October 06, 2009 |
Bloggers are well known for our passion to discussing everything and everyone so it is no surprise what a flaming discussion is going on now everywhere online regarding the Federal Trade Commission decision that whenever a blogger has a material connection to an advertiser (receives free items or is paid directly – or whatever it may be), the blogger is supposed to disclose this connection clearly not to make their readers believe they are 100% objective when reviewing the products by the advertiser or by the advertiser’s competitor.
Of course it is no wonder that you will easily find all the points of view expressed by bloggers: from people hoping the blogosphere will now become more transparent and to others expressing their indignation over the new threat to free speech in blogging. I myself tend to support Louis Gray’s point of view that nothing will really change as payola has already been discussed enough everywhere for every blogger to have time to make an opinion: I do disclose everything or I don’t.
Really, everyone should realize there are different types of bloggers and their disclosure or lack thereof have different influence on consumers because some of them are read by millions while only a few dozen listen to another less powerful blogger. And of course the money involved is determined exactly by this very influence and power.
I myself can hardly claim myself to be powerful enough for companies to want me to have some expensive items to review them (and to keep such items for the reviews to be positive). Over my entire life in blogging (three years now) I don’t think I can tell I’ve received many freebies at all with the most important reason being my location on the other side of the ocean and only visiting the US occasionally. The items I have actually received include:
- Some strange eyeglasses with an integrated MP3 player (totally impossible to wear at all and I was not supposed to review the item at all – they offered the item to me so that we could order such eyeglasses in Profy corporate style
- Half a dozen of T-shirts (again, totally impossible to wear because no startup actually cares about having girls sized S in their audience so everything that I receive quickly migrates to my husband’s shelf in the wardrobe)
- A book that I was supposed to review but never did for a simple reason of my husband grabbing it to his office to read and never bringing it back home – so I never even had a chance to complete reading the book even despite of its excellent first pages, reviews, table of content and the design of the cover. Now that I don’t really believe I’ll ever see the book again, let me at least mention it here – it’s Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom by Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta (this won’t do for a review, of course, but at least it’s something for the publisher taking the time and efforts to have the book mailed here).
These are the items that have actually reached me here – and I know how difficult it is to mail things to Russia so all these items are actually valuable and appreciated by me. What’s more, I even mention them in the posts related to this or that company so I hope this will do for a disclosure in case FTC wants to hear from me as well.
Also I was offered a few premium subscriptions for free to review a product but that was actually needed to review the product itself and I never used such subscriptions in the future. Anyway, the most valuable thing I can get as a blogger is the privilege of being able to attend all the conferences and industrial events I care to arrive to – free of charge using the press pass. But I hope that it is obvious that while most bloggers get to such events for free, you will hardly see only positive reviews of the events from bloggers – simply because no one would have read them otherwise anyway.
But what actually matters is that nothing will change anyway with the more important powerful blogs that transformed into powerful online publications long ago and that sometimes have very complicated relations to the companies or personalities they happen to review or mention. The problem with them is that the fine of up to $11,000 will hardly really matter for them and they will simply have to add it to their annual budgets – just in case – because actual disclosure will result in risking a large portion of their revenue entirely.
So the only thing that you’ll see changing following this FTC initiative is smaller bloggers disclosing everywhere every single T-shirt or book. And the larger blogs could easily do their business from a country where no one really cares what you publish online – like Russia where I live myself.