For book bloggers and other readers who receive promotional galleys from publishers and discuss books via social media, the new FTC Guidelines for bloggers have raised as many questions as they’ve purported to answer. Publishers also say they are confused by the guidelines, which go into force on December 1, 2009.
Last Friday’s lively #followreader discussion on Twitter helped to clarify what publishers and independent book reviewers should do to comply with the new regulations, thanks in large measure to our guests: media lawyer Jeff Hermes, of the firm Hermes, Netburn, O’Connor and Spearing, P.C., and Marie Cloutier, who blogs about books at the Boston Bibliophile.
For the highlights of the #followreader discussion, read on.
But first, for the intrepid among you, here are the full FTC guidelines.
For more background on the FTC Guidelines and how bloggers must adapt to them, check out the detailed FAQ with Jeff Hermes at the BostonBibliophile.
Also, here’s how Richard Cleland, assistant director in the division of advertising practices at the FTC, responded to the concerns of major bloggers in Fast Company:
“To the extent that I have seen and heard, people are not objecting to the disclosure requirements but to the fear of penalty if they inadvertently make a mistake. That’s the thing I don’t think people need to be concerned about. There’s no monetary penalty, in terms of the first violation, even in the worst case. Our approach is going to be educational, particularly with bloggers. We’re focusing on the advertisers: What kind of education are you providing them, are you monitoring the bloggers and whether what they’re saying is true?”
#Followreader: FTC Guidelines for Book Bloggers
@HermesJP The Guides require disclosure of “material connections” between a blogger and publisher which might influence a review. #followreader
@HermesJP A “material connection” isn’t a relationship — it’s any perceived “compensation” arrangement. #followreader
@HermesJP The FTC is only concerned w/good reviews in the Guides. #followreader
@HermesJP If you disclose that you received a book for free, you’ve complied and you don’t need to return the book. #followreader
@bostonbibliophl I’m saying it on each review from now on. #followreader
@thebookjournal I added it in the sidebar of my blog. It appears on all pages. #followreader
@HermesJP The Guides are not clear if the disclosure has to be made on each review. #followreader
@mawbooks I imagine something would have to be added to the feed as well. So those on readers can see as well. #followreader
@mawbooks My plans: continue to tag posts “review copy,” link in footer feed & end of post (w/ cat & tags) a disclosure link. #followreader
@HermesJP Bottom line is that the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous” with respect to the reviews at issue. #followreader
@bostonbibliophl if it’s from another blogger there is no obligation to review. But author is same as pub for me. #followreader
@HermesJP Technically, you don’t need to disclose if you DIDN’T get it for free #followreader
@HermesJP If the review is bad, arguably no disclosure is required under the Guides. #followreader
@HermesJP The FTC is less concerned about professional reviewers having an undisclosed bias… and feel that it’s widely known that pro reviewers get free books, so no discl. would be req’d. #followreader
@charabbott Yes, book bloggers included in guidelines, but will FTC scrutiny fall on endorsements of more costly stuff? #followreader
@HermesJP Price does matter. The FTC won’t go after anyone for a single low ticket item… but the FTC will be concerned about a series of low-priced items going to bloggers. #followreader
@HermesJP The FTC would start with the manufacturer/publisher, and then work down to bloggers. #followreader
@Eugenia_Kim Does it begin on certain date, or do we need to back-disclose our relationships? #followreader
@HermesJP Excellent question w/ no clear answer. Generally, these sorts of regs are prospective — so going forward… The effective date is December 1, 2009. #followreader
@HermesJP The issue of how the FTC Guides apply to bloggers outside of the US is a very tricky one…jurisdiction issues. #followreader
@HermesJP ultimately, the FTC will need to put this into practice for there to be grater clarity. #followreader
#Followreader: FTC Guidelines For Social Media Users
@mawbooks: FTC says that reviews on social networks are included in the guidelines e.g. twitter. Seems impossible to police #followreader
@Eugenia_Kim On Twitter, opinions fly so freely. Bloggers could neutrally link to review which then has the disclosure, no? #followreader
@castironowl I’ve seen “compcopy” hashtag used as a shortcut FTC disclaimer on tweets. #followreader
@Eugenia_Kim I like #compcopy! What about #$copy for when we bought the book? #followreader
@charabbott Yes, but if it’s much shorter than #compcopy , will it be clear disclosure? #followreader
#Followreader: FTC Guidelines for Publishers
@HermesJP The publisher is responsible for communicating the obligation to disclose to the blogger; Guides don’t say how #followreader
@HermesJP I’d imagine you would include a statement in any cover letter sent to the blogger. #followreader
@Eugenia_Kim I think it’s smart to provide suggested disclosure lang. Some might not know about new regs. #followreader
@castironowl In that case, sounds like publishers shouldn’t send books to bloggers unless they know blogger posts FTC disclaimer. #followreader
@HermesJP If the FTC investigates, yes. #followreader
@HermesJP If the publisher tells the blogger to disclose, they’ve pretty much done their part. #followreader
@HermesJP HOWEVER, if the publisher uses the blogger comment in its own promo materials, then the pub must discl. as well. #followreader
@castironowl And still fit that within Amazon’s 20-word review quote limit? Eep! #followreader
@charabbott I have heard publicists at some major houses scoff at idea FTC would come after them. Should they worry? #followreader
@HermesJP Depends. The FTC is looking for egregious behavior. If a publisher is boosting books through reviews… on Amazon, using fake names, the FTC might investigate other promotional practices. #followreader
@NetGalley Are the rules the same for digital/electronic galleys? I assume it doesn’t matter what format the book is recieved? #followreader
@HermesJP That’s right. The Guides don’t suggest there’s a difference. #followreader
#Followreader: How will the FTC Guidelines affect readers?
@Eugenia_Kim I think as a reader of reviews, it won’t matter a bit if reviewers say up front they got book for free. #followreader
@Katiebabs FTC would have an Elliot Ness to root out those who didn’t disclose? Waste of tax payers money #followreader
@Eugenia_Kim I just want to say, I love book bloggers and appreciate their devotion and hours put into reviews. Just disclose and keep on. #followreader
Watch for our weekly #followreader discussions on Twitter, on Fridays from 4-5pm ET.