May 15, 2013

FTC Dot Com Guidelines



Some say this Guide was not made for book bloggers - this was made for Advertisers. Are book bloggers advertisers? I certainly feel like I am a review robot, so in a sense, I feel like I am marketing a book when I am participating in blog tours etc.

Here is an updated post I created as a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT in response to the talk of twitter land.


Back in March 2013 (where was I?) those pesky fellows at the FTC created a new PDF outlining the use of Social Media tactics and links etc for those of us who review. Basically, not only do we have to increase the font of our fine print for disclosures (as in those who have them at the bottom of their posts) this does not suffice the requirements for the FTC. And having a button somewhere on your site to your disclosure aka policy doesn't work either. You must be upfront (meaning at the top of your post) and state where you received the item from to distinguish if you were compensated for the post in any way (coupons, virtual points redeemable for something in the future, galleys, ARCs) and it must be "clear and conspicuous" before we get to "distracting" hyperlinks or gimmicks.

Most importantly, it wants that source to be stated BEFORE any links to "buy here" are able to be clicked. The FTC also specifically stated that NO SCROLLING should be required when a viewer is looking at your reviewed product, your readers must be able to see within that screen that you have received that item for free. They also went into affiliate marketing and how to handle those links *bangs head on desk*, but since I do not do that I didn't read too much about that quagmire.

Many book bloggers like myself already state fairly close to/underneath the book's image and information where the review book came from. So the true revelations in 2013 Guidelines aren't too bad - until you get to the way you tweet, facebook, Google Plus about the books you have read and reviewed. *bangs head on desk*

These social media posts/tweets which state anything positive in nature about an item you have received for free must also include in the beginning of that status update/tweet the 'Ad' or 'Sponsor' notation. That twitter follower of yours MUST understand before they click your link that you are marketing an item that you have been compensated for in some way, either via the ARC, galley, or perhaps an exclusive spot on a review list.*bangs head on desk*

As I discussed this on facebook, most bloggers were perturbed *as am I*, but then again most also felt that the FTC wouldn't target THEM in particular, we're the little guy, etc and so why should I care so much? It's not like the book bloggers are similar to the product review bloggers such as Mommy Bloggers, who seem to get free makeup, toys, strollers, kitchenware etc. Why go after book bloggers?

I care because these are Rules. There is a social etiquette being put in place, and as much as I despise the government getting in the way of our personal blogging, if one person feels compelled to follow the law, I feel others should, too. Those who break the rules get an unfair advantage, so to speak. That's my current opinion, and as a blogger I'm entitled to it. But then again, I wonder, is this FTC Dot Com Guideline thing an actual LAW? Yes, it states that it is, and that it covers virtually every sector in the economy. If we fail to follow the guidelines, the FTC will find ways to enforce it: "the Commission might bring an enforcement action alleging an unfair or deceptive practice in violation of the FTC Act".

But it also went into how this applies to endorsing a product... which means positive reviews.. so if it's a somewhat critical negative review, then I guess that means we can ignore all these little rules..
Which opens up a whole other can of worms into what star rating would officially mean somewhat not positive, bwahahaha!!
"Three stars is good!"
"No way, that's a low rating in my opinion!"
"That means it was just okay, so is that good or bad?
*bangs head on desk*"
"What about 3.5 stars?"
*bangs head on desk*

Ouch.

And what about the flurry of BEST OF 2013 posts we will see at the end of the year? Doesn't that IMPLY in itself a positive reaction to a book? And what if one of those books on the list was a review title? All our tweets and FB posts have to say "AD: Best of 2013 at BBR!"  or even snazzier: "Sponsored: Best of 2013 at BBR!" *bangs head on desk*

Another tricky question, for those sites who are virtual tour companies, blogging for books type campaigns or review sites such as HNS or even Kirkus Reviews etc.: Shouldn't those companies also be showing the word AD everywhere when they repeat a positive line from a review? Why is the FTC targeting the specific blogger, and not starting at the top and making the publicity companies comply first? Why does the little person have to be the one to do everything? But the Canadian bloggers were thrilled to not have to be subject to the FTC regulations. Canada is looking better and better every day! Je m'appelle Marie, et vous?

*gets ice pack and Excedrin.*

Edit to add: I was not compensated for this review of the Guidelines in any way. Do comments on my blog count as compensation?

Edit to add: I am not a lawyer and this is merely a raving lunatic editorial/opinion post .


Edit to Add: Again this is all interpretation. Would love a specific guide on what the FTC means to address towards book blogging. You can carry on as you will. =)


This post was created on 5/15/2013.
I am adding the following on 5/31/2013 for continuity's sake:
But truly, all of this discussion was done in snarky fun. The bottom line is we all need to have a sense of ethics, and agree that endorsing products and books regardless of what title you give to yourself, you need to state your source. That was the response I got from the FTC, and that was the talk of the BEA 2013 as well. Everything stated above is true, but the hypothetical situations were of course Over The Top Examples where I was using my intelligence to point out how some things can get a little out of hand and to the extreme. (Case in point, how this post went viral and those who don't know my snarky character created pandemonium on twitter before investigating the context of the post).

18 comments:

  1. I know, I know. It is one big headache and enough to stop some people from even reviewing. In part, that is why I have seriously shortened my reviews: so my FTC disclosure can be seen (in normal sized font) at the bottom of my post, like always. No scrolling. I never include links to somewhere that sells the book. Nuthin. Just the book, where it came from, and my rating. As for tweets....isn't that horrible?

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    1. I am *so sick of it*. Which is why I have been gravitating more and more towards older titles and talking about books on Goodreads instead of being a Review Robot.

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  2. WOW. Marie, thanks for trying to unpack this -- I just skimmed -- will return to read in more detail. Like you, I want to obey laws and be respectful of the expectations placed on me/blogging -- but oofta, what a bunch of rules!

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    1. You skimmed?!?!?! How could you?! just kidding of course.

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  3. Good grief! That is awful!

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    1. Yes Anne it is awful. Authors promoting authors are not exempt either, so you can feel the pain.

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  4. Okay, what about this? What if our review post does not include links to buy, say at Amazon, etc.? If we only link to the author's website, we are not linking directly to a "place" to purchase it. I think that's a loophole we might be able to use. Then, we can inform publishers/authors/tour companies that we can no longer place purchase links and if they have an issue, well, hasta la vista, baby!

    My head hurts too, Marie. I've been banging mine about this for days. Ugh!

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    1. That is still online marketing, advertising and sales that would be covered in the original 2000 Guidelines, these 2013 Guidelines cover the links that you tweet to your reviews etc.

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    2. "The 2000 guidance stated that to help ensure clear and conspicuous disclosures, advertisers should consider the disclosure’s placement and proximity to the relevant ad claim, its prominence, whether audio disclosures are loud enough to be heard, and whether visual disclosures appear for long enough to be noticed. Although the 2000 guidelines defined proximity as “near, and when possible, on the same screen,” and stated that advertisers should “draw attention to” disclosures, the new guidance says disclosures should be “as close as possible” to the relevant claim".. which is all about your claim that this book is good.

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  5. An addendum to what I said. I don't think pubs, etc. would have a problem because if the person is truly interested in the book, they will find out where they can buy it on their own.

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  6. Wow, this is totally news to me. I had no idea there'd been an update. I'll have to take a look through and see if I need to make any chances to my reviews.

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  7. This leads me to ask about netgalley. IS that compensation since the book goes poof? I don't think so since you are left with nothing except the so called priviledge of reading the book.

    I've adjusted how I disclose. I'm not worried about tweets as my tweets are only the headlines of my posts and they only list the title of the book. My facebook posts are only network blog uploads so I'm not worried there either.

    Idiotic - as if there aren't more important things for the gov't to be dealing with.

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    1. I agree with you, my AUTO tweets of my blog posts do not state whether or not the book was good or not. But if I am in the middle of a book, and I go on Goodreads and update my current reading progress to say "SQUEE THIS IS AWESOME!" in reference to a particular passage of a book, and that gets autotweeted.. and that is not an official review.. le sigh. My head still hurts.
      And I agree, NetGalley and Galleys/ARCs that I can do NOTHING WITH except burn them possibly.. how is that compensation. But I read somewhere that it is indeed considered compensation, since we have an added benefit of reading a book that others would not have had that benefit of.

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  8. Actually, if you read the guidelines (http://www.ftc.gov/os/2013/03/130312dotcomdisclosures.pdf) you will see that these new guidelines affect online advertising and marketers, not book bloggers, unless they are monetarily compensated for their endorsement/review/advertisement.

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    1. Yup as I said, this is all the same stuff as the 2000 Guidelines, and this just targets the social media links. They never TARGET us in the guidelines, and they have not excluded us either. We, as reviewers, same as the reviewer in their example on page A-25, are still targeting consumers. And as they say in the fine print, the FTC is targeting "all sectors".

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    2. And then you add affiliate links to that mix, which is a mess that I haven't stepped into, as many bloggers *do* directly use affiliate links to amazon etc.

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  9. There's a great video here:
    http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/did-you-hear-it-through-grapevine

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  10. Marie, thanks for blogging about this - I think I'm ok but I'll watch that end of the year favorites blog post. Gah!

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But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6