The FTC released guidelines today governing blogging about books. In those guidelines, it makes it clear that it wants bloggers to disclose to consumers their relationships with the horrible companies that give them books for review. As far as I can tell upon perusal of the FTC guidelines, those “horrible companies” include me, and “book bloggers” includes you. Yes, you, reading on this blog. Have you ever talked about books you got for free online? This applies to you.
Apparently, my giving you books could be construed as an act of “sponsorship,” and the FTC thus thinks it can regulate the resulting speech. The regulations it has promulgated are actually more stringent than those applied to print magazines and newspapers.
Let’s be honest. We’re talking social media here. Even if there was no giving of books, reviewers choose to review things because of the social context in which they encounter them. Jane has posted on Dear Author that she read a book on my recommendation (or on others, e.g., SB Sarah). She usually posts the context in which a book comes to her attention. Some bloggers include context; others don’t.
It’s also not a surprise that my acting like an idiot could have an effect on reviews. If I started writing regular rants on this blog saying, “Jane Litte is a poopy-head! Smart Bitch Sarah makes really lousy baklava!” bloggers would start thinking I was crazy, and would be less likely to read my books and review them. Especially true if they thought there were reviews were going to be negative, and they didn’t want to have to keep deleting comments from me that said, “Yah!!! You poopy head!”
Blogging is a social world, and the currency of the social world is trust. Not money. Not even free books. The truth of the matter is, if I can get people to trust me, they are overwhelmingly more likely to give me a try, free book or no.
This effect is so strong that it completely overwhelms the simple question of, did the blogger pay for the book? It’s certainly true in my case. I regularly blog about books I think people should read. And here’s a secret: I read all those books for free. But you would have to be dumber than dirt to read my posts and think, somehow, that Tessa Dare “sponsored” me. Confession: Tessa bought me dinner a couple of times. Other confession: I have bought her dinner, too, even though one time I had to douse her in ice water first to grab the check. To try to characterize our relationship as one of commercial sponsorship is beyond ludicrous. I couldn’t even attempt to disclose what Tessa has given me, or for that matter, what I have given her. It’s called “friendship,” not “sponsorship.”
I also read an early copy of Victoria Dahl’s ONE WEEK AS LOVERS. Vicky is also a friend. She is a friend in part because I followed her around meeping piteously at her talent for years until she took pity on me. That’s not commercial either.
I’ve given people copies of my debut anthology for a number of reasons. Because they’re my friends. Because they won them in giveaways. Because I hope they will like it. Because I think they have fantabulous taste in books and respect that. To relegate this relationship to one of “commerce” or “sponsorship” is to do violence to the heart of social media. FTC, it’s called “social” for a reason.
So I am not going to add disclaimers to any of my discussions of books, either on my blog or on the website. It would be clearly stupid to do so, and while I am generally not a fan of scoffing at the law, I think that if the FTC conducts its case by case analysis and concludes there is any sort of sponsorship going on in my case, it is insane.
But if anyone was wondering, from here on out, every copy of a book I send out will contain the following disclaimer:
THE FTC MADE ME DO THIS
Under new FTC guidelines, bloggers and authors can be held liable for making statements without disclosing the existence of a “sponsoring” relationship. The FTC seems to think that under some circumstances, my giving you a free copy of this book could constitute “sponsorship.”
So let’s just make things clear for the FTC: This book is a gift. I do not expect or care whether you do anything with it.
You can give this away to a friend. You can use it to prop up the short leg on your desk. If you would like, you can even do something radical with it, like read it. If you read it, you can choose to mention it to other people, or not. You can choose to review it, or not. You can review it as harshly or as positively as you like. If you review it harshly, or you review it positively, or you do not review it all and instead use it as a mass-market doorstop, it doesn’t matter to me.