THE POND: The FTC and Other Quackery…Thursday, October 22, 2009 19:54
So here’s the deal with all this review blog stuff. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided that blogs and other similar opinion websites should disclose when a reviewed item has been supplied by the manufacturer/vendor/seller/etc., or when a manufacturer/vendor/etc. has paid for said review. A “full disclosure” kind of thing.
If you want the full story and more opinions on all of this, go to Dear Author. Jane has done extensive analysis, including actually talking to a guy at the FTC, and has arrived at what seems to be reasonable conclusions about the possible impacts to big and small review sites.
Personally, I don’t think the FTC’s ruling is such a bad thing. If someone publishes a review, I want to know if it’s an honest opinion or simply blather from a shill. It allows me to appropriately weigh the opinion and make up my own mind whether that opinion is honest.
We here at TGTBTU (a.k.a. the Pond) blog, review, and comment here because we love to read. (By the way, we’re Ducks because Sybil – the blog’s owner/maven/priestess – loves dicks er, ducks.) TGTBTU is our hobby and definitely NOT a money-making venture. We support the site from our own pockets, defraying some of the cost with what you’ll read below.
On the negative side of our little hobby, not including the cost of the books we read or the postage to send those books back and forth to each other, is the cost of the site and its Internet domains. Sure we could run the site for free by using a blog host like Blogspot, but have instead elected to upgrade to a specific domain and server space – making us both easier to find and faster to load, which is a good thing.
On the plus side and helping to defray some of the cost, are Associate Programs. We primarily use Amazon’s because it’s dead simple to create their product URL’s – those little deelywhoppers inserted in reviews with the product’s thumbnail. None of these Programs pay much – something like 3% per item purchased using the ID, or about $0.20 for a paperback. There are other Associate Programs (Harlequin, etc.), but their links are so bloody complicated to craft that we generally don’t bother with them.
In fact, if you like it here at the Pond you can help support us by by adding our Amazon Associates ID, preceded by a slash (/thgothbaanthu-20), to the end of a product’s Amazon hyperlink before moving the item into your shopping cart. It’s not a lot of money, but every little bit helps.
With regard to a provider influencing our reviews, keep in mind that Amazon is not a publisher – they just sell the stuff, good or bad, new or used, in print or out. This means there isn’t an opportunity for an Associates Program provider to influence a reviewer’s opinion before the review is published. The money comes to us AFTER a review is published if the book review uses the ID-containing links, if you click on those links, AND if you put the book in your shopping cart right then and complete the purchase. A lot of ifs.
Also plus side for TGTBTU is that for the last year or so Harlequin provides TGTBTU with coupons for books bought on their site. Syb will have to say how much it is, but I know it’s not a lot. The understanding is that we’ll review a few of them every month. They don’t push specific books – we can buy and review anything we want. As you can see from our many C and D grades of Harlequin imprint books (even an F here and there), this allowance definitely does not guarantee a positive review of said books.
Again on the plus side is the normal book marketing done by the larger publishers, editors, and authors. Publisher send a few advance reading copies (ARC’s), and sometimes final published copies, to an author and/or editor, who can then send those ARC’s/finals to reviewers in the hopes that the reviewer will do what reviewers do. By the way, every year this ARC’ing seems to become more controversial as publishers spend less money on book marketing, pushing more of that responsibility on author’s shoulders. So who knows how long they’ll do this and how picky they’ll get selecting recipients.
Now let’s consider the other negative side of the review blogging equation – the cost of the books and the postage to send a book to another reviewer. I read an average of about one book per week. This can lead to significant costs that are alleviated somewhat by the above mentioned book marketing practices: roughly one-third of what I read is in the form of ARCs or finals from an editor or author. From what I can gather, the other Ducks have similar habits to my own. This means our book habit cost is defrayed somewhat, but not entirely.
Nevertheless, as with most book review sites, you should assume we have received for free all of the books we review. That isn’t always the case, but considering the size of each of our TBR piles, to try to detail which book was a freebie or which book we bought would be nearly impossible.
Back over to the plus side is that we can, if we wish (most of us don’t), sell the final book copies we buy or receive. (ARCs are never sold by the Ducks – in fact, since we take ARC responsibility seriously, we spend considerable effort to ensure we always know who has which ARC at any given time.) If we do sell finals, it’s normally at a used book store like Half-Price Books where we can make a few pennies per book. Yeah – we’re still not getting rich and we don’t even really cover costs, but it helps.
Here’s what all this plus-ing and minus-ing does: it allows us to nominally afford our hobby, and, if we feel strongly enough, share it in a public forum like this site. Otherwise, with the cost of books rising at an ever increasing rate, our little reading habit er, hobby would cripple our personal budgets and we wouldn’t be able to talk about the books with all of you lovely folks.
So what does this all mean to you, our readers? Not much more than just informing you that none of us are getting rich here. We don’t sell reviews and don’t sell advertising on the site. We don’t really break even with the cost of the site, but we’re okay with that.
I liken TGTBTU to a very large book club that includes readers from all over the world. It costs each of us a little to participate. But it’s worth it because of the enjoyment we derive from sharing our collective hobby with all of you. It’s definitely a labor of love.