As of December 1st, the US Federal Trade Commission will require review bloggers to disclose any payment or freebies they receive in exchange for reviewing a particular product. In other words, book review bloggers will be obliged to mention whether or not a book was given to them by an author or publisher, or if they received any financial incentive to write the review.
I am not resident in the US, so the ruling can hardly apply to me. However, it raises the general question of reviewer integrity and full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Personally, I am all for transparency. I assume many of the review blogs and sites I visit receive advanced reading copies, but I would prefer this to be mentioned explicitly. Equally, special circumstances such as a personal or professional relationship with an author should be revealed, e.g.: if the reviewer is the author’s critique partner or BFF.
I visit many blogs and review sites. I gravitate towards those which I see as trustworthy, and this is a trust which has built over time. I don’t expect to agree with their assessment of every book reviewed, but I want to feel the opinion given is an honest one. I am not for a moment suggesting that it’s not possible to give an honest review of an ARC. But in the interests of transparency, and for inspiring trust in new visitors, I think mentioning that the book is an ARC is valid.
There’s a growing trend for review bloggers to regard themselves as more than hobbyists, with some accepting paid advertising. In their case, I think it’s especially important to be upfront about the source of the books they review and the giveaways they have on their blog.
Equally, I would apply the appeal for full disclosure to endorsements from fellow authors, be they in the form of cover quotes or books being pimped on their websites. I often see authors from the same publisher give each other cover quotes. Perhaps they truly loved the book, but to my mind it represents a clear conflict of interest. Most potential buyers do not know which authors know each other in real life, have the same agent, or are contracted with the same publisher.
Seeing as we’re discussing full disclosure, I should mention that all the books I have thus far reviewed on my blog are ones I bought myself or borrowed from friends. I have agreed to review two ARCs and I will mention this in their respective reviews.
Here are some links to further information on the new FTC rules:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/05/business/AP-US-TEC-Bloggers-FTC.html?_r=2 (Thanks to Magdalen for this link!)
What do you think of the new FTC ruling? Is it unfair to bloggers as it fails to include print publications such as Publishers Weekly? Would you prefer reviewers to mention the source of the books they review?