Jane over at Dear Author has written a fantastic piece about the new FTC rules regarding bloggers & “compensation.” I thought I’d take a moment to give you an idea where we stand with respect to the review items we receive, so you’ll know in no uncertain terms what to expect from us.
First off, I’d like to make something clear: many of the books and other items we review are provided free of charge for review. We try to always make this clear, usually with a note at the top of the review something like “[review item] provided courtesy of [company].” We do this because this is an issue that matters to some readers, and transparency is always good. We will always continue to do this, whether or not anyone requires us to do so, because it just seems like the right thing to do.
Secondly, yes, we do post Amazon affiliate links and Google contextual ads. These things make us a small amount of money—it helps to cover things like domain registration and server fees. Believe me, we aren’t making a fortune at this. When a certain company provides an item for review we often also provide some sort of link to them as a courtesy so that if you’d like, you can buy the item there, but we do not make money off of those links. Amazon and Google are the only revenue streams we use. In our opinion, they’re sufficiently broad that they’re unlikely to impact our impartiality. After all, we’ve found over the years that even our negative reviews sell books because we strive to include enough information to help you make your own decision based on your needs, not based on whether the item was perfect for us.
Third, we tend to be opinionated—in both positive and negative reviews. A positive review from us is not a commercial endorsement, and I can’t imagine why anyone would think it was; it simply means we really enjoyed something and are having fun expressing that. The idea that the FTC might frown on a positive review is shocking to me; what are we supposed to do—lie and say we didn’t entirely like something when in reality we loved it? How is that unbiased or fair or honest? We make it clear to publishers that we’re going to be honest about what we think, and believe me we’ve said some harsh things about review items. No, it isn’t fun having to tell an author that we didn’t like his or her work, but we won’t compromise our integrity to spare someone’s feelings or to ensure that we’ll continue to get “freebies.” We will always continue to be honest about our feelings, regardless whether we received the item for free.
Fourth, we do occasionally speak with and get to know authors. I’ve chatted with some of them on Twitter or by email and even met one or two of them in person, and gotten to like some of them. However, that won’t stop me from being honest regarding my opinion of their work. And if I ever find myself tempted to go easy on a book because I feel uncomfortable saying something negative about the work of someone I’ve spoken with (or be nasty because I don’t like an author’s personality), I’ll recuse myself and hand the book over to one of my co-reviewers or avoid it altogether. I expect Rene and Jeffrey to do the same, and I trust them.
We always strive to be as honest and fair as we can, and to be as transparent as possible. We’ve done so since 1998, and we’ll continue to do so for as long as we’re here. The FTC won’t change that, and I only hope that they won’t have a chilling effect on bloggers’ willingness to speak openly and freely. Because frankly, the rules they’re putting together are more likely to punish people for reviewing honestly than they are to reinforce honesty.
Edited to add: a link to Ron Hogan’s open letter to the FTC, which also makes wonderful points about inconsistencies in the guidelines.