The new FTC guidelines about bloggers and tweeters who recommend books would be funny if it didn’t raise the possibility of a lot of confusion and inadvertent law-breaking. According to the new rules, bloggers who review free copies of books they’ve been given by an author or publisher must disclose the book as merchandise received. If publishers send free review copies to bloggers, either directly or through a middleman, they must disclose the distribution and monitor the subsequent conduct of the “endorsers” who received them.
The FTC isn’t claiming these new guidelines are laws, they’re calling them “guides.” However, they can fine a violator of the new guidelines as much as $11,000 per infraction. They offer bloggers wiggle-room by saying that if reviewers donate the free copy after reviewing it, they don’t have to disclose they ever got it, since it doesn’t represent “lasting compensation.” But many free review copies end up on eBay, so the sales could become a sticky issue.
The whole thing is pretty silly, and probably completely unenforceable. I don’t get free review copies of books, but if a friend passes along a book to me and I like it so much that I write a recommendation on my blog, I could theoretically get in trouble with the FTC if I don’t make sure that I pass the book along to somebody else. Books flow through my hands pretty regularly, so I probably don’t run much chance of being busted for nondisclosure of a free book I’ve reviewed. But if the guidelines are enforced, online reviewers may find themselves having to keep records and account for the source and final disposition of books they recommend.
The FTC doesn’t have enough staff to monitor every blogger and tweeter who recommends a book, so the whole thing will probably fall into a crack and be forgotten. But it raises some interesting issues. What’s your take on the idea of bloggers who review books having to report free copies as compensation?