Disclaimer: I’m not providing legal advice on this blog.
Many bloggers receive free items in exchange for honest reviews on their blogs. For a brief time, I entertained requests from authors and publishers, and I accepted one review copy of a book, which I read and reviewed on this blog. In an attempt to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, 16 CFR Part 255 (2009), I included this disclosure at the bottom of my post:
*The author sent me a copy of her novel for an unbiased review.
I put an asterisk in the first sentence of the post, behind the title of the book, which was also a link to a vendor, hoping that it would draw the reader’s attention to the disclosure at the end.
Is my disclosure good enough? Probably not, based on my reading of the Federal Trade Commission’s .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising (March 2013). The asterisk could encourage the reader to scroll to the bottom, but they would still have to scroll and there are many links along the way to divert their attention.
The most analogous example to book bloggers in the FTC’s publication is #21 (highlighting added):
The FTC explains why this disclosure is not clear and conspicuous: “there are several hyperlinks before [the] disclosure that could distract readers and cause them to click away before they get to the end of the post.”
So, disclosures should be unavoidable, preferably close to whatever the relevant piece of information is in the post. The top of the post is the best place.
The FTC’s publication also addresses endorsements through Twitter, which might affect bloggers who connect their posts directly to Twitter or use Twitter to endorse books, but I doubt it’s much of a concern for most book bloggers. The FTC’s clarification focuses on tweets by paid endorsers and those who must qualify their claims. There aren’t many of us in the book blogging world getting paid for this hobby, and there isn’t much we would need to qualify along the lines of the fake tweet at the top of this post.**
I hope it’s enough that in whatever medium we’re using, we follow the basic principles the FTC has outlined: be truthful, have evidence to back up our claims, and be fair in our advertising/endorsing.
So, what happens if we don’t disclose properly? To my knowledge, the FTC has not taken any action against endorsers, saying in June 2010, “If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.”
Even though the FTC isn’t likely to go after the wee sardine in the big sea of deceptive advertising, it’s worth it for bloggers to keep these regulations in mind. Clear and conspicuous disclosures encourage credibility and build trust with our readers. Anyone who feels misled by a blog will stop reading it, and what’s the point of writing a blog that no one wants to read?
**By the way, BooksPlusMore has an amusing take on Anna Karenina in his recent post, Goosebooks: Attack of the Giant Novel.
***A note to bloggers outside of the United States: the FTC’s disclosure rules might apply to you. The FTC’s powers are very broad, and in 2006 Congress passed the Undertaking Spam, Spyware, And Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers beyond Borders Act (“U.S. SAFE WEB ACT”), which specifically said the FTC had the power to, in FTC’s own words, “challenge both frauds from abroad that harm U.S. consumers and frauds involving material conduct in the United States.” That said, the United States Supreme Court has been shying away from allowing U.S. courts to exercise jurisdiction over foreign parties that don’t specifically direct their conduct at the United States. This is just my two cents, not legal advice.