The Federal Trade Commission is expected to vote this summer on new ethical guidelines for bloggers. While the revised guidelines will apply to all bloggers, FTC public affairs specialist Betsy Lordan told CNN, “Some of the bigger challenges include the mommy blogger issue and the extent to which the blogger must disclose a relationship with an advertiser.”This CNN article talks about a Public Relations Blackout challenge that Momdot is holding this week in an effort to return to the spirit of community, sharing, and stellar writing that has been taken over by controversy, jealousy, and product reviews. I am concerned that we aren’t taking the meltdown that’s occurring there and learning the lessons so we can avoid it here.
Over the past few months, I’ve seen several discussions about review copies, free bookshelves, advertising, professionalism, and making money. I could write a week’s worth of posts on any of the topics, but in the interest of being direct, I’m presenting the core of my thoughts on each issue. I’ve included links to posts that expand on each topic.
- Free books and ARCs aren’t at issue for book bloggers, given the necessity and history of review copies distributed to reviewers in print and online. However, being transparent about the books received from publishers makes it easier to recognize and avoid further problems with receiving other products. [More on bloggers and commercialism at Boston Bibliophile.]
- Many things can’t really be “reviewed,” no matter how it’s phrased in the pitch, which makes it closer to being paid in product to write about it. There are two issues here — whether you can objectively analyze something of value that was received at no cost and if an analysis of the product would truly be of use to your readers. [Also, watch for jealousy: J. Kaye’s Book Blog.]
- Publishers Weekly and other journals can take ads because there isn’t a direct benefit to the reviewers. The wall between sales and writers is what helps prevent a conflict of interest. As a blogger, you are both writing the reviews and taking the money from advertising, which makes it much harder to retain objectivity. [Read more on publishing and blogs at Tea Cozy.]
- For the most part, blogging should be approached as a creative outlet, writing practice, or networking opportunity. There shouldn’t be an expectation of free stuff or making money, no matter how much time and energy you put into it. [Read more on publishing and blogs at Tea Cozy.]
- However, that doesn’t mean that bloggers shouldn’t act professionally. In the book world, there are so very few “professional bloggers” and they make so little money that the phrase is practically meaningless. If you are getting free books or ARCs on any sort of regular basis, you have a responsibility to act in a professional manner. [Professionalism at Chasing Ray.]