Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bloggers and the FTC....A Good Thing??

Just when all the controversy over blogging seemed to die down, it looks like it's under fire...again. This article hit the AP wire on the 21st. The gist of it is that the FTC is going to be setting up guidelines regarding blogging and any compensation that said blogger receives. Now, I don't know who these bloggers are that are getting free trips to Europe and $500 gift cards, but I can see how a review could be "swayed" for something like that.

"The guidelines also would bring uniformity to a community that has shunned that.

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.

"Rules are set by the individuals who create the blog," said Lee
Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "Some people will accept payments and free gifts, and some people won't. There's no established norm yet."Bloggers complain that with FTC oversight, they'd be too worried about innocent posts getting them
in trouble, and they say they might simply quit or post less frequently. "
As to book bloggers, I'm not really sure what the effect will be. I don't really feel like getting a free copy of a book is compensation....but I know others that feel differently on the subject. I personally don't do any Amazon affiliate links on my blog, so I'm not worried about that at all. But some people view those links as "selling" a product. And that right there is the whole thing in a nutshell - Are bloggers "sales people" that are selling products, or are they reviewers that are giving unbiased opinions?? Should this be a concern in the book blogging world or not??

I hate the idea of having any oversight on my blog. In no way, shape or form did I start my blog to sell a product. I don't think I've ever had that goal in mind. Even when I'm writing a review for a stellar book. My hope is that a good review will make people want to go out and read that book. Because I love books, I want everyone to have the same enjoyment that I have. Would I quit blogging if I had someone looking over my shoulder when I post a review? I can't answer that question. But I do know it would be a consideration. This is fun for me. And that would NOT be fun.

But the funny thing is, I can actually see both sides of this subject. When I read a review on anything, all I expect are honest opinions. And if someone is getting compensated for writing that review, then I feel it is tainted. If I knew someone got a trip to Europe for reviewing a product, that opinion would be no more than an ad to buy said product. But again, should this be a concern in our little book blogging world? I don't think so.

I'm curious to see how this whole thing shakes out, and especially if it will affect me in any way. Do you, dear readers, have an opinion on the subject at all?? Have you heard of this before??

(This wasn't exactly what I had planned on posting today, but I thought it was pretty relevant. Will be back tomorrow with a review on Magyk: Septimus Heap Book 1 by Angie Sage!)


Shelley/Book Fanatic said...

Well I started blogging because I love reading and wanted to meet other readers and find good books. I love reading reviews, it has helped me find books that I may not have heard of. I don't consider it selling at all. It's just a way for the book community to unite!

Michelle said...

Stephanie, I guess I'm of two minds here. I have always viewed a blogger's opinion on a product as a fun way to get an honest opinion without advertising or the company's influence. However, for those who do receive some form of compensation, to me it becomes no less than a form of paid advertising. Just like in the accounting world, once money or free products start changing hands, then all independent views are justifiably tainted. HOWEVER, because I work closely with our marketing department, word-of-mouth advertising, which is what the blogging world is all about, is a low-cost method of disseminating publicity about a new product quickly and efficiently. Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg's - they all offer some forum where people can sign up and receive free products with the intention that they will then share their opinions (and bonus coupons) with friends and family. It's been growing in popularity over the years and is really exploding with Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. (Sound familiar? This was my master's thesis.)

However, I view book bloggers to be completely different. I do not feel obliged to skew a review positively just because I received a free copy. I started my blog to share my view on books - nothing more, nothing less. Through the books I've received, the reviews from others that I've read, I have been exposed to so many different genres, authors, and books I would have never picked up. For me, blogging tied my love of the Internet with my love of reading, gave me purpose in my reading. It, to me, is world's apart from testing a product or sharing an opinion of a product. However, some can and will view us the same as someone receiving the latest Jell-O product because we do receive items from publishers and marketing companies with the expectation that we will share our findings and entice others to read the book. Deep down, there isn't much difference.

Do I think the FTC should get involved? Does the FTC get involved in Kraft when they do consumer paneling of new products to get real consumer feedback? To me, there is the fine line. If what we do is no different from other companies' forms of advertising, then we should be held to the same standards. Bloggers are not paid advertisers; we are providing cheap word-of-mouth advertising. All word-of-mouth advertisers should be treated the same, whether we are online on blogs or in stores. That's the key issue for me.

Renay said...

I thought there was a good discussion about this at Chasing Ray, with some links to other sources and commentary.

Anonymous said...

I just recently joined the Amazon affiliate program after 3 years of blogging because I see nothing wrong with it. That doesn't translate to giving every book 5 star reviews. I link to amazon even if the book has one star. And I always linked to Amazon even before I joined the program. I don't mind mentioning I got a book for free, it doesn't really matter or change our opinions of the said book. All of us pride ourselves on our honest reviews and if we don't have that, we have nothing.

An ARC is not a compensation. I've sometimes got pages that are not even bound properly as an ARC, that too without a cover.

Debi said...

This is the first I heard about this. Pretty interesting stuff. It certainly wouldn't affect me, as I don't even accept review copies anymore (I couldn't stand the feeling of yet more "obligations" added to the to-do list) let alone anything else. Are there book bloggers out there that do get compensated beyond a free book? I know we're pretty much of the same mind, Stephanie, when it comes to blogging...it's simply for ourselves, it's about friends, it's about sharing our love of books. Anyway, interesting stuff.

Tif said...

Very interesting topic! I started my blog simply to keep track of the books that I read and discovered the book blogging community much later. I have just recently started receiving ARC's, but I limit myself so I do not become overwhelmed and I can still devote my time to my already huge stack of TBR's. I really haven't thought of them as compensation since I give honest reviews, whether I liked the book or not (or if it was just alright), so this one really makes me think!

By the way, I also wanted to let you know that I have passed on an award to you! Here's the link to the post on my blog: http://tiftalksbooks.blogspot.com/2009/06/lemonade-award.html

Nicola said...

This is the first I've heard of this but I can't see how it will affect me at all. Of course it would be great to be paid for what I do but I've thought about it before and decided that if I ever was offered to do this for pay I would decline. This is my hobby. I would stop having fun if it became a job. Then I would start to hate reading and I wouldn't have a hobby anymore!

I receive ARCS, plenty of them, and I have amazon links, always have, (getting close to actually receiving my first check from them). See how rich that's making me. $100 every 2 years. WOW! Neither the amazon compensation (snicker) or the free books (which I consider compensation because I am too poor to afford new books otherwise) skew my opinions in my reviews.

The only difference in my reviews is that I am nicer to a first time author when saying I didn't like their book than I would be to a NYT Best Selling author whose book I didn't like. I feel the latter can take a trashing better than the former who deserves to be trashed gently. LOL Seriously though, I never trash a book, just give an honest opinion.

samantha.1020 said...

Interesting topic! I quit accepting review books just because I hated reading them when I didn't feel like it. I'm a mood reader and am better off using my own TBR stacks and the library for my reading selections. I did get an offer for a $5 gift certificate to Amazon one time after reviewing a book but I declined as it made me feel icky. But that is just me :)

Joanne said...

Honestly I pretty much ignore all talk about this subject. I think it would take major work and money to fully investigate, change and monitor what/how people can blog about. And in my opinion the stuff being reviewed on some "mom blogs" is quite different than what book blogs review. So if the FTC did get involved I think they would set their sights on those blogs that promote more expensive consumer goods, rather than the book blogs.

Trish said...

It is a really interesting topic. My dad and I were talking about my blog the other day and he was trying to convince me to find ways to capitalize on my blog. I told him that the day I learn one of my fellow bloggers is reviewing for money, that's the day I stop reading their blog. It does taint it a little bit, even if they are being honest? I don't know--there's a reason why I come to YOU guys for my book recommendations rather than professional reviewers. I know your taste and opinions and that means everything to me. I think it would cause a type of rift if some bloggers started getting paid for reviewing. And if they do? It's probably better I just don't know. :P

Ahhh, I don't know. I'm not sure the FTC is really going to crack down on us (at least us little guys--and no, getting a $25 book for free isn't the same thing as $$$ or a cruise!)