What Do We Need to Disclose About Free Books?

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All of the information I’m sharing is what I’ve learned from the Federal Trade Commission’s website here. And you can actually email endorsements@ftc.gov with more questions. I did it and found the response to be very quick and extremely helpful! As I noted in my About Me, the information provided on my blog (and in this blog post) are intended to be informational and nothing should be construed as providing legal advice. 

One very troubling thing I’ve seen go around bookstagram is that you just need to follow the guidelines provided by the publisher who sent you the free book. Saying that the publisher said it was fine won’t be good enough. Your contact at a publishing agency isn’t an attorney that can insulate you from liability. They are supposed to try and help influencers make the proper disclosures but ultimately, like with anything in life, it is up to you to review the rules for yourself and use your own judgment. If you are unsure you can always consult with an attorney. 

General

The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t require any exact wording. I’ve seen on Bookstagram claims that you must say it a certain way or you’re breaking the law. That’s not correct. The only requirement is that you make sure your readers/followers understand what your interest in the book is and that there’s no ambiguity about your relationship with the publisher. This is true even if you’ve only agreed to give an honest review. “The question you need to ask is whether knowing about that gift or incentive would affect the weight or credibility your readers give to your recommendation.” 

The example they give in their facts is “Company X gave me this product to try . . . .” This will usually be enough. “Sponsored” or “Ad” are also good.

However, the do make clear that saying “thank you” to the publisher/author is NOT enough. This doesn’t indicate that it was free or a gift. You could just be thanking them for putting this amazing book out into the world for you to purchase.

Now, if the publisher that sends you a book and requests that you say more than what you believe is necessary to meet the FTC rules, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. However, if you don’t listen then they may not send you books in the future because if you do mess up, they can be liable too.

Also, you should remember that if you hated the book you can not lie and say you loved it. All reviews of free or sponsored products must be honest.

Book Blogging

Disclosing at the very bottom of your blog post that the book you have been raving about was provided to you for free is generally not okay. “A disclosure should be placed where it easily catches consumers’ attention and is difficult to miss.” It should be within the blog post and as close to your review as possible.  

Bookstagram

For starters, you need to make sure your disclosure is before the “more” in your photo’s descriptions. If your followers have to click “more” in order to see the disclosure, it is not sufficient. It should absolutely not be at the bottom of the post. 

When posting about books you received for free on Instagram stories, you should make an audio disclosure as well as a visual disclosure written on the story. You should make sure its easy to read, considering things like”how much time you give your followers to look at the image, how much competing text there is to read, how large the disclosure is, and how well it contrasts against the image.” I see people all the time post videos where a book is visible and it’s clear they’re raving about it but they post no written disclosure. If your followers view your video without audio they could certainly be misled.

Booktube

The FTC is very clear on their website that a disclosure about sponsorship or free books can not just be in the description of the video. “Many people might watch the video without even seeing the description page, and those who do might not read the disclosure.” It should be included in the video itself or, even better, in both the video and the video description. Having multiple disclosures during the video is also better.

Conclusion

Truth be told, the FTC says they’re generally not monitoring bloggers and “if law enforcement becomes necessary, [its] focus usually will be on advertisers or their ad agencies and public relations firms.” However, they can go after individual bloggers who fail to make required disclosures. Also, even if they only go after the publishing company, do you really want to be the person who gets a publisher fined? I don’t think you’ll be a very popular influencer in the future.

I hope this has been helpful to someone. I have just been concerned with some of the disclosures I’ve been seeing and I wanted to help sort through all of the information so that we can all make sure we’re following the rules.

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