Some commentary from a Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy:
In a nutshell, I think it's best for book reviewers to note on the individual post if the book (whether final version or ARC) came from a publisher, publicist, or author for the purposes of reviewing it or posting about it on a blog.Given that as a community, we pretty much decided that was a good idea awhile back, I don't think this is going to be any skin off our nose.
So much for the general thrust. For all the little details, hop on over to Edward Champion's Reluctant Habits. This blogger actually called up the Bureau of Consumer Protection and had what he describes as a "civil but heated" discussion with one Richard Cleland of that bureau.
Cleland informed me that the FTC’s main criteria is the degree of relationship between the advertiser and the blogger.Did you notice that bit about holding onto books? Hmmm. It gets elaborated on later, with Champion and Cleland debating the regulations' apparent double standard between unpaid bloggers and paid newspaper critics. Thanks to both men for taking the time to do this.
“The primary situation is where there’s a link to the sponsoring seller and the blogger,” said Cleland. And if a blogger repeatedly reviewed similar products (say, books or smartphones), then the FTC would raise an eyebrow if the blogger either held onto the product or there was any link to an advertisement.
I appreciate what the FTC wants to do here. It's awfully easy for an apparently neutral blog to be not much more than a well-hidden advertising trumpet, with no one the wiser. It's even easy for a blogger to develop such a close relationship with a particular company that they're tempted to review everything positively.
However, whether it's in print or online, a good reviewer reviews what's in front of him or her. I've had relationships with publishers before, getting ARCs in the mail or at conferences, but I like to think that I reviewed the book, not the publisher. Because my policy is to only blog what I love, I don't always write a review either. In fact, I once did the math and realized that I review about 10% of what I read. Between BEA and ALA 08, I amassed eight months' worth of books. I wound up reviewing seventeen titles--the bulk of those during the 2008 48-Hour Book Challenge, which was an anomaly in that I reviewed everything, and not always positively.
Okay, now as to keeping the books. Most of my ARCs have found new homes with the teens at my library, or sometimes get traded to other bloggers. As far as I know, the publishers don't want them back, for a number of reasons. They don't always have cover art or inside art, they can contain mistakes or sections that are edited from the final book, they're of lower quality (paper, binding, etc) than the finished product, and finally, they're not terribly useful after the book is published. Legend holds that publishers have closets full of the things. If we had to start sending them back, there would probably be a lot of bonfires in New York City.
Cleland acknowledged that they're still working out the kinks, so I imagine we'll hear more about this from the FTC and also from bloggers. What do you think?
ETA: All things being Twittered, the hashtag is #HeyFTC. There's some interesting commentary bouncing around Twitter as well.