Book Blogs and the FTC

I was sitting here wondering what words of wisdom to dispense or, more probably, what subject to blather on about, when out of nowhere appeared inspiration: book blogs. Well, it wasn’t out of nowhere — I found a discussion of the new FTC ruling on a Yahoo thread. Apparently, many book bloggers are talking about having to give up reviewing books for fear of incurring the wrath of the FTC along with a fine of  up to$11,000.

The new rulings say that bloggers endorsing a product, such as writing a favorable book review, must disclose their connection with the publisher, author or whoever gave them the book to review, since the book qualifies as compensation (unless they return the book). This interested me primarily because I’ve been searching the net looking for review sites for Daughter Am I, otherwise it might have slipped past me as does most government shenanigans.

Today I received yet another notice from a reviewer saying that he couldn’t/wouldn’t commit to review my book. I console myself with the thought that at least I tried — I really hadn’t planned on going the book blogger/book reviewer route since I received favorable reviews for my first novels from people who bought the books and didn’t expect to get them free. Still, I thought it worthwhile to at least try getting reviews from book bloggers — I want to give Daughter Am I every chance of succeeding — and, in the process, I reviewed hundreds of book blogs. Apparently some reviewers receive tons of books (well, not tons, perhaps, but still a significant number) from the major publishers, and only give a token notice to those from small independents. Others will accept books from anyone without promising to read the book. Sounds like a racket to me.

Still, the hoopla over the FTC ruling is a bit premature. Almost all the book blogs post their review policy, and every one of them mention that they are given the books. If, in fact, the bloggers have some sort of arrangement with a publisher, they should disclose it in the interests of fairness. Authors should know up front they have almost no chance of being reviewed so they don’t waste their money sending their book into a void. On the other hand, if there is no arrangement, then there’s no problem. At the bottom of the review, bloggers can simply say “Author So-and-So send me Such-and-Such a book to review. I have no other connection to said author.” Problem solved. No FTC intervention.

Oddly enough, the FTC excludes newspapers from the ruling because a) newspapers are assumed to be unbiased and so are not “endorsing” the books they review and b) they retain the books, not the reviewer. Not so. Newspapers are much more biased than bloggers, endorsing books that no one in their right mind would read. Also, many newspapers have a review table where they dump books for any employee to take and review. And keep.

I wonder what theFTC ruling is on ebooks? Is that compensation? A reviewer is allowed to return the book so as not to have to disclose connection, but how do you return an ebook you’ve reviewed?

The FTC ruling seems to be just another phase of this year’s publishing industry upheaval. It will be interesting to see where it all leads.

DAIDaughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age adventure, will be available from Second Wind Publishing in two weeks!

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7 Responses to “Book Blogs and the FTC”

  1. joylene Says:

    Interesting, and something that would have slipped by me if you hadn’t brought it to my attention. Thanks, Pat.

    I did something very frightening with my novel and contacted a dozen reviewers I had no connection with. All but one gave me great reviewers. I have since had some dear online friends give me reviews, and yes, I constantly worry that their reviews are good because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. It’s one reason why I stopped asking authors I know to review my book.

    I searched for reviewers I didn’t know because it’s something authors are “supposed” to do. Yet, when I’m choosing a book, three things determine my choice: price, first chapter and a preview of somewhere in the middle of the book. If it’s too expensive, or I can’t get into the first chapter, well, that’s a given: this book’s not for me.

    But if the first two criteria are met, I sneak a peek in the middle of the book just for added measure. It usually makes no sense, so I buy the book. What reviewers say about it comes after I’ve read the book.

    Strange way of approaching my choices, I know. But I’m the same way with movie reviews. If the promos don’t capture my attention, I’m not going to waste my time watching a movie that I hope gets better, when instinctively I know it won’t.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I have read that people are leary of books with all five star reviews. They think the reviews are from family and friends, so are biased. One reason the FTC is clamping down on reviewers is that so many are postive and may not reflect the book’s worth. Most book bloggers, however, only review the books they like. They don’t waste their time reading a book that starts out bad. So yes, the reviews are mostly positive. I do wonder at the efficacy, especially since so many book bloggers are heavily into giveaways. Sure, the giveaways bring people to the blog, but do they read the review or just sign up for the book.

      As an experiment, I donated two of each of my books for the Goodreads giveaway, and had 500 people sign up for each book. Of the four winner, three had no profile, no profile photo, no friends, no catalogued books. In other words, they were just there for free books.

      Who knows what, if anything, we do helps.

  2. knightofswords Says:

    Hmm, not sure the FTC plans are Constitutional or that they have Congressional authorization. I’m sure there will be an uproar from review sites wanting to know why the ARCs they receive should be counted as income while those that go to newspapers and magazines are not. That bias excuse doesn’t cut it.

    Best of luck finding some reviewers.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I have a hunch this whole thing has more to do with the newspapers getting rid of printed reviews to cut down on space. I’ve heard they are going to be posting them on the internet and charging people to read them. Can’t have book bloggers getting in the way of big media!

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I seem to have read a few things about this recently. I wonder what it means to people who win books as prizes. I tried posting a review on Amazon including thanks to the place I won the book, and they removed the reference.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Amazon is cutting out a lot of ways authors used to promote. As for winning a book, I doubt the FTC cares. They seem to be more interested in those who review a lot of books.

  4. Beth Says:

    The impulse to protect the public is a positive one–I like knowing a reviewer of a product isn’t paid to endorse it. But buyer beware should still guide the marketplace, not laws trying to direct every aspect of our lives. It pays to read more than one review. On any product.

    Pat, I smiled at “Newspapers are much more biased than bloggers, endorsing books that no one in their right mind would read.”

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