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.

14 thoughts on “

  1. Love the disclaimer. And what the FTC is saying… basically makes my head want to explode. I can’t even think about it – and *this* is what they’re spending their time doing? *Really?*

  2. I’m big on following the law. I don’t jaywalk. I’ve never been even had a speeding ticket before. Laws are the glue of society and I like them, but I don’t think I will be following this one.

    A lifetime ago, I was a First Amendment attorney, and while I have quite happily jettisoned most of that scholarship out of my brain–along with high school trigonometry and the Middle English I was forced to learn in order to understand Chaucer–I seem to have some fuzzy recollections about protected speech. The double standard applied to bloggers here cannot be justified by any compelling governmental interest, and ultimately begs for a rebellious response.

  3. All I can say is WoW! That is crazy, what will “they” come up with next. By the way I love the sarcastic sense of humor of this post! Thanks for sharing with us!

  4. I don’t think that the “gift” is going to pass muster. Did you read DRMAbuse’s interview with the FTC guy? Unless you give the book away, it’s considered compensation. Interview

  5. Excellent. Well said and ditto.

    The other part of this that is getting my goat is the idea that if you “return the book” it doesn’t count as compensation in some way. So, exactly how is that supposed to work with an e-book? Seriously?

    So, Courtney, I’d be happy to send you a copy of an e-book. But you have to promise to send it back. And no, I don’t care what you do with it in the meantime (what COULD you do with it?!).

  6. http://ow.ly/sNYX -Link to interview with FTC’s Richard Cleland

    This was my response to that:

    It strikes me that poor Cleland might secretly have his own book blog. Perhaps he’s jealous of those bloggers that receive books for review… otherwise none of this makes any sense. What is clear is that this is yet another government agency intent on looking busy by doing nothing.

    I really don’t get the reason for going after bloggers. Although new to the world of book blogging I have yet to come across bloggers that aren’t already upfront when reviewing books that were sent to them. I’ve even read (gasp!) some reviews that were less than glowing. So my plan is to write every detail of how any book I review came into my possession, from the work my husband or I did to earn the money to buy the book, the trip to the used book store, my new love affair with BookSwim since the local library has a generous bounty on my head, to books I find at vacation houses, etc. FTC shall know it all. I’ll send them every link to every review- maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll start to follow my blog!

  7. I am sure the “gift” doesn’t pass muster, but I’m also sure that I would be perfectly happy to serve as a test case.

    I’m sure they are not gifts in the sense that I deduct them on my taxes.

  8. I have only a couple of comments in regards to anyone who would do anything so ludicrous.

    One : At what point will they begin to try and burn the books they don’t agree with? It is the same concept, they don’t agree with what is being written so they wish to have say over what how something is presented. Is there anything else they want to tell me that is going on in my life today?

    Two : At what point did the FTC get to thinking they had control over what gifts were given, to whom and why. It is your work, it is a gift. If it’s not breaking any contract then they have no say and need to get their egos in check.

  9. Thanks for explaining the FTC thing succinctly…I, too, won’t be following it’s tenets. Oh, we should all “borrow” your disclaimer, or could that be construed as sponsorship??? 😛

  10. Don’t borrow my disclaimer. It doesn’t cover your ass. It’s rather more snarky than legal.

  11. Kate, I like how you think. 😉

    So far it looks to me like somebody is pissed that they didn’t get invited to the party–here’s all this action while traditional publishers and media outlets–many magacorporations among them–flounder. How dare consume–I mean people bypass the traditional avenues of commerce!

    Meanwhile I’m happy to read about all the talking and sharing we’re doing.

  12. Great blog, Courtney! It made me wonder… if a blogger won a book giveaway on an author’s blog and then mentioned it in an IMM feature (In My Mailbox) noting that they received it as a result of said contest, aren’t they fulfilling the disclaimer requirement? That happens as a matter of course all the time on YA book blogs.

    And what of authors who blurb other authors’ books? Will books now have a disclaimer on them as well?

    “MY FAVORITE BOOK was a terrific, fast-paced read. Susie Writer is one to watch!”
    ~ Bestselling author Justine Writes-a-Lot

    ** DISCLAIMER: Justine received a copy of MY FAVORITE BOOK from the publisher, We Make Great Books. Justine also sat next to Susie at a writing conference where Susie let her borrow her pen to write down the speaker’s witty quote. Justine forgot to give Susie the pen back though both Justine and Susie swear this was not a bribe in any way. Reader beware.

  13. Do you, I mean, they mean to tell me that I can no longer do what I have been doing these past eight or more years? Reviewing books? Sure, I don’t have my own blog or venture on Amazon but we, the average reader, rely on word of mouth that blogging provides to make our book buying decisions. That’s how we discover and take.a chance on new authors!

    Can I just say they need to mind their owmn business and concentrate their efforts in other areas. Stop wasting my taxpayer monies working out these brainless debacles of our First Amendment rights.

    GRrrrrrr!!!!

  14. Aren’t there bigger–nay AMAZON sized fish for the FTC to fry? Seriously? I am always clear about whether I got a book from Mother Talk, from the author herself, or just picked it up randomly. But what about blogging about free books from RWA? Books others brought back from RWA and passed on? Is that going to have be disclosed now too?

    Blogging about books is one of the best parts of the internet :) And book contests make me happy :) Clearly, the FTC is anti-happy.

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