Yesterday the Federal Trade Commission issued its guidelines for celebrity endorsements, bloggers, and advertisements. The guidelines are designed to protect consumers by making it clear when an endorser has received a free product in exchange for an endorsement. But we, and many book review bloggers, believe these guidelines will have a chilling effect on the online book reviewing community. The threat of fines may just cause some bloggers to stop accepting books from publishers. For some astute commentary on the rules, check out Ron Hogan (who writes the literary blog Beatrice) over at GalleyCat. And read our letter after the jump, and consider writing your own if you feel strongly about this.
Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20580
October 7, 2009
Dear Richard Cleland,
I am writing in regard to the new rules governing online endorsements, advertisements and testimonials. I believe these new rules, though well-meaning, are misguided, confusing, and unfairly distinguish between online and print media.
I am a publicist for Duke University Press. We publish about 120 books per year and rely on various forms of media to help us get the word out about our books. For each book we publish, we devise a review list, which is a list of media to whom we send free copies of the book with the hope that book reviews might result. We have done this for decades. We send books to academic journals, newspapers, magazines, prominent individuals, and, in the past five years or so, bloggers and online columnists. We send these books with the hope of a positive review, but with no agreement or contract with the recipient. They are free to give the book a negative review, or to toss it in the trash. It’s just a way to get the books into the hands of people who might write about them.
When the New York Times reviews a book, they are not expected to issue a disclaimer that the publisher gave them the book for free. When an author appears on The Today Show, the hosts do not first have to announce that the producers were given the books for free. When a review runs in a scholarly journal, there is no disclaimer sentence at the beginning of the review saying that the book came free from the publishers. Why, then, should a blogger have to put this disclaimer into his or her review? What is different about their review? Most print media now put their content online, so the difference is even more blurred. And asking people to put a disclaimer in their Twitter posts is completely ridiculous. They are only 140 characters long!
I believe most people understand that magazines and newspapers would not be able to review products if they didn’t get them from the manufacturers. It would simply be too time-consuming and expensive to try to go out and find all the new products. Bloggers are journalists, and they work long hours for low or no pay.
As more and more newspapers and magazines close, companies are looking for new places to get the word out about their products, be it books or cosmetics, toys or appliances. Many of us have turned to new media to get review attention. We consider the writers for this new media to be journalists or columnists, just like those at old-fashioned print publications. The threat of huge fines might make many of them stop accepting books from publishers. I hope the FTC will reconsider these new rules that will make it harder for consumers to learn about new products from online reviewers that they trust.
Duke University Press