Why The Disclosure on Reviews?

Flag_of_the_United_States_Federal_Trade_CommissionOne 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

 

5 thoughts on “Why The Disclosure on Reviews?

  1. I gather the same rules apply to Goodreads book giveaways? They always say that a review isn’t required but encouraged, since that is the point of the giveaway. Does nonrequirement exempt one from disclosure? The time I spend reviewing a book (not to mention reading it) is worth far more than what I save by not buying it. I recently won a GR giveaway and plan to donate the book, as I do with nearly every book I purchase. It hardly makes sense for me to enter giveaways when my goal is not to amass a book collection. Thoughts?

    • Ann, I’m an author of one book, and I encourage people who have my book to pass it on to another or donate it somewhere – when they are done with it. I don’t need it to be collecting dust on a shelf – but to be out there to be found by someone. Thanks to all who write book reviews – authors, esp new and unknown ones, really need them for publicity.

    • Ann, thanks for your comment. I think if you decide to review, you disclose. I think the point of the disclosure is not whether you keep the book or not, but that in the online world, at least, a review of something purchased is viewed differently from a review of something given, no matter what effort is shown by the reviewer, or what we do with the item reviewed afterwards. While I don’t think that makes a difference in how I review a book, there have been real problems at times with inflated reviews by those who have relationships with the provider of the reviewed item. The disclosure allows consumers, or blog readers, to take this into account. For me, that simply challenges me to be honest in my reviews, without regard to whether I paid for the book or not. In the long term, those who regularly follow me will know whether my reviews are slanted by receiving books from the publisher…or not.

  2. Bob, I wanted your opinion. Or just to have someone listen. haha. I think you review all the books you receive for review. But what about people who get the book for review and never review it? I’m sure it happens. Does the publisher contact them with review reminders? Refuse to give them further books?

    I am wondering, because of my own book. I’ve given books free “no strings attached” but others I gave free with the specific reason of being in exchange for a review. And several of these people have not reviewed the book even though it has been over a year. I did contact them with a subtle hint/indirect review reminder – it did not help.

    A big publisher does not lose much, but I paid my own money to publish my book, AND when I give a free book that means I paid for the copy of it myself and paid the postage to send it. I figured some may not have liked my book and did not want to hurt my feelings, but I have emphasized that constructively critical reviews are welcome! Anyways, I guess I just need to let it go, but I am tempted to send another message reminding that they have broken faith, and not kept the agreement to review the book.

    THANK YOU Bob for promptly reading and reviewing my book!

    • I suspect publishers factor in a certain amount of this. I have occasionally received reminders when I have had a book a while. Some review programs don’t send another book until you submit a review. When I agree to review a self-published work, I try to do this promptly since the author has more skin in the game. I do think a danger can be over requesting. I do aim to review the books I request. Sometimes it takes longer than I’d like, but I do have a day job! Appreciated your book, and your regular posts, and thanks for the tweets and shares!

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