The US Federal Trade Commission has finally issued the results of its investigation into advertising through blogging, and perhaps predictably a certain amount of panic has been caused in the blogosphere. People are starting to worry that they may be fined $11,000 if they fail to disclose that a book they reviewed was provided free by the publisher.
The problem with such legislation is that it has enormously broad scope. What the FTC is mainly after is the professional advertising blogger, and the celebrity endorser. There are plenty of companies out there who will pay people for writing blog “reviews” of products. Mostly these products are much more expensive than books. Equally celebrities are showered with free stuff from companies who hope they will like it and say so in public. A private individual writing about a book she got for free is very small fry in comparison.
Furthermore, the FTC is well aware that trying to control blogging is a pointless exercise. Richard Cleland, an FTC staff attorney quoted by Reuters, said:
Principally the requirements are about disclosure. Our concern is less with the individual bloggers (than) with the advertisers who are using the bloggers. [..] On the Internet, everything is whack-a-mole, and that’s why our focus is not going to be on these individual bloggers.
So technically, yes, book reviews are included in these regulations. Practically the FTC is unlikely to come after you. And even if they did, simply stating that you got the book for free is sufficient to cover you.
So why the panic? Well, a lot of web sites run by established media companies, especially those who publish a lot of product reviews, are busy pushing articles about how bloggers could face massive fines. Anyone would think that they wanted to discourage bloggers from writing reviews. I wonder why that might be?