07 October 2009

FTC blogger regulations...overkill?

The book blogging world tweeted like crazy Monday morning (at least in my neck of the Twitter woods) when the FTC announced new guidelines concerning endorsements and/or testimonials (I am unable to open the pdf so have to rely on repostings). It's still going strong. In a nutshell, bloggers will need to disclose their receipt of products, particlarly if "endorsements" or "compensation" is involved.

Shorter nutshell: the FTC made some "guidelines" for bloggers but they aren't specific to product.

Several book bloggers I follow put up spectacular posts in trying to unwind the Gordian knot of the FTC's guidelines. Edward Champion posted a short interview with Richard Cleland of the Bureau of Consumer Protection which demonstrated the FTC really hasn't thought this one through (best idea from the FTC: to avoid having to declare compensation, etc., one should return the book when you're done reviewing it, never mind that it was an ARC and you're not supposed to sell those anyway so book is worthless). The Boston Bibliophile has a guest post with Internet and media attorney Jeffrey Hermes to answer some FAQs about the FTC guidelines (NOTE: the post does not constitute legal advice; if you have a problem, hire an attorney). Chasing Ray has posted an email that's going out to any publishers she's worked with. The major problem with the FTC guidelines is that they group everything ever reviewed or advertised in the blogosphere as "product" - anything from books to bookshelves to appliances to drugs is "product" that falls into the new guidelines. As Hermes points out, the issue of false advertising is less an issue with book reviews than, say, claims that Hydroxycut makes your fat melt off in a week but "compensation" is a gray area. Hmmm.

All of the above leads me to the long-term problem: what do the FTC guidelines mean to me? I'm a little blogger; in fact, I've only ever accepted two unsolicited books. I don't request review copies, either, since I'm already drowning in books I own. My second job is as minion at a bookstore and my product links go to my company 99% of the time (I don't participate in the affiliate program because I'm too lazy to actually apply for it); being a minion, I also know that selling your ARC copies is a big, fat no-no. I am an unpaid moderator at our bookclub site and the admins send me review copies of my reading selections if (and only if) I haven't bought the books already. If you read my blog at all, you've probably figured out that I have all kinds of snark in me. Snark is not conduscive to being a review product whore so I would be a poor gamble if a company thought they'd get a good review just because the review item was provided to me gratis. If I don't like the book/movie/CD/whatever, you'll know.

So to me, the FTC guidelines = serious overkill; it's like using a grenade launcher on a gnat. The FTC needs a rethink and probably ought to look at the value of the items and/or risk of bodily harm when laying out guidelines. Remember: be specific.


  1. I just read the guidelines, and trust me it took a long time to do. I don't think I will change my behavior. I already post where I recieve a book form and it has never influenced my review. I think you are right this is way to broad and they need to tweek this crap quite a bit.

  2. this is a great post & a terrific roundup of the discussion online on the FTC guidelines. Thanks for linking to mine. Jeff said he was very impressed with your discussion as well. And I agree with you. There's an issue out there about some kinds of blogging, but we are small potatoes.

  3. Hey, thanks Marie! I very much appreciated Jeff's comments.