Transparency and Why It is Important

**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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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25 comments

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    • Amanda on November 22, 2011 at 08:53

    I think it’s a bit funny that you won’t allow mean comments but you called out Bethanne for doing the same thing. I read the comments on her blog post and I thought they were mean.

    • Wendy on November 22, 2011 at 09:05
      Author

    Amanda: I did not call out Bethanne for not allowing mean comments – I called her out for not allowing dissenting comments. There is a difference. I don’t like name calling or personal attacks in comments. If someone, like yourself, wants to come here and disagree with me, that is fine…just keep it civil. That’s easy right?

    • Bethanne Patrick on November 22, 2011 at 09:54

    Wendy, I allowed plenty of dissenting comments on my post. I was holding yours and one other because they were very thoughtful but had a couple of things I wanted to clarify in them before I posted and responded to them. I did say I wanted to clarify things in those posts. I’ll go approve yours right now.

    • Wendy on November 22, 2011 at 09:58
      Author

    Bethanne: Thanks. I did read your update, but I guess it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I appreciate you letting everyone’s voice be heard on this subject even if they are dissenting (and as long as they are respectful).

    • Serena on November 22, 2011 at 11:32

    I have been out of the loop on this issue but I have to agree that being paid for something on a blog should be disclosed. I’m not big on telling people how they should disclose it as long as it is visible to all readers.

    My disclosure about affiliate links (in bold) is in the footer of each post with the copyright information because its easiest for me with all the jobs I juggle and being a new mom. It is easily seen for those reading to the end of the blog post.

    I have not participated in FridayReads much, but I would be suspect of anything claiming not to be a corporate endeavor and then charging publishers/authors for content on the site.

    • Laura on November 22, 2011 at 12:43

    Wendy, thanks for this post which summed up the issue nicely and led me to other thoughtful posts on the subject. I feel much better informed. I agree that transparency and disclosure are very important. I can also give the FridayReads team the benefit of the doubt — i.e.; they are learning to navigate this web world as we all are — and if they respond quickly and honestly, that’s a good thing. If there’s any hint of lingering deception then I will be disappointed.

    • Mel u on November 22, 2011 at 14:46

    “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.”-

    Of course this regulation applies only to those in the USA, those elsewhere are under no such legal obligation

  1. This whole situation, or recent discovery of such, hasn’t made me uncomfortable in the least. I always thought there might be some sort of compensation, but never looked (or cared) about the disclosure of such. I participate in #FridayReads occasionally, but never thought to look for clarification if it was a paid for-profit scenario; I just assumed there was. I’ll continue to participate in the weekly event, so I’m not too worried about all of this. I’m glad they did further clarify for anyone who disapproves, though, so hopefully that will help things turn around. Mistakes are made all the time in business, clarification gets tweaked and improved, etc., so whatever helps to improve the blogosphere, the industry, etc., is good for everyone. But, I think it’s fine to let the dust settle on this one.

    • Lori L on November 22, 2011 at 17:00

    Goodness… This all makes me glad I have a demanding new job and haven’t been aware of every controversy as soon as it happens. Thank you for what I feel was a very balance, thoughtful response, Wendy. My initial thought is quite simple: a clearly displayed disclosure is always the best policy. If this is done there is no controversy.

    • Wendy on November 22, 2011 at 17:16
      Author

    Serena: Thanks for weighing in. I agree – as long as it is obvious, I don’t really care how a blogger wishes to disclose.

    Laura: I agree – the response on this has been fairly quick which is good.

    Mel: Yes, of course. But don’t you think that the FTC regulations are good practice no matter where you live?

    Natalie: I know you aren’t alone – many bloggers don’t seem to care about this at all. But, I think we should care for the reasons I outlined above. Although it seemed obvious to you that it must be paid, many bloggers were not thinking that way (I know that I simply thought it was a fun meme and the giveaways worked like every other give away out there – the publishers donated books – never did I imagine the giveaways were being paid…or for that matter the twitter chats). Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

    Lori: LOL – I know what you mean! I agree – I think had the disclosure been easily seen and timely, people would not have been upset. I often support paid platforms (book tours are a good example), but I know up front what I am supporting and that makes a difference to me.

  2. Wendy, as a writer who has been extraordinarily blessed by your generosity toward my books and my writing life, I would like to thank you for doing what you do so enormously well. You take such time to craft such careful reviews, and many of the books that are on my shelves can be traced straight back to your discerning eye and prose. I hope you never stop doing what you do.

    • Wendy on November 22, 2011 at 18:06
      Author

    Beth: Thank you for such a warm and kind comment. Generosity toward your books is easy…they are amazing.

  3. $1.47?? Wow this is quite the moneymaker for you! I think your post is very well-written and brings up some great points. I’ve already commented on friday reads and my disappointment, so I’ll say no more about that.
    As for blogs, that has been something that’s bothered me at times. I don’t care about the advertisements or even people that get books sent to them by publishers. But when all of their reviews are positive, that makes me think they are doing that to keep up a good relationship with publishers so they can keep getting better books. I need to feel like I can trust the reviewer to be honest. Life is too short to read crappy books!
    I don’t get books from publishers but have used NetGalley, though stopped because I felt pressured to review what I requested. I do review books I get from Amazon Vine but I don’t mention it in reviews because 1-I forgot because I stopped doing ARC reviews for a long time and 2- I get them from Amazon, not the publisher. And anyone who has read my blog knows I will not be held back from writing a negative review. But I will try to remember to disclose from now on.

  4. Surprised by the Facebook page tbh.

    Great post, Wendy!

  5. I love how levelheaded this post is! I think transparency definitely builds trust. And like BookMagic said, when people post nothing but positive reviews of books they get from publishers, my brain tends to wander to what the motive is.

    Either way, your post is fabulous!

  6. PS I love all the German Shepherds in your header! I have two myself and they are such a wonderful breed, so loyal and SMART and loving!

  7. I’m very pleased this topic is being discussed because I have thought about it a lot in the past. I have been offered money for various different things on my blog and always struggle to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t. I am looking forward to the results of your survey.

    I have never been paid for content on my blog (reviews, giveaways, interviews etc) but I do allow advertising. So far I have refused advertising from individual publishers because I feel it would bias things, but I have allowed booksellers, e-reader sellers etc to advertise. I often wonder if it would be OK if I allowed all the publishers to advertise at the same time. Would that balance things out? Or would it seem as though I was promoting whatever book they happen to advertise? I would love to know your thoughts on allowing publishers to advertise in the sidebar. Do you think that is wrong?

    • Marie on November 23, 2011 at 20:10

    Thank you for this thoughtful post on this issue. I agree with you 100%. I have no problem with bloggers making money- in fact I love seeing us getting paid work from our hobbies and our passions. But it’s misleading to fail to mention that you’re being paid to promote something. I pay the same attention to paid promotions as I would to any other ad, but neglecting to mention that the promotion is an ad is misleading at best. I’ve found this whole thing disappointing. And I’m frankly surprised that Bethanne’s clients don’t require her to disclose her relationships more clearly, because if the FTC did decide to examine this practice, it’s her clients who would answer to them. But even so, when someone fails to mention that what they’re saying is bought and paid for, it calls into question a number of things and damages their credibility. I like and respect Bethanne and I was glad to hear that she plans on providing clearer disclosures in the future.

    • Wendy on November 26, 2011 at 09:03
      Author

    Bookmagic: Yeah – $1.47…huge right/ LOL! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

    Amy: Me too…thanks for dropping by.

    April: Thanks for stopping by…and also for the nice comment about my dog 🙂 I’ll have to come by and see photos of your dogs – GSDs are the best!!

    Jackie: I think every blogger has to make their own decisions about paid content and advertising. I think if you disclose everything, that goes a long way. Personally, I have steered away from publisher advertisements because it feels like we then stop being objective media, and more like a paid voice for the publisher. It is a difficult topic and many people feel there is not a conflict of interest.

    Marie: Yup – I agree 100% with you. A lot of people are saying this is new media and so disclosure is not clear cut. I disagree. The topic of disclosure on the blogs is at least 2 years old now, and the Friday Reads thing seemed pretty obvious to me that disclosure should have happened in an obvious way. Hopefully, we have all learned something important and people will be more careful in the future.

    • Becca on November 26, 2011 at 09:19

    Wendy, thank you for this very thoughtful and informative post. I participate in Friday Reads, and was vaguely aware of some controversy last week but didn’t really understand it. Thanks to your post and pertinent links, I have a better awareness.

    There are so many vague areas in the internet, we learn as we go. I agree, there needs to be full disclosure in situations like this.

    • Amy on November 27, 2011 at 12:41

    I think this is a great post and very clear. I have only participated in FridayReads 2 or 3 times. I was tuirned off one particular Friday because a book that, based on the description I don’t see myself ever reading, was being promoted an enormous amount in twitter comments…every 3 or 4 comments and in bold lettering. It was irritating and weird I thought at the time. Now it makes more sense although pushing that book so obviously is still irritating!
    I like to think nobody intentionally deceived bloggers regarding any money they make through FridayReads but I will say that I’m surprised no one making money thought to be much more transparent about the money they’re making. It’s certainly an interesting issue.

    • Kinna on November 27, 2011 at 22:19

    A very thoughtful post. Thank you.

    I lived in the US for over 15 years but I now live and blog from Ghana, Africa. But I always disclose when a book was given to me by a publisher. I feel that I have to abide by the FTC’s rules 1) I actually believe disclosure is a very good thing and 2) most of my readers live in the US.

    I’m wary of the “we are not sure what to do in social media” argument. Disclosure is disclosure. One simply has to find a way to disclose.

  8. Yuck. I missed all the fuss about the friday reads meme and now I don’t want to join anymore! The only thing I did was send a tweet out on fridays, but anyway. I will miss it though. 🙁

  9. Oops, pushed “submit” too quickly. Aren’t you afraid that people who volunteer to fill in your survey are mainly the ones who don’t get paid (much); that the response is from a homogeneous selective group?

    • Wendy on November 28, 2011 at 09:00
      Author

    Becca: You’re welcome…and thank you for leaving a comment and weighing in.

    Amy: *nods* I only participated on Facebook – which apparently is run by someone who is NOT getting paid…but, the Twitter hashtag apparently was where the money was being generated.

    Kinna: I completely agree! And I am glad to see that although you live outside the US you still feel it is important to disclose.

    Gnoe: My survey is by no means “random” or “scientific”. By making it open for people to complete anonymously, I hoped to encourage everyone to participate even if they are not disclosing or if they are posting paid content. We’ll see when I close it how the numbers roll out.

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