Disclaimer and Disclosurability

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(Trying to make the title sound Jane Austenish, and not really succeeding.)

If anyone cares (we’re looking at you, Federal Trade Commission), we’ve updated our disclaimers and information about book and other media reviews on AustenBlog in light of new “guidelines” from the FTC about blogger reviews and endorsements. We have mixed feelings about these new guidelines; we’ve long deplored the behavior of bloggers who seem to look at their blogging activities as a teat of swag upon which to suckle, and feel the need to keep the goodies flowing by only giving positive reviews of said swag (which, to our knowledge, have included free tickets and Amazon gift certificates for reviewing a certain film that was not very popular around AustenBlog World Headquarters). We have to admit that the first time we were offered a book to review, we were briefly seduced by the vision of a river of free swag flowing towards our door; but when we began to drown under the weight of Not Another Pride and Prejudice Sequel Oh My Godfathers Make It Stop*, the “free” swag doesn’t seem quite so free anymore. The Crack Staff Reviewers of AustenBlog work for their bread, Gentle Readers, trust us, and we find these “guidelines” to be not only insulting to our ethics but overkill. We wonder if Michiko Kakutani has to return the books she reviews at pain of an $11,000 fine? And we’re quite certain that Ms. Kakutani is not a volunteer, as are the lovely and talented AustenBlog reviewers.

It is our experience that, while some authors (and their fanpoodles) have taken it amiss when we did not cry hosannas and toss rose petals at their feet for deigning to grace the unwashed Janeites with their deathless prose, and while some publicists have been a touch grumpy at less than positive reviews, in most cases they were pleased that we reviewed the book at all, because it brought the book to the attention of those who might be most interested in it. In other words, the system works. Most issues we have had about reviews have come from the lack of a review for a book sent. Our reviewers are volunteers, and sometimes get busy and sometimes find the book too boring or stupid to finish. There have been books that we have retrieved (at our own expense) from reviewers and sent to other reviewers (at our own expense) in a desperate attempt to get someone to read it. In some cases, it has taken three or four reviewers to read a book before it finally got reviewed; in some cases *coughMrDarcyTakesAWifecough* several reviewers have hated a book so much that they refused to finish it, and it was never reviewed.

We have never felt an obligation to give books good reviews because we were provided with a free copy, but we admit of late that we have mostly avoided reviewing books we did not enjoy. The other AustenBlog reviewers have fortunately felt no such missish scruples. šŸ˜‰ That being said, if the Editrix said she liked a book, you can be sure that she really liked it, and if she gushed immoderately over it, that she loved it. That doesn’t guarantee everyone else will like it, of course.

It should also be pointed out that the “free books” with which we are provided are not always the copies one can purchase in one’s Friendly Neighborhood Book Emporium. They often are Advanced Reading Copies, or ARCs, and sometimes have been created from manuscripts that are still being proofread, and are bound early in the publication process so that reviewers can have a review ready to go on the publication date. Such ARCs can contain errors of punctuation or layout and typos that are fixed before final publication. These ARCs cannot be resold (technically, though some reviewers do it). Yet the FTC considers such books “compensation” for writing a review. As we said, our Crack Staff Reviewers (and our lovely Guest Reviewers as well) work for their bread, Gentle Readers, such bread as it is. Anyway, in future, we will probably post some kind of disclaimer with our book and other media reviews. But in general, the Editrix is not compensated for the blog and in fact it costs us a few dollars a year to run. We also will reveal where we get swag for giveaways, though we have always considered our Gentle Readers intelligent enough to know that they mostly come from those purveying the item. We hope these measures will appease The Powers That Be.

*Not to pick on P&P sequels, but hello authors, she wrote five other books! We know there are readers who can’t get enough of P&P sequels and prequels and rewrites and reimaginings and modern updates, and we are told that books inspired by the other novels don’t sell well enough to publish (which in itself is a curious fact), but our reviewers agree that a little variety would be a good thing.

11 thoughts on “Disclaimer and Disclosurability

  1. I always love reading your posts, and this one is no exception. I’m always amazed at the number of Austen-related books y’all can read, swag or otherwise.

    >We also will reveal where we get swag for giveaways, though we have always considered our Gentle Readers intelligent enough to know that they mostly come from those purveying the item.

    Yes, and I just couldn’t help wondering whether this issue of blog review copies should even be on the FTC’s radar. Who exactly is going to benefit from an end being put to the practice? Who exactly is being harmed by it?

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  2. My understanding of the FTC guidelines is that the NYT is given the review copies not Michiko Kakutani, and as such they are not her property but she is employed to review them. No fines there.

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  3. Mags

    Yes, but does she actually return them? Is there a large holding room at the New York Times with all the books they’ve reviewed over the years? I dare say they probably donate a few to libraries and such. I donate some of the ones we get (reviewed and not) to my JASNA region, which are sold for a few dollars as a fundraiser.

    I think the idea behind this is that the FTC feels some bloggers, in their eagerness for swag, are acting as unregulated advertisements for the products they review. So now we’re all being punished.

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  4. I’ve done some reviewing in my day and I’m lucky that most of the books were great ones. The last one that I didn’t like became a giveaway on my site. I hadn’t reviewed it, but when my cousin questioned whether the book was good, I simply said it wasn’t my style. (And it did take me some years to realise the difference between a writing style I don’t enjoy and an author that needs work to be labelled “a decent writer.”)

    I also share my freebies with my mum, her best friend and my best friend (depending on the preference of each reader). I consider myself blessed with these books and I know these few authors enough to be sure they don’t want just another good review – they want an honest opinion!

    So, shame on those who write dishonest reviews and it sucks that all blog reviewers are now suspect.

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  5. I’ve had a disclaimer on my blogs for quite a few months, even before the FTC suggested these so called new guidelines. Like you, I make no money off my blog. If I advertise a product, it is because I believe in it. This business of reviewing books has had me feeling conflicted for a while, for I disliked 90% of the sequels excessively and yet I didn’t want to hurt a budding author’s feelings. Lately, I have chosen to write satirical reviews rather than say outright how much I dislike the book. I’ve also chosen to interview authors rather than review their books.

    I really don’t know why the FTC thinks this action is necessary, for most bloggers can’t keep pace with the professional reviewer, who is paid to read and write. My house is filled with ARCs that I can’t give away or sell, and they are cluttering my office. I stopped requesting any books at all, and my review frenzy has stopped. Besides, once you start writing what you truly think (that the book is not worth the paper it is printed on) the publishers stop sending you freebies. So it’s a self-selecting process. A blogger that thinks every book that comes her way is great is eventually going to lose credibility.

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  6. Deb R.

    Oh my goodness, I am all astonishment! Here I proudly claim Editrix & Co. as my rich and learned neighbor to the near north, and imagined you benefiting from a gracious living endowed by THE. BOOK. PUBLISHERS. of the World. And now you tell me you’ve been doing all this FOR FREE? Who will pay poor Dorothy’s retainer? And your account at the confectioner’s? And buy brandy (for medicinal purposes, of course)?

    FTC be damned! Do they really fear that a blogger might grow rich on untaxed income from reading fan fic? If you take time to read someone’s published crap, the very least you should receive is a free copy of said crap. And if you use it afterwards to prop up a table leg or start a fire, all the better. Personally, I donate all my craptastic reads to Goodwill where they may resell them for $1 or less (and then, sigh, I turn right around and buy someone else’s donated books). Does Dorothy have a cure for Bookitis?

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  7. Oh give it up Mags. We all know you are writing this on your Pre from your beachchair during the St. Thomas book review junket! We are so sad about that publisher who cheated you out of a trip to Tahiti because you neglected to review *coughMrDarcyTakesAWifecough*. Yawn, I think I will mosey back to the villa. Capri is so wonderful by moonlight, but it is difficult to read those ARC’s with a torch, and my review is due tomorrow.

    Tootles, LA

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  8. Yikes! I just started blogging with the intention of writing extensively about the piles upon piles of Austen related paraphernalia that fills my office. I paid for it all, I’m totally amateurish, and I don’t have a lawyer to type up a neat little disclaimer. What should I do? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  9. As someone who is both an Austen sequel author AND someone who works in publishing, I should probably throw my two cents into this. Way too late, I know. I blame the Jewish holidays.

    I can on some level understand why a company or government office would respond negatively to the amount of free commerce occurring on the internet. It’s not trackable or taxable and that scares organizations that tax and track things. The internet scares people not actively working in it, in that it’s new and untrackable and maybe illegal things are happening. The response is overkill but will be unenforceable, which is good.

    This Cleland has concerns that are panicky-but-true. Resales of ARCs is a legal problem and someone COULD open a book store (or just resell a ton of books over the internet) with all of their free copies. And there’s the issue of good/bad reviews – writers who receive free books are more likely to view them favorably, to relieve them of the gratitude they feel for receiving said book. I’ve had contact with many of the people who’ve reviewed either of my books, because I offered them a signed copy or whatever, and as an (unintended) result, the reviews are almost always good. The professional reviews will vary more, but professional reviewers are often looking for a specific thing in the book and either my book offers it or it doesn’t (I don’t win big points for historical accuracy).

    Why this issue is so serious to some of us is because of how key book bloggers have become to publishing. There is less and less money in publishing for individual books that are not going to be bestsellers, and the first money to get yanked is publicity money. Publicity on the internet is practically free. If a press does an 8000 book run (pretty average for a book that is going to be in Barnes and Noble but is a niche book), sending off 30 or even 50 copies to bloggers for review, knowing only a portion of those bloggers will actually review and in a timely manner, costs the publicity department almost nothing, even in shipping to other countries. It’s one of the rare areas where the publicity department says yes to me as an author when I request something – that a book be sent somewhere because the blogger is interested in reviewing it, with no gaurantee that they actually will. Since I otherwise get basically no publicity, this is great. Blog posts are also great because they have comment sections and communities and help spread word a bit faster and more organically than Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus (though it’s always nice to get in PW or Kirkus). If PEOPLE (versus nameless reviewers) are excited about a book, they are more likely to get their friends excited.

    It’s a boon to the publishing industry and frankly, the publishing industry needs a boon right now. Say whatever you want about how many Pride and Prejudice sequels/rewriters/knockoffs/fanfic books are out there (even I’m starting to think there’s too many, to my own detriment of course), but there thousands upon thousands of books that rely almost exclusively on bloggers now that book clubs usually have some deal with publishers to get books, and publishers pick what books they want to make “book club” books.

    On the subject of professional reviewers, some publications just give everybody a decent review. Many they’re overworked or maybe they feel they’re being nice to the writers, but I’ve rarely seen a BAD review in PW, and it’s usually a famous author with a crappy sequel. Mostly everything is middling and is okay but has some issues and didn’t earn a star but it isn’t BAD.

    Finally, about ARCs: They’re usually 99% there. The cover isn’t perfect (or is a white space) and the blurbs haven’t been added, but I’ve rarely seen at work a book that went through major or even minor changes between the ARC stage and the final print that wasn’t a political book that needed an addendum.

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