FTC Won’t Let Me Be

So the FCC won’t let me be
Or let me be me so let me see

-Eminem, ‘Without Me’

The Federal Trade Commission recently unrolled a new set of rules to clamp down on blogging for pay.


It’s kind of strange, because I can see the point to both sides of the issue. If at Anime Diet we get a review copy of something, well, review copies are par for the course. We wouldn’t think of running a specific disclosure statement, any more than the New York Times Book Review would disclose that they got a review copy of a book on every single column. It’s assumed.

However, being paid by the company, as blogs are via services such as BlogStar, definitely invites corruption. I feel that this is a distinction that the FTC could have made that they did not. At Anime Diet we disclose anything we get that isn’t actual review material – for example, at NYAF Tokyopop gave random audience members Tshirts and I disclosed that I got one, even though it is three sizes too small and I could never actually wear it (it’s going to charity.) We would never take payment to plug their stuff because that would be a gross violation of journalistic integrity, but we could accept manga because we would review it without our judgment being affected. Freebies which are neither review material nor payment fall in between.

So on the one hand, it’s a little silly to have to disclose review materials. On the other hand, everything that isn’t review material had damn well better be disclosed, and I am glad that this stipulation has the weight of law. I just wish they had understood the difference.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM  Comments (16)  
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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good point!

    One big difference between blogs and print media, though, is that print media typically (from what I’ve heard and read) doesn’t get to keep the review material. They usually either have to send it back, or it remains in the ownership of the media company (e.g., it goes into the NY Times archives).

    Out of curiosity, of the stuff you receive at Anime Diet, do you have to send any of it back, or is it yours to keep?

    • Thank you.

      In my time with Anime Diet I have not received any review copies that are mine to keep. In fact, I am about to ship something to Asia.

      Of course, I do have plenty of other stuff that I paid for, but happened to review.

      Other blogs may have very different policies. Anime 3000 lists keeping review copies as a reason to write for them, and I understand that Anime Almanac has put considerable effort into getting review copies that do not need to be sent back.

  2. I would disagree. The FTC was looking specifically at review material as well as gifts in general. Some people/sites were getting items like gaming systems and high-end DVD players for review and not required to return them. It appears that the FTC didn’t want to set some arbitrary monetary value on what review material to disclose and what not. So whether you get an $8 manga or $300 DVD player you have to disclose that you didn’t pay for the item under review.
    In this whole debate I’m constantly reminded of Neil Gaiman’s metaphor, the law is a blunt instrument and not a scapula.

    • I agree that the law is a blunt instrument, especially in this case. That’s why overall, I concluded the article in support of the regulation. However, my contention is that the law doesn’t have to be a blunt instrument – lawmakers can learn about the finer distinctions and craft better laws. They merely choose not to, because their energies are exerted on things like getting reelected. As the FTC policymakers are not elected, I don’t really see that they have an excuse for their gross lack of precision.

  3. My apologies to you and Neil Gaiman that should be scalpel not scapula.

    • As Darth Vader has been known to say, “Apology accepted.” 😉

  4. Actually, I generally assume that bloggers, since they’re (usually) not paid for writing for their publication, review stuff they’ve actually bought. I mean, that certainly seems like the norm for things like figures. (I’m sure some people would drool at getting (some) figures for free in exchange for a photography session/review..though the quality of the latter seems really high in most cases. =)) The only manga reviews I’ve read are those that’re 1. obvious scanlations or 2. actually have a disclaimer line at the end of the entry. I guess 2 is useful because some of the posts are actually off of the blogger’s own bookshelf..=)

    • I meant ‘obviously from scanlations’.. that said, I generally do not read much of manga reviews, so my sample size is rather biased. =)

    • I don’t think anyone’s gotten figures for review purposes that they didn’t have to send back. Most things which aren’t reproducible media do have to be sent back (I know that katana reviewers must send the swords back after the review.)

      As I mentioned above, I have not received any review copies that are mine to keep. Even so, I don’t know if that would really skew a review – while sending a review copy ensures that an item will get reviewed, a poor item in the hands of a professional will still get a poor review, which defeats the point of generating publicity for a product.

      The point I’m trying to make is – if you wouldn’t really expect the New York Times to run repetitive disclaimers, would you expect a professional website to do the same? You mentioned quality as a distinguishing factor, which I find interesting – do people automatically know really good writing when they see it, the way they know good pictures from lousy ones?

      • I meant that since figure reviews are what I see most often (well, what I pay attention to, at least; visuals!), and since most if not all figure reviewers buy their own figures, I presume that’s the case for other things. Ed, in a comment above, has mentioned other people do get expensive items for review. But I think it’s not so much the price as the transparency.

        Poor publicity is still publicity. -wry- I think the point here might be that bloggers are still seen as amateurs; (Though I -have- seen some rubbish opinion columns running in a major newspaper. Don’t like politics involving bashing.) most aren’t full-time bloggers being paid for their content. There’re more than a million anime/manga blogs, and more are being created or hiatused every moment. You’d expect the NY Times to be here tomorrow, but the knee-jerk reaction when I see a blog is that it’s an amateur enterprise that’s probably impermanent, unless otherwise-stated.

        Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t know about good writing, but I’m quite sure I know bad writing when I see it. 😛 What does disappoint me, though, is when I’ve seen the review copy line and…have no inclination to read the rest of the review. Not because it’s a review copy, or because the writer was unskilled (to the contrary, in fact), but because I have the attention of a goldfish online and the organisation of the review -might- have worked for print, but as things stand, it turned out to be chunks of text that I just ‘tldr’ed. Attempted publicity became no publicity for this picky customer. 😦

    • “I’ve seen the review copy line and [had] no inclination to read the rest of the review . . . ”

      That’s pretty much what the concern is now: will people be turned off by a sudden flurry of disclaimers? The average person who doesn’t know about these regulations might think that big companies are more ethical if they don’t have to run disclaimers but small companies do.

      The fact that most blogs are ephemeral doesn’t work in favor of these rules; it works against them. An ephemeral blog has no reason to follow a rule if enforcement takes six months or so to materialize. On the other hand, a blog that does stick around will have to be scrupulous (which may involve spending time documenting things, etc.) There is therefore more of a burden on more proper, long-term blogs.

  5. *Cough* *Cough* *Gasp* Thanks.

    Now, you do bring up an interesting case. If the NY Times has an online book reviewer, does that person have to disclose receiving review copies? If no, then by extension no one at Anime Diet has to either. Since in both cases, the reviewers are employees of a company that receive the review copies, then mails them to the reviewer, and the reviewer must return the copy. Just because the NY Times also prints a physical newspaper in addition to their website shouldn’t be relevant to the discussion of disclosure. Has anyone talked about this circumstance before?

    • I don’t know. I should look into it.

      Just as you said, the size of the reviewing agency or the addition of publications in other media shouldn’t make a difference.

  6. Now that’s a point. Review materials should always be seen as something different from compensation. I saw the FTC regulation as a move against sneaky marketing, in which brand names make it look as if ordinary people are saying positive things about them.

    But the regulations shouldn’t make it difficult for professional websites who were already acting ethically to begin with.

  7. I get the point, and not because I’m a law student. Sometimes it’s scary how the guys in wigs (Do American judges wear those silly things?) or legislators, earlier on- don’t see the picture and pull off something ridiculously stupid. I wonder how they’re gonna control it in the first place. Regulation, registration, it’s gonna be a nightmare for ’em. Sometimes I think they don’t really care about consumers and just want the undeclared taxes.

  8. […] The FCC – Taking a step closer to its future role as the GOTT, the FCC proposed sweeping changes to blogging, and the huddled masses could do naught but […]

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