**Update 4:30 PM (PST): Please read this post by Erin of Hey There is a Dead Guy in the Living Room for further clarification about Friday Reads and how it is administered.
A controversy surrounding the Friday Reads meme got me thinking about the issue of bloggers being paid for content they post to their blogs. This is not new stuff. Book bloggers have been going round and round about the idea of paid content for a while now. Let me just say up front – I do not have a problem with bloggers making money from their blogs. I DO have a problem with bloggers posting paid content or promotional material and not fully disclosing it.
Maybe I should define “full disclosure.”
- It should be obvious to visitors to one’s blog if there is paid content – readers should not have to do an extensive search to find disclosure information.
- I don’t think a one line, small print “disclosure” hidden on one’s blog constitutes full disclosure.
- I don’t think providing a link to another site where one “discloses” is full disclosure.
Not only should bloggers indicate on their “About” page that there is paid content on their blog (or that they might get paid by readers clicking through links on their site), but if a specific post is generating revenue for a blogger, the disclosure should also be on that particular post. Why? Because many readers use feed readers to access blog content and they will never see the “About” page.
My thoughts about disclosure are not just my personal opinion. The FTC has specific guidelines regarding this which have been updated to include what people must do… not only on their blogs, but on Twitter and other social networking sites. They are very clear. Every blogger should read these guidelines because disclosure effects us all.
The Friday Reads meme is interesting in terms of disclosure because it is not really a blog. Yes, they have a website but how many people actually visit the website? Most people access the meme through a Twitter hashtag or visit the meme on the Facebook page. Up until yesterday, if you visited the Friday Reads Facebook page, there was nothing at all in the information about the organizers getting paid by publishers for hosting book giveaways or having “twitter parties.” In fact, this is what their “About” page said about the meme:
FridayReads is not a corporate endeavor, but rather is a labor of love—and crowdsourcing—from readers. We’re grateful, though, for the authors and publishers who donate prizes each week! Prizes—books and magazines—are awarded to randomly selected FridayReads participants each week, and as the number of participants grows, so do the prizes available. So be sure to ask your friends to participate, too.
They specifically indicated that the meme was not a corporate endeavor (ie: business) and that it is all about the joy of reading. They indicated their prizes are donated, but they omitted that they were also being paid to advertise the giveaways. They did not mention the twitter book promotions which were also paid. If you can believe author Jennifer Weiner (who tweeted about this extensively on Friday), they are being paid a significant amount of money. So, what on its face appeared to be just another fun meme in the book blogging/reading world, was actually a business which was dependent on reader participation to be successful.
I find this disheartening because it feels deceptive.
Yesterday Bethanne at Book Maven and the founder of Friday Reads updated the Facebook page with a disclosure, and posted a “full disclosure” on her site. She explains how the whole thing unfolded and indicates that she is rethinking things and wants to be clearer in the future. I applaud that, however I can’t help but notice that the only comments being approved on her post are in support of her.
I tried to post a comment and it has yet to be approved – it was not rude, but it was not supportive. **Please note that my comment has now been approved (Bethanne has commented on this post below). I noticed this morning Bethanne notes she is holding comments which are “negative” so she can clarify their content. I don’t really get that. A comment is someone’s opinion and it should not be censored just because the commenter doesn’t agree with your position. But, it is her site, and I suppose she is entitled to make these kinds of decisions. It does make me wonder, however, how many people like myself tried to post a dissenting comment and have been shut down.
My intent here is to not trash a particular person, but to bring to light why bloggers should disclose and be transparent on their blogs.
Amy from My Friend Amy wrote a wonderful, thoughtful post about disclosure yesterday with which I completely agree. In that light, I thought I would share with my readers a few facts about my blog.
Giveaways on my site are handled in one of two ways:
- A publisher offers a book for giveaway and mails the book to the winner. I post about the giveaway. I do NOT get paid. Rarely do I agree to a publisher sponsored giveaway of a book I have not read. Why? Because I don’t want to promote a book I did not like or could not recommend.
- I decide to give away a book that I have gotten from a publisher or author (either I don’t want to read it, or it is an extra copy, or I’ve read it and want to share it with someone else). I mail the book to the winner. I do NOT get reimbursed for postage. I do NOT get paid for posting the giveaway.
I also do not get paid for posting reviews (although I was asked by an author once if I would read and review her book if she paid me to do so – I said “no” because I felt that would have been a conflict of interest).
In fact, there is no paid content whatsoever on Caribousmom.
I AM an Indiebound affliliate. In fact, I’ve been an affiliate with them for nearly two years. By posting Indiebound widgets on my site, I COULD earn money if someone clicks through and then buys the book. That said, in light of full disclosure, I can tell you I have earned $1.47 from those widgets over a two year period. Even still, I put a disclosure statement on every single post that contains these widgets. I do not assume that readers will go to my “About” page to read my disclosure there.
I receive complimentary books from publishers, publicists and authors to review on my blog. The source of every single book I receive is disclosed – first on my weekly Mailbox Monday, and also when I review the book. No one has to guess which books came to me “free” because I tell them right up front.
I occasionally participate in book blog tours, and when I do, I disclose that the book came to me from the publisher and I give links back to the tour site (if that is applicable).
Just so people know, my blog is not free. It is a paid platform. I pay for it to be hosted and maintained. It is not cheap. I have probably spent at least $100 over the last 12 months mailing out books to people in my blog hosted giveaways (maybe more – I don’t keep track). My blog, in terms of money, is a losing proposition. No one would do this unless they loved it. Which is why I do it.
Now, before I start getting comments calling me bitter or saying this post is sour grapes or telling me I could find ways to monetize my blog if I wanted to, let me say that I have never been upset that I do not make money here. I posted about this here some time ago. And, as I said in the first paragraph of this post – I have nothing against bloggers who DO choose to monetize their blogs.
That said, I do not think we can be objective when we are getting paid by a publisher to promote a certain book, whether it be through a review, giveaway, guest post or author interview. This type of paid promotion is VERY different from advertising on our blogs or writing reviews for third party sites who pay us for our objective opinions – somewhat like print reviewers. Bloggers who are essentially employees of the publishers absolutely need to disclose that to their readers. Why? Because we count on honesty from the blogs when selecting books. And I think that assumption of honesty is what makes book blogs successful. Who wants to read reviews which are NOT honest? Why bother?
I also think that any challenge, meme or event which serves to make money for its organizer as an outreach of a publisher is, by definition, a business and should be disclosed as such so that participants can make an informed decision as to whether or not they wish to support that challenge, meme, or event.
Now that I have ranted…if you are still here, I would love to have you take a survey. You can complete it anonymously. I would like to close the survey on December 1st: Click here to take survey
Finally, I welcome your comments whether you agree with me or not. Please, however, keep it civil. Comments which are mean, abusive or make personal attacks will be deleted.
**Please note that my blog is set to hold comments in moderation if the person commenting is new to my blog OR if they include a link in their comment. This is to prevent spam. I am working today, so there may be a slight delay in approving comments…but I will try to monitor this post frequently. Thanks for your patience.