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Thursday, October 8, 2009

FTC Warnings and Regulations

If you haven't heard about the FTC bruohaha yet Janet Reid has a good summary of the problem HERE.

Personally, I can understand why the FTC wants to regulate blogs that advertise and sell things. There are ton of companies who advertise on blogs. Everything from art pieces to cupcakes can be found in the blogosphere and if it's an ad, yes, that's the rightful realm of the Federal Trade Commission.

But, come on! If I see a review blog for books I know where those come from. Either the reader is getting review copies or they bought the book. No money changed hands. And, usually, the book doesn't stay with the reviewer. Half the time the review includes a give-away of the reviewed book. So it's not like the reviewer is making a profit of any kind.

I know an agent who blogs will love the books they talk about for two reasons. 1) Usually they talk about books they loved enough to help edit and then find an editor for and 2) 99% of the people in this industry know better than to bad mouth someone else's book.

I know that if I mention a book on my blog it's because I loved the book, not because some author is sliding me a few thousand dollars under the table to rave about their debut novel. Trust me, if they were you'd be hearing a lot more about Twilight and HP because those are the only books selling well enough that the authors could slide a few thousand to reviewers under the table. (That might be a slight exaggeration.)

But there's something about Common Sense and the government of my country that makes the two incompatible. Apparently common sense isn't as common as you would think.

Now, how the FTC proposes to keep track of every blog out there or fine bloggers I don't know. The Bad People the law would aim for are those individuals most adapt at dodging the law. And the innocent bloggers who will get fined (if the law goes through) are the ones who are least likely to be able to afford a fine of any kind. After all, if you had $1000 to throw away would you really need freebies?

What's your take on all of this?


  1. First, the FTC isn't going to come after most bloggers. It's going to target the blog-for-money sites and spammers who have jumped into this unregulated world of the Internet to make a quick buck.

    Perhaps this belief shows my naiveté; I know as a writer and free thinker I'm supposed to be afraid of Big Brother. But I don't think the FTC is out to get book reviewers on most web sites. (And even if they were, they don't have the enforcement mechanisms to go after most individual, barely-making-money bloggers.) The goal of these regulations is to deal with the scammers who are making money off consumer ignorance.

    In an ideal world, all consumers would be skeptical enough to question EVERY blog they read. But the FTC is not set up to protect the ideal consumer.

    I also take issue with the idea that the government is always antithetical to common sense. If the FTC hadn't created regulations, you'd see someone suing the government for not protecting them from the evildoers of the Internet. From the perspective of a blogger, it might seem like a ridiculous set of regulations. From the perspective of consumer groups, the regulations are a boon. We're a nation of factions and opposing interests; there will never be a law or a set of regulations we all like.

    Yes, the guidelines need to be better written. Slate's article on the subject does make several good points about how broad the regulations are. And I'm glad that people are vigilant about their freedom of speech. You also make some very valid points in your post.

    But I think most bloggers have nothing to worry about. I also think it's perfectly fair to ask a blogger to admit up front if s/he's received free merchandise relating to post at hand. If I receive a book from an author or publisher, I think it's only right to say so in my review.

    Thanks for your post; it was thought-provoking.

  2. I kinda agree with CLK, even though my first impression was BIG BROTHER ACTING UP AGAIN.

    I think the main targets are those websites who offer testimonials to this miracle product or that one.

    Still it is a good thing that book reviewers are reacting, because I can see some ticked off author grabbing a lawyer and going after a reviewer who threw tomatoes.

    Reviewers need to know how to protect themselves. And even if they aren't professional reviewers and just random readers, they still need to know how to protect themselves if necessary. It isn't hard to say you borrowed the book from the library, borrowed from a friend, or bought the book.

  3. I doubt the FTC will care what I say about a book. I know I'm not a main target. What does worry me is the wording that could make even my family blog a target.

    My mother makes and sells jewlery for a living. If I wear a necklace she gives me for my birthday and say how much I love it do I need to include a note saying that this is a biased opinion? I hope not. I hope the FTC wouldn't be so silly.

    But with laws the wording matters. All you need is one person to get angry and use the law to hurt someone else in jealousy or rage.

    Hopefully the FTC will word things carefully to prevent frivolous lawsuits. But, no promises.