FTC: Some Sense At Last

GalleyCat’s Ron Hogan has finally managed to talk some sense about the new FTC regulations, rather than the ridiculous scaremongering of the past few days. Some of the latest post bears quoting:

“If people think that the FTC is going to issue them a citation for $11,000 because they failed to disclose that they got a free box of Pampers,” Cleland says, “that’s not true.”

“We have never brought a case against a consumer endorser and we’ve never brought a case against somebody simply for failure to disclose a material connection,” he explains. “Where we have brought cases, there are other issues involved, not only failing to disclose a material connection but also making other misrepresentations about a product, a serious product like a health product or something like that. We have brought those cases but not against the consumer endorser, we have brought those cases against the advertiser that was behind it.”

So, as I expected, no book reviewer is likely to be subject to massive fines. You can all stop hyperventilating now. (Or alternatively start talking about how the FTC is “obviously lying”, if you prefer.)

The GalleyCat post then goes on to talk about what this will mean for publishers, who are going to have to try to ensure that people they send freebies to do make unreasonable claims for those products.

You should note that all of the examples of possible unreasonable claims come from non-fiction books. Hogan admits that even silly hyperbole about a work of fiction is unlikely to attract the attention of the FTC. Even if you claimed that reading the latest Neal Stephenson caused you to lose weight because of all the effort needed to carry it around you’d probably be OK.

But there is still an outstanding question as to what is a legitimate review publication and what is a “celebrity endorsement”. The FTC clearly views bloggers as minor celebrities. But does that apply to everything published online? I would argue that Emerald City very clearly presented itself as a book review publication, whereas this blog is equally clearly my personal opinion. I ask that question because many of the people I have seen hyperventilating about the FTC ruling online have been people who run blogs or web sites that are very clearly dedicated primarily to book reviewing.

The people who I think may be covered by this sort of thing are folks like John Scalzi who very clearly are minor celebrities and whose blogs, like mine, are not mostly given over to reviews. But even then, as John mostly talks about fiction, he’s probably OK.

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