Monday, June 29, 2009

Blogging for Cash and Prizes

No, I’m not. Making money off my blog, that is. Not that the thought isn’t tempting, but I’m way too lazy to even attempt to drum up the sort of following that it would require to even make adware worthwhile. And I’m quite happy to not spam friends and family.

I have “promoted” stuff on my blogs before—websites, books that I liked, possibly kitchen gadgets or stores that I like. I’ve never been asked to do so. I’ve received free books from contests on other websites, and possibly posted good reviews of them here. But I’ve never been asked or volunteered to do so. If I like something and feel like writing about it, I do. That’s that.

Now, the FTC is considering enforcing new rules that bloggers, like journalists, have to disclose if they’re being compensated.

Its an interesting problem that I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around. Most bloggers aren’t journalists. They don’t promote themselves as being some sort of “unbiased” reporting agency. I would bet that the vast majority of all bloggers are folks like me who write about personal experiences for their own benefit and to share information with friends and family. I think that the bloggers who make an actual living (or even pin money) off of their blogs are the tiniest minority.

But it certainly could affect some of us. I can name a small handful of bloggers who review books on their blogs. They tend to be writers, and usually I gather that they personally know the authors of the books they’re reviewing. I know my RWA chapter has a program where we line up an in-chapter reviewer for members’ new releases. I have not participated in that yet due to timing, but it would involve receiving a free copy of the new release to read (sometimes a print book, an ARC, an e-book, or sometimes a printout of a manuscript, depending on the timing of the review and the release). Would we have to disclose that freebie as “compensation”? Probably.

Do I think that its right to enforce that bloggers disclose compensation or conflicts of interest? Maybe, or maybe not. In real life (the disconnected, person-to-person kind), talking up yourself or your company is called “networking”. Sometimes “self promotion”. And even things like wearing a polo shirt with a company logo is advertisement. We aren’t required to tattoo the word “Advertisement” across our foreheads when we do things like that. Should it be different online, on personal space? If I understand things correctly, the FTC thinks it should. Posting the name of your business or product would require you to state somewhere that you have been compensated or have a personal interest.

There is a fuzzy line where a blog looks like someone’s personal space, but is full of obvious product placement. And even the newspaper reviews books, movies, travel destinations, and products. Are newspaper reporters given free books to review by an author? I think so. And do they explicitly label their reviews with “advertisement”? Not that I’ve seen.

And then there are the not-so-subtle product placements in movies. Camera close-ups of branded soda cans, or whole scenes that take place in real-life restaurants or stores. Are those types of placements paid for by the companies? Undoubtedly. Do they have a flashing “advertisement” sign over them? Nope. Are consumers fooled? Gosh I hope not.

What am I missing in this discussion? Any thoughts? Should bloggers who get freebies or payment have to state it upfront in their blogs?

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