A Word about Free Books and FTC Disclosures…

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Woo-ee. Amazon is going nuts right now. You probably wouldn’t have heard anything about it if you don’t review on the site often, but they are slashing reviewers left and right. I mean, like, hundreds since last December–all people who have lost their reviewing privileges forever after allegedly “manipulating reviews.” There is a whole lot of speculation in the forums as to what that phrase means exactly, but it sounds like some reviewers may have been paid to write reviews for certain products or were encouraged by companies to only write glowing 5-star reviews. But no one really knows for sure what is going on, because Amazon has adopted a strict “No, we aren’t explaining ourselves” policy thus far.

All I know is that the whole situation has opened my eyes to the world of disclosures. Apparently, the FTC requires you to acknowledge when you are reviewing a product that you received for free. Well, most of the books I review are ARCs (i.e., Advanced Reader Copies). I get them (at no cost) through the Amazon Vine Program or NetGalley. Or, because I am a Top Reviewer on Amazon, I also sometimes get free books directly from authors, even publishers.

You can rest assured that I make ZERO money off of my reviews or this blog. I don’t use affiliate links or paid advertising or anything like that. I just really like reading books and then sharing my honest impressions of them. I do this in my spare time–simply to entertain myself (and my four faithful readers). I wasn’t aware that I needed to clearly mark in my reviews that a book was free to me, but you better believe I’m going to now.

Starting this month, I’m going to be very diligent about disclosing how I got each book. I’m slightly paranoid I will forget, since it isn’t part of my posting routine, but, shoot, I certainly don’t want to get caught up in this FTC crossfire mess. Yeesh. So if you see a message like this:  “Advanced Reader Copy provided by Amazon Vine” at the top of my posts from now on (and you will!), you’ll know why it’s there.

Lesson learned:  Try not to anger the Government or Big Business. They’ll smite you down with their mighty swords. (And, no, I’m still not sure how I feel about that…)

13 thoughts

  1. I wonder how they’ll discern the difference between paid (or bribed) reviews and a reviews from people who bought their books on another site (or read them on someone else’s tablet). I imagine they have an algorithm that looks for “tells,” such as too many exclamation points!!!! As an Amazon top reviewer, you’re probably safe from the review police.

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    1. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for Amazon, some of these reviewers have left a pretty obvious trail. They review hundreds of products a month, always give five stars, and most of the products are super cheap (lots of bluetooth ear buds and iPhone 6 cases, etc.).

      It seems that most of the BOOK reviewers who’ve been booted were doing giveaways and had affiliate links and paid advertising on their sites. I still don’t 100% get Amazon’s thought process on this, but it’s clear they don’t want anyone making money off of product/book recommendations. But, then again, AMAZON makes money off of book recommendations from book bloggers (especially when bloggers link directly to Amazon), so, yeah, I’m just at a loss. The rules are definitely murky right now…

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  2. Since long before the Internet, publishers have always sent free “review copies” to journals and individuals who they think might generate a review based on the content of the book. It seems Amazon has unilaterally overturned this well-established practice for fear of a small loophole, shooting themselves in the face to get rid of an inconvenient pimple. I think all Amazon readers know that if you have 2 reviews, it’s your mom and spouse, but if you have 50-60 reviews, one can read through and get a pretty good idea of whether you’d like the book. I suspect people will simply diversify their review sources and Amazon will lose its status as the go-to site for reviews.

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    1. I think you could be right. I know, from the forums, that A LOT of people are nervous about leaving reviews on Amazon right now. Amazon’s rules just aren’t clear, so no one knows for sure if they are violating something accidentally. It doesn’t help that Amazon owns Goodreads, too–so it feels like you are taking a similar risk leaving reviews there, as well.

      On the one hand, I get that Amazon wants to rid itself of these sneaky people who are clearly writing 5-star reviews for garbage products, all so they can make a few bucks or get some free stuff. But, at this point, it certainly feels like Amazon is venturing into “irrational scorned lover” territory. Of course Amazon wants to save its reputation for having solid reviews, but when it starts cutting well-respected reviewers, I don’t know, man… I think they’ve unintentionally created a kind of a witch hunt vibe right now. It’s unfortunate.

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      1. You and I and Amazon would all agree that falsified 5-star reviews are a nuisance, but you and I also seem to agree that in this case the medicine is far more toxic than the disease. I didn’t know that Amazon owned Goodreads. That certainly complicates people’s ability to sidestep Amazon’s sledgehammer tactics.

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  3. I’d like to start another company to compete with Goodreads and Amazon for reviews. I would reward great indie reviewers with more attention and opportunity. Anybody with me? How could we do it better?

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  4. Could it be that Amazon is slowly but surely discouraging reviews from non-purchasers to drive more purchases? How does Amazon benefit from owning Goodreads? Do they influence purchase behavior by prioritizing their own buy buttons? What do people love about Goodreads that could be threatened?

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    1. I think Amazon knows that Goodreads is becoming a really popular site for book reviewers. Buying it is a good investment. Plus, yes, they’ve starting pushing more of their “but it now on Amazon” links lately.

      Honestly, though, I wonder how much they actually need to push their links. I feel like just about everyone buys their books on Amazon. The only time I use Barnes & Noble is when I want a book RIGHT NOW. And there aren’t a whole lot of book buying options, otherwise.

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  5. I have a standard disclaimer that I attach to reviews on my site & wherever I cross-post my reviews (GoodReads, etc.). I also denote if I received it from a publisher/giveaway/etc. on my about page where I list all of the books reviewed on my site. You can feel free to use a disclaimer similar to mine if you’d like! Things like this do make me wonder what happens when you win a book giveaway from a blog that isn’t directly associated with a publisher/author/etc.

    Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

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    1. Bri, thanks for the suggestion. I checked out how you formatted the disclosure on your blog posts, too. I’m going for a similar look. You even knew to put the disclosure at the beginning of the post, before you link to anything else (another disclosure requirement I wasn’t aware of at first…). Anyway, I appreciate the input!

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