One of the curious things I discovered when I began receiving books from publishers to review on my blog was that I need to disclose my “material connection” with the publisher that provided the review copy. On my blog, it appears at the end of the review of any book I have received for free for review purposes. It is usually some variation of this:
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
I wondered whether this was some kind of “urban myth” circulating on the internet. I learned that this is a real deal and that while I haven’t heard of bloggers being prosecuted for failing to disclose “material connections” I’m given to understand it could happen. This blog is simply a labor of love. Besides some free books, I do not get paid for writing it, and I consider the effort of reading the books and writing honest reviews a fair exchange. Simply put, I have no interest in shelling out legal fees, so I include the disclosure, even though it seems kind of unfriendly.
This all comes from rules the Federal Trade Commission put in place in 2009 for online media that is called “16 CFR Part 255” or “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” There are a few important things (do not take this as legal advice, I am not a lawyer) that I gleaned in reading this.
- I need to disclose a material connection each and every time I review a book I received for free for review purposes from the publisher. A single disclosure on my home or about page isn’t sufficient. I don’t have to include a disclosure on books I review that I’ve purchased and you will not see such a disclosure in those reviews.
- Disclosures need to be “clear and conspicuous.” It should be close to the content or claim, in easily readable print (or if it is an audio blog, it needs to be audible and read at a speed that can be followed.)
- There is no single legal template that must be followed, simply a brief disclosure such as “I received this product for free in exchange for a review.” I drew my language from this site. For a while I included the legalese about the FTC regulation but eventually dropped it because the FTC doesn’t require this.
- If you are paid in exchange for a review, you should disclose that but do not need to specify the amount. Likewise, if you are an affiliate marketer for a retail site and provide links to that site that allow you to receive payment if people make purchases by that link, you should disclose that. This article provides pretty good help on what you need to do if you do this. I do not include links to online retailers other than the publisher and I receive no compensation for this. I try to encourage people to buy from local booksellers, especially independents.
A question that may have occurred to you is “why don’t print media reviewers have to make similar disclosures?” The best answer I can find is that people understand already that reviewers receive review copies from publishers. They do not necessarily know this on social media (this also applies to other products). This disclosure protects consumers by letting them know that there is a relationship with the publisher or manufacturer of the product that may influence the review.
Does this relationship influence me? I don’t think so but it is probably best to let others judge. I know I have been critical of books I’ve received as review copies (including one I received this week). I’ve not had the experience of publishers no longer sending review copies because I wrote something critical. I always try to be fair, and affirm what I think is good or helpful in a book, whether I paid for it or not. I realize authors have invested deeply in what they have brought to print. I make it a point to leave the decision of whether to buy a book or not up to the reader. I will never say, “don’t buy this book.”
Actually reviews may be more influenced by those who view them and follow the blog. Publishers ask for these statistics and base decisions on who they send review copies to on who you write for and how many they are. It’s odd that I don’t have to disclose on the blog. It’s my observation that most bloggers are far more driven by this factor than “material connections.” Actually, I’m quite grateful for those of you who read, comment and follow–you make this worth it!
So, I will keep providing those disclosures. I suppose it is a way of keeping me honest. I hope you will do that as well. If a review is helpful, I’d love to know that, but equally, if you think I really got it wrong on a book, let me know. No refunds, but you will keep me mindful of those I really write for!