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?