Tempest In A FTC Teapot

The blogging community got stirred into a tempest this week with the announcement that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will updated the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials to apply to bloggers on December 1, 2009.  If a blogger writes a book review, has a Amazon or Google paid advertising link for the book, and doesn’t properly disclose the source of the product (i.e., bought at store or given free by publisher), the FTC could fine the blogger $11,000 USD for each violation.  There’s a still lot of confusion about how the FTC will enforce the guidelines among the gazillion blogs out there on the Internet.  (According to this article, the guidelines don’t apply to “bedroom” bloggers.)  Most bloggers—including me—see nothing but a big headache with these guidelines which haven’t been updated since 1980.

You remember what 1980 was all about?  That’s when the big three TV networks ruled American broadcast news, the MTV generationof cable TV didn’t exist yet, newspapers were alive and well and being delivered by the neighborhood kids, the Internet was still with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and required a university account to access, the most popular home computer was an Apple II and the IBM PC haven’t been introduced yet, a nuclear holocaust of from the Cold War could happen at any moment, andthe peanut farmer from Georgia got voted out to be replaced with the cowboy actor from California in the White House.  Flash forward a generation, the whole world is a different place.

Based on my initial reading of the guidelines, my situation is more or less clear cut.

I’m going to remove all the paid Amazon links and advertising from my reviews and websites.  I been planning to do this for a while since I only made five bucks in the last five years from Amazon.   (Ironically, I only made $3.02 over the last four years from writing.)  With the ongoing Great Recession, I have a simple financial rule: if something costs me money, a pain in the butt, and/or, now, doesn’t make me money, it has to go.  My life has been greatly simplified by this rule over the past year.  Being fined by the FTC would cost me some change and be a pain in the butt.

This isn’t Amazon’s fault.  I never seriously tried to make money with my websites or driven the kind of traffic that would enthusiastically click on every Amazon link I posted.  I wrote reviews because I enjoyed reading the book or watching the DVD, wanted to share my experience while honing my non-fiction writing skills, and, if someone clicked on a link and brought something, I would get a small percentage of the sale in return.  Now that I’m in the final year of establishing myself as a writer, I’m focusing on the business side of making money as a writer.  For the immediate future, it would be better for me to strip out all the advertising until I come up with a marketing plan that makes sense for me as a writer, my websites, and my ever adoring audience.

The other thing is I will have to update each individual review article and blog post with a disclosure statement that every item I had reviewed to date has been paid for out of my own money.  A blanket statement apparently won’t do, which is stupid considering that I had paid for everything.  If I had gotten a book, DVD or movie ticket for free, I would have disclosured the source of the product anyway.

When I revamp my business website (which used to be my author website), I’m going to stick my post office address on the front page.   Apparently, there are some bloggers who are getting truckloads of free stuff mailed to them.  I’m definitely missing out on something here.  The only freebie I got this year was a copy of a magazine from a publisher that sat on two of my short story submissions—which, due to an oversight on my part, were both the same short story—without responding for a year while sacking the editorial staff.  I’m open to receiving any books concerning science fiction, fantasy, young adults (no hormonal vampires, please), and programming languages, DVDs, movie tickets, and any product from Apple.  No review unless a check is attached since my time is valuable and writing reviews take time.

The new FTC guidelines can be summed up in the eternal words of the penguins from Madagascar upon reaching the Antarctica: “Well, this sucks!”

[Disclosure: No company mentioned in this blog post has compensated me in any shape or form for mentioning or linking their services and/or product.  If the FTC doesn’t like this disclosure, I’ll pay the fine for each violation in 1,100,000 pennies like a good American.]