There's a real brouhaha percolating amongst the bloggerati about proposed changes in the Federal Trade Commission regulations about what constitutes compensated endorsement and to whom it applies.
Currently advertisers on radio and television (the public airwaves) are required to identify people who tout their product as paid endorsers. You've probably all seen the crawl on ads saying "paid spokesperson" If you watch the credits on game shows or on Oprah you'll see "products provided by Corporation XYZ."
Pretty basic, common sense stuff.
The proposed changes redefine compensation and who is required to disclose.
Why should you care about this? Because if you're an author, this will have an impact on you.
Here's why: the new regulations propose that anyone who receives compensation (not just money, but a product or a sample) be required to disclose that fact. Anyone includes bloggers, and tweeters. And if anyone posts information, or discussion, or opinion about it, they are required to disclose any connection to the product provider.
What the FTC failed to discern is that advertisers have assured access. They pay money, they get airtime. Or page time if you will in newspapers and magazines. Radio and television stations have entire departments dedicated to selling advertising time and space. Regulating them via the FTC is clearly in the public interest or every flim flam con man in the world would buy time on the evening news and claim to cure cancer with cupcakes (and broadcasting companies would let them if they paid enough, I'd wager.)
Reviews and discussions, including those in places like the New York Times are NOT advertisements. The advertiser is not assured of coverage. Every book publicity person in the universe would weep with joy if that were the case.
Companies are willing to assume a small risk (the cost of a product) for the chance or opportunity that the newspaper book reviewer will write about the book. Currently book reviewers are not required to announce how they acquired the book they are reviewing, or even any potential conflict of interest (although professional book reviewers observe a code of ethics that is MUCH more strict about this.)
There is a bright line that separates products being advertised and products being reviewed. It's pretty easy to tell which one is which.
It's not how the product was obtained or what medium is used to discuss the product. What clearly distinguishes advertised products versus reviewed products is how much assurance a company gets that there will be coverage-pay for play (sound familiar?)
No matter how or where you talk about a product, if the product provider is assured of coverage, that's advertising. That's entirely within the FTC's purview, and rightfully so.
What the FTC fails to understand here is that most bloggers and websites don't guarantee coverage at all. If they do, they should be regulated. If they don't, leave them alone.
And the best part of this is that even if every single blogger in the universe decides to become a shill for books published by my clients (just to use an example I think sounds pretty wonderful) there's still not a threat to the public good. One of the great things about the internet is that if you start acting like a paid shill, you lose your audience. Even if the products are splendid.
Now the reason the proposed FTC reg changes are important for you is that if these go into effect, there's a $1000 fine for violations. That means that if I take down that rather snotty FTC notice on the right side of my blog, and I mention a couple books here I received for free, and do so because the author asked me too, I could be asking for donations to help pay the fine.
You don't need those powerful imaginations of yours to work too hard to see what kind of chilling effect that could have on one of the most powerful weapons for visibility authors now have: word of mouth via the internet.
This is important. Follow the issue. Form an opinion (you should agree with me of course). Regulations don't have to pass Congress to have the full weight and power of a law. There are hearings though. Get heard.