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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some Ridiculousness from the FTC

I receive the occasional a multitude of emails every day offering me an ARC of almost any type of book under the sun. If I agree, implicit in the agreement is that I will post a review of said book on my blog, and pretty pretty please we hope it's a positive review.

While free books are a pretty nice perk, my time has become too limited lately for me to quickly read and review the books I receive. I don't know if I'll like the book I receive. At the moment, I just don't need any extra obligations to feel I must finish a book I don't like, and since I can't really make any guarantee I'll finish reading the free book someone sent me, it just seems greedy to accept.

I still do have some ARCs in my tbr stack. Under some planned changes by the FTC, if I finish reading Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb and post a rave review on my blog, but fail to mention that hey, it was a freebie, they can go after me for failure to disclose a conflict of interest and making false claims.

The problem, according to the AP article, is that consumers go to the web for independent reviews, and doggone it, they are being deceived by tainted reviews in which the blogger has been given freebies.
"If you walk into a department store, you know the (sales) clerk is a clerk," said Rich Cleland, assistant director in the FTC's division of advertising practices. "Online, if you think that somebody is providing you with independent advice and ... they have an economic motive for what they're saying, that's information a consumer should know."

I feel very, very sorry that there are people who go on the internet for product reviews and think that any old yahoo with a blog is a trustworthy source of information. So really, we are going to get our panties in a bundle because PromQueen78 wrote OMG I found the most amazing dress ever at this awesome website www.promdress.com and you find out later that promdress.com paid PromQueen78 to advertise their website? I mean, there are a lot of other things PromQueen78 probably failed to disclose on her blog, like the fact she's actually a 45-year old man living in his parent's basement, trying to make a living online so he can quit his fast food job. Or the fact he has an extremely embarassing acne problem. Should we go after him for making the false claim she/he is actually an unrepentent nerd and not a hot cheerleader, like her/his profile claims?

OMG, it is the INTERNET people! What do you expect? That people are going to tell you the truth all the time??

There is indeed a place and a time for product reviews, but savvy internet users already know that you don't go to one review of a product and take it as the gospel truth. Let's say I want to know if Old Man's War by John Scalzi is worth a read. I might start by just googling "old man's war review". I come up with several reviews on www.sfreviews.net, Amazon and goodreads.com. If I specifically use the Google Blog Search function, I immediately pull up at least five different reviews by bloggers. Between all of these reviews, I discover that the consensus is that Old Man's War is a great read, and I conclude that it would like be a book I would enjoy as well. I buy the book, I read it, I'm happy. Later I find out that one of the bloggers received a free copy of Old Man's War and failed to disclose it. So what? For all I know, her opinion was still completely genuine. Maybe it wasn't. Who cares? I liked the book either way.

What it really comes down to is personal responsibility. I'm sorry but if you took PromQueen78's advice and hated the dress you bought, it isn't PromQueen78's fault. It's your's for buying it. It's the height of ridiculousness that we should be blaming anonymous people on the internet for giving you bad advice.

I don't disagree in theory that bloggers should disclose that they've received freebies. It's something I should and now plan to start doing here. But the way the article frames the issue is just plain silly.

"As blogging rises in importance and sophistication, it has taken on characteristics of community journalism — but without consensus on the types of ethical practices typically found in traditional media.

Journalists who work for newspapers and broadcasters are held accountable by their employers, and they generally cannot receive payments from marketers and must return free products after they finish reviewing them.

The blogosphere is quite different."

No really. The blogosphere is different from newspapers? Okay, let's break it down. Newspapers are held accountable to different standards because it's expected that they will print higher quality news than what they ate for lunch and a picture of their cat. Blogs are around to provide people a chance to network with other people. Some blogs are high in quality. Some are not. There will NEVER be a standard for blogs. That would be like saying there should be a standard for websites. Sorry, there will always be websites that suck.

And so far, I've been avoiding the bigger ridiculousness in the whole equation. What I really really want to know is if anyone told the FTC how many blogs there are on the internet. Because at this moment in time, the U.S. Government can barely handle recalling tainted food products, that you know... actually kill people. And they want to start regulating 50 million plus blogs for failing to disclose freebies? Really?

8 comments:

Eva said...

I know! My first thought was beauty magazines...they don't mention that they're inundated with free products when they're recommending things. *rolls eyes* I think this is some kind of prank.

DesLily said...

excellent post! and all very true! While bloggers aren't professionals they do say it's just their personal opinion of a book they read..no one can do more. If I felt I HAD to give a good review because the book was free..that would be too dishonest to suit me... it will probably always be debated, but as another old saying goes: any mention is a good mention as long as it's mentioned at all !

Wendy said...

OMG - this is nuts! I agree - how can the government even dream of controlling the blog-o-sphere...don't we have more important things to think about?

Here is another point - newspapers pay their employees salaries. I don't know about you or the vast majority of book bloggers, but I don't make a dime for my time and effort to produce my blog (in fact, I pay a host for the option to even OWN my blog). Anyone who wants to take the time can figure out which books I got "free" for review by simply scanning my Mailbox Mondays. But to think that bloggers will now have to worry if they disclosed enough to avoid "punishment" is ridiculous. And there was something else in that article - the implication that journalists send back the books they review after reviewing them. Whaaaaaat???? I doubt that very much.

So here's a good question. If I get a "free" book and give it a negative review, how does that factor in? Do I have to disclose it was "free" if I didn't like it??

Geez...what's the world coming to!

TexasRed said...

Great post. I agree with you that the FTC regulating opinions on blog posts is fairly ridiculous (worrying, but ridiculous).

Trish said...

GREAT POST!! I have so many different thoughts and ideas about this that I'm not sure I can put them all into a coherent comment. I'll try. :)

The other day my dad was asking me why I don't try to capitalize on my blog. I told him quite frankly that the day I learn someone is getting paid to write a review on a book is the day I stop reading their blog. There is a BIG difference between receiving a $25 book in the mail and receiving a couple hundred dollars to write the review. We are not professional reviewers and I like it that way. If I want to seek out professional reviews, I could--but there is a difference between Joe Schmo reviewer and my friend Kim L whose opinion I've come to know and trust. And I hope that my readers have the same type of trust in me. Giving honest reviews has been beaten over the head, so I won't even go there.

In terms of disclosing where the book came from, I don't see the harm. I don't always do this, and I don't necessarily see the harm in that either. A tiny tiny fraction of my books are ARCs--and the one I JUST reviewed happened to be an ARC, but I don't remember how I got it. It just was on my doorstep last year (it’s possible I requested it from Shelf Awareness and just don’t remember). Honestly, I don’t even accept many ARCs anymore because 1. I don’t have the time and 2. They don’t generate a lot of interest on my blog for some reason. But I don’t begrudge those who do and I trust their opinions. And if I don’t, then I don’t read the review. Simple as that—why does it need to be more complicated. But if they’re getting $300 for the review, then it changes the game completely. And I’m not saying that a person can’t write an honest review for $$, but I guess it takes something away for me. Does that make sense?

Interesting about Amazon and the whole click thing. I’ve noticed bloggers are starting to go to this and I’ve thought about it myself. Some bloggers are even starting to sell advertising space on their blogs. At first this left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, but I was looking at cake blogs and sewing blogs over the past few weeks and many of them have advertising. What’s the difference.

I’m rambling—actually have this comment in a word document and it is almost as long as a normal post for me! But, seriously—great topic Kim. I had NO idea.

Trish said...

Um, didn't mean to sound ranty. :P

Aaron said...

Add me to the list of people who are both annoyed by this development and who are fans of your post. Yes, I agree that there should always be full disclosure, but I thought that caveat emptor was still rule number one for purchasing anything. It frustrates me when there are seemingly needless complications to enterprise.

Whatever. As long as they don't make it prohibitively difficult to follow the rules, everything should work out fine.

Kim L said...

eva- You know, I didn't even think of that, but you are so right. Beauty mags that are recommending expensive products get them as freebies, and no one bats an eye at that.

deslily-I agree. I wouldn't feel very honest if I gave dishonest reviews because I got a book for free.

wendy-teehee, I doubt that journalists send back their freebies. I VERY MUCH doubt that indeed.

TexasRed-Thanks :-)

Trish-Go ahead and be incoherent :-) And thanks for all of the thoughts. When I first started blogging, I thought free books were really cool, but there just seemed to be strings attached, so like you, I've pretty much switched back to just reading what I enjoy, to avoid the hassle. I completely agree that I want to trust the opinions of the person reviewing a book, and if they're being paid to review the books they review, my opinion of them will probably change.

aaron-caveat emptor-thank you! That is completely the word I was looking for. I think this just goes all back to the fact that the government should really reconsider any attempts to regulate the internet, because it is kind of pointless.