Friday, November 6, 2009

FTC Regulations

I've had some thoughts rumbling around the back of my head on last month's Federal Trade Commission ruling that bloggers must now disclose whether or not they have received compensation for their endorsements.

I immediately wondered if book bloggers fell under this rubric. It would appear that the purpose of the ruling was designed to foster more honesty among members of the new media who have been making significant earnings giving their good opinions of products, either by being paid directly in cash from the manufacturers of said products, or by re-selling the items they've been gifted with at a personal profit. For the most part, book bloggers are small potatoes in the endorsements game. Used books are not a terribly profitable business. Even so, it looks as if they've ruled that anyone who keeps a book, needs to report it. For the most part, I donate any books I receive to the library. Sometimes I give them to friends or colleagues to read. Sometimes, I keep them. However, the strictest definition of "keep" would include anyone who does not return the book directly to the publisher, and I've certainly never done that.

As a librarian and former bookseller, I've always considered getting ARCs (Advance Review Copies) of popular books months before they're available to the general public to be one of the best perks of the job. I used to go to Book Expo, back when it was still known as the American Bookseller's Association, or ABA for short (we literary types love acronyms) and I remember being overwhelmed with gleeful greed as publishers fought to push free copies of every sort of book under the sun into our all too willing hands. Sales reps would stop by the bookstore, ready to book talk us the latest spring and fall lists, leaving piles of ARCs in their wake. Free paperbacks flowed like water, and we book lovers who were lucky enough to have the right connections were always thirsty for more.

Book collecting - like most forms of collecting, I suppose - can be a dangerous hobby. Before you know it, bookshelves are full to bursting, with books arranged horizontally in double stacks, or left in piles all over the house. It took me a good five years, at least, to curb my avaricious instincts to manageable levels. Nowadays, when I go to ALA Annual Conference I'm much more selective.

But, I think publishers have become much more selective too. Whereas I used to be plied with more than I could carry at conferences, forcing me to make multiple trips back to my car or hotel room to drop off my plunder, now I find it much more common for publishing representatives to quiz me before they hand over one of their limited ARCs. Usually, they want to know where I work, and if I have direct authority to purchase things. In general, they seem more willing to give me advance copies if they learn that I have a blog, but I've certainly never had anyone demand a positive review from me in exchange for a book.

I like to think that receiving free books absolutely wouldn't sway me to write positive reviews that I didn't believe in. However, the easiest way to "prove" that would be point you to a terrible review I've given something, and in general, I don't like to do that. I like to keep all of my criticism fair and constructive. There are so very many wonderful things being published each year... I don't feel I have the time to write snarky reviews. As a reviewer for School Library Journal, I have read a number of books that I would consider, "additional," meaning it wouldn't be among the list of things I'd want to first purchase. And in these tight economic times, for a lot of libraries, those "additional" or "marginal" items will be the first things we'll cut. That's probably the closest I've come to writing a harsh review.

The FTC ruling takes effect in December, and so, from now on, I'll be noting where I obtained each book that I've reviewed. I think it will be interesting to keep track.

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