Bloggers: Are Your Disclosures “Clear and Conspicuous”?

Fake Tweet
Fake Tweet

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):

Example 21 from FTC March 2013 Publication

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.

22 thoughts on “Bloggers: Are Your Disclosures “Clear and Conspicuous”?

    1. Smart move! It’s much clearer up front. I don’t usually mention the source of my books (because I purchase almost all of them), but I’m considering making it more explicit.

  1. I normally only review books through TLC book tours which is loudly announced on each post and mentions that I received the book in exchange for an honest review. I can’t see myself every loudly announcing the disclaimer at the top of a post though. They’ll just have to hunt me down and torture me, I suppose.

    1. Yeah, I don’t love the idea of putting the disclaimer at the top. I don’t see myself accepting review copies in the future, but it’s something to think about.

  2. Blimey, haven’t us Brits got enough with FATCA (collecting tax due to the IRS from around the globe) without them picking on bloggers 🙂 Hold on, I think I hear a knock at the door…

    1. Yeah, it is hard to be honest with a friend (one of the reasons it’s so hard to get good feedback on a work-in-progress!). I buy a lot of my friends’ books, but I tend not to review them here (unless it’s a genre I typically read or there’s some other reason to discuss it here).

  3. Great info. For my disclosures I usually do a sentence at the end of the post, italicized and with a line break in between to set it apart from the body of the review (very similar to yours). Occasionally I will mention it at the beginning of an article, such as “I was very lucky to receive a copy of X from publisher Y…”
    I like your idea of adding an asterisk at the beginning of the review to draw attention to the disclosure at the end. I think I’ll give that a try in the future. You can’t be too careful!

  4. I don’t know if I could review friends’ books. I worry about encountering the one I really didn’t like and having to be honest. This is good information though! Thanks!

    1. I tend not to review my friends’ books unless it falls squarely within the genres I typically read. I buy a lot of my blogging friends’ books, though, regardless of genre. Thankfully, I’ve liked most of them. 🙂

    1. Yes, reviewing books is very time consuming! Not having enough time to do reviews is one of the reasons I stopped accepting review copies. I want tor read for fun, without feeling any pressure to write a review.

      1. Book reviews only matter on select blogs. Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Despite seeing a glowing review for the Precog series, it made no difference whatsoever in sales. That’s kind of sad, but it’s a fact.

  5. kirkykoo79

    Sadly, nobody ever gives me their book to review (in fact I’m very rarely given any books at all – my friends and family get very anxious buying them for me), but if it ever happens, I’ll bear this in mind. (I’m not in the US, but it seems fair and sensible regardless.)

    1. I think the FTC regs are fair and sensible, too. I’m surprised you haven’t had authors contact you, but it could start happening. I still get a couple requests for reviews, even though my current review policy says I don’t accept review copies (but I don’t mind when emerging authors or their PR people contact me–I like to know about their work, even if I’m not going to accept a review copy).

      Thanks for the comment!

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