far off?

5 10 2009
Jim Beeghley

Couldn’t the same be said for college professors? I frequently get copies of books for review for the classes I teach.

Jim

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

A whole ‘nother can of worms, Jim. It appears to me that this ruling would apply to book blurbs as well. Will we be seeing how much McPherson was paid for each of his 200 annual blurbs on the back of each book?

5 10 2009
cenantua

You know, when I think about this a little more, it wouldn’t surprise me that, whether we get freebies or not, somebody will suggest that bloggers should be required to “file” something with the IRS. They’ve already done something like that across the board to non-profits, no matter the size.

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

If that becomes the case, Robert, I think my reviewing days on the blog will be over.

5 10 2009
Craig Swain

I sort of new something like this was in the works. Last month I turned down a vendor looking to have their product reviewed on my blog. Honestly, I don’t care how many 12-pdr Napoleon reproductions that “The Antique Cannon Foundry” gives me, it is just not worth the paperwork involved.

;-)

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?

5 10 2009
Drew

I saw that, too. The wording is very vague, but I would guess that the actual product reviewed is not the issue at hand ( I would hope that it’s a given by definition of the reviewing process that any item being reviewed in a given medium isn’t paid for by the reviewer ). I think the issue is any additional cash, gifts, junkets, etc. on top of the item itself. Of course, the govt. has done dumber things.

5 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Drew,

If that’s the case, I don’t have anything to worry about. I wonder about blurbs, though. I’ve only written one, and it was uncompensated. But I’m sure these big shots whose blurbs are ubiquitous are a different story.

6 10 2009
Jim Miller

Harry,

I posted a review of Russel Beatie’s 1st volume of the Army of the Potomac series about two years ago, and shortly aftwards was contacted by the distributer, who sent me several other books to review. I stumbled into this quite by accident, not knowing, and never dreaming that I would have a stream of complimentary books in my mail box.

Shortly after that, I posted my review policy on the blog (you may read it here: http://civilwarnotebook.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-review-policy.html

I don’t know if this is enough to cover me or not, but it’s there. But I also review books that I have purchased and own. But I do not distinguish in my reviews which books were sent to me as complimentary copies.

I first heard this story while listening to NPR driving home from work last night. According to that story, they are not planning on pursuing bloggers (and how can they possibly). I am getting the feeling that they will not investigate unless there is a specific complaint against a blog thus requiring them to investigate… and I’m thinking of the housewives who have blogs who review and post about thousands of items on their blogs, and who not only get the items for free but a handsome cash reward as well. At this time I think the U.S. Government has bigger fish to fry than to try to police bloggers.

6 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Jim, I’ll check out your disclaimer.

I think it’s all part of the stimulus plan – employ about a million people to police blogs.

6 10 2009
Mannie Gentile

Harry,
One of my early posts was directed to publishers explaining why I don’t wish to review their books. Though I make it pretty clear that my blog is in no way connected with the NPS, I still want to steer clear of any ethics questions. As a result I seldom get requests from publishers anymore.

My toy soldier blog however; couldn’t just one manufacturer send me some free stuff from time to time?, for crying out loud!

sniff,

Mannie

6 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Still mad at you.

7 10 2009
Review Policy « Bull Runnings

[...] 7 10 2009 In light of the recent FTC ruling concerning requirements for product reviews, I’ve posted a Review Policy.  I realize that [...]

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