If you review books or other products on your blog…

…you might want to read this interview with Richard Cleland of the Federal Trade Commission,  which is  revising its guidelines concerning bloggers who do product reviews.

I can understand the need to disclose to readers that a post is a paid post or that a book or product being reviewed has been received for free in exchange for a review. But Cleland is mistaken that “there’s an expectation that you’re going to write a positive review.” Well, there may be that expectation on the part of the company sending out products for review, but most reviewers I’ve read don’t hesitate to say when they don’t like an item. But I can understand that some might provide a positive review in exchange for compensation, and the FTC wants to disclose that relationship.

This, however, seems overkill to me:

In the case of books, Cleland saw no problem with a blogger receiving a book, provided there wasn’t a linked advertisement to buy the book and that the blogger did not keep the book after he had finished reviewing it. Keeping the book would, from Cleland’s standpoint, count as “compensation” and require a disclosure.

A link back to a site where the product can be bought seems to me to just save a step in the process for the reader. And if every book reviewer had to send back the books they read, that just seems unnecessarily burdensome. Most books I’ve reviewed average about $12 or so — that seems like awfully small potatoes for the FTC to be worried about. I do know book reviewers who then give away the books they’ve received in connection with their review. I wonder if that is acceptable?

For the record, I mainly review books here that I have purchased just because I enjoy them and want to share them with others who might enjoy them. There have been just a handful that I’ve reviewed after receiving a request to do so and a free copy of the book, and I am pretty sure I have disclosed that in all of the reviews. So far I have turned down requests for reviews of books whose authors I am unfamiliar with.

You can find a good explanation of the FTC’s guidelines at Blogging Basics 101.

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11 thoughts on “If you review books or other products on your blog…

    • At first I thought that was their motivation, too, but the more I thought about it the more I realized they do want to protect the reader/consumer from glowing endorsements that someone gave just because they got paid to do so that aren’t based on reality, that will then influence the consumer towards a product just because one of their favorite bloggers liked it. I just hope they find a sane way to do so.

  1. Sort of freaks me out a tiny bit. I’ve only done one requested book review…and it was “suggested” to pass the book on…but it just seems like they are trying to CONTROL everyone and everything. Tastes like socialism…like many things these days! Ugh!

  2. Another damn way the government sticks there nose into everything. Next are they gonna want to make sure we aren’t giving opinions to our kids about right and wrong? pffft. Yes I do understand they are looking to protect the consumer but isn’t the consumer suppose to do some research themselves and be able to make an intelligent decision. If you review a book, regardless if you are paid or not, I take that as your opinion. Just like a movie critic. It’s your opinion. Be it a scathing review or a wonderful review…it’s just that your review and opinion. It is up to me to decide what I want to do after that.

  3. I agree with your assessment. I think full disclosure is a fair expectation from a blogger who reviews a book at the request of a publisher, but returning the book? Eesh.

    I’ve only reviewed one book at a publisher’s request. I think I was flattered to be asked to review it, but it wasn’t very good. I turn down all such requests now (though I’m by no means overwhelmed with them!). Reading is my “freedom activity” at this stage of life, and I don’t want anything to interfere with being able to choose my own material.

    (Boy, that sounds so selfish. But it’s true.)

  4. As someone who blogs for money AND receives free books in exchange for reviews — the issue is transparency. Do not try to trick your readers into thinking your opinion hasn’t been paid for. That said, I will not accept a job that tells me I HAVE to give a positive review.

    I give my honest opinion on everything I review — even if it isn’t positive, BUT I still make certain my readers know I received compensation. For my own integrity, I do not want to give false impressions.

    Btw, I have given 3 reviews that were not positive. I was compensated just the same.

  5. I don’t review books for several reasons. 1) It takes me far too long to read them! 2) I never could write a decent book report when I was in school and I still can’t! 3) I don’t WANT to! LOL!

    But I have to agree with you that the cost of the book is pittance, and fair that you get to KEEP it for GIVING your time to read it AND write a review! And it most definitely should not COST the reviewer even the price of postage to review something for someone! The FTC’s gone mad again!

  6. Thanks for this post, Barbara. Occasionally, I do review books for authors, but most of the ones I did review were books I bought. I’m not sure if what FTC has in mind is applicable to my geographic location.

  7. Hi Barbara, there’s an update regarding this from what I read at Publishers Weekly.

    Sue Corbett wrote on 19th October:

    The Federal Trade Commission, which set the blogging world aflame two weeks ago with new guidelines governing truth-in-cyberspace advertising, “never intended to patrol the blogosphere,” said Mary Engle, an FTC lawyer who addressed KidlitCon 09, a conference of kids’ book bloggers held last weekend in Alexandria, Va. “We couldn’t do it if we wanted to and we don’t want to.”

    Read more here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6702752.html?nid=3336

    Just thought I’d highlight this to you. 🙂

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