Publisher’s statement

The FTC has just released new guidelines for bloggers that require reviewers to reveal any compensation they get from the maker of the product being reviewed. This has been interpreted to include review copies themselves. Although talk of $11,000 fines is being batted about, I don’t think the FTC is going to be swooping in on manga bloggers anytime soon. I suspect this is really aimed at those fake weight-loss blogs, shopping blogs, etc.

However, it seems like as good a time as any to make clear the guidelines under which MangaBlog operates. It’s basic journalistic ethics: I write honest reviews, and I avoid conflicts of interest and disclose those that can’t be avoided, no matter how small.

I cheerfully accept review copies, and if a review is based on a complimentary copy, I always note that at the end of the review (except sometimes I forget). I always do an honest review, no matter where a book comes from. I believe that publishers are grownups and can handle a bad review, and if I pull my punches, all my reviews lose credibility.

(Incidentally, since manga retails for $10 to $12, and it takes me 3-4 hours to read and review a book, the hourly wage on this thing is pretty low. Certainly not worth selling out my integrity for.)

The only obligation that a free book creates in my mind is the obligation to write about it. I am more likely to write about a review copy than a book I bought myself because I do feel that I owe the publisher some sort of review.

I read as many review copies as possible, and I mention a few every week at Robot 6 in my weekly contributions to their What Are You Reading? column. In addition to MangaBlog, I write for PWCW and Graphic Novel Reporter, and I often base my articles for those venues on review copies. And since I’m the editor of Good Comics for Kids, I may review a kid- or teen-friendly book and then pass it along to one of the writers there, so some publishers get double duty for their review copies.

If I have any connection at all with a book, I will disclose that in the review. If I feel that I’m too friendly with a creator to write an objective review of their book, I won’t review it, but I might look for a guest reviewer (I have a few of these in the works).

I keep a lot of my review copies, but space is finite, so I donate some of them to the excellent Reader to Reader program and to my local library. I also have been bringing kids’ comics into the office because I deal with a lot of families with kids, especially during the holiday season. Occasionally I put some books up on Paperback Swap, which is also a great place to find that missing volume of an older series. I do sell books on eBay, but not very often, as it’s really not worth the trouble (except for yaoi, which can’t really be donated to my usual venues).

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Comments

  1. (Incidentally, since manga retails for $10 to $12, and it takes me 3-4 hours to read and review a book, the hourly wage on this thing is pretty low. Certainly not worth selling out my integrity for.)

    I’m glad you mentioned that here, because this is a very good point. :)

  2. Here’s an interview with the FTC that expands on their point (and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s limited to those weight-loss and shopping blogs): http://www.edrants.com/interview-with-the-ftcs-richard-cleland/

  3. Charles, I know that on paper they can cast the net pretty wide, but realistically, the resources for enforcement are finite and they will likely go for the low-hanging fruit first. Still, it’s good to be above board, not only to stay out of trouble but also for your readers’ benefit.

  4. Melinda, I’m not sure what my price would be, but it sure wouldn’t be three bucks an hour. ^_^

  5. Excellent post. Thanks for concisely and elegantly saying what has been true of any reviewer of worth. We all live by these guidelines. It’s a shame that we have to spell it out so clearly. My problem isn’t with the FTC, but with those that think my disclosure statement somehow taints my review. Either because it says I’m an amateurish hack who boasts of freebies, or that I’m a company shill that can be bought off with a $10 book. I’ll just let the quality of my reviews speak for me. The naysayers will fall by the wayside. Again thanks for bringing some maturity and wisdom to the discussion. Johanna’s right, your setting an example to follow.

  6. I have to say I feel the same about review copies – I’m much more likely to review them in a timely fashion than something I’ve bought myself (tho I’ve only ever received a few review copies – with indie/small press I feel that supporting the creator by actually buying most things is pretty important compared to mainstream stuff)

    I do have the problem of reviewing acquaintances work tho – the indie/small press manga scene in the UK is pretty small, so I have met and got to know quite a few of the creators online or in real life. I tend to have an overall policy on Comic Mole of recommending comics for people to pick up which I can genuinely say I have enjoyed, and just not mentioning any which I would feel bad giving a balanced review to considering I know the creator(s).

    I always try and balance my reviews with some criticism too tho, even if its just pointing out something about the art style which I personally liked, but I could tell that others might find a bit trying to deal with.

  7. What Brigid says ties in with why I feel it’s so important to review things one doesn’t like as well as those one does—it establishes credibility. A reviewer’s responsibility is to the readers who might buy something based on our recommendation, not to the publisher who provided a review copy.

  8. Ed, you are one of the many reviewers I enjoy reading and you also include a disclosure statement. I hope in our Twitter talk yesterday I didn’t give the impression that the disclosure statement made YOU look like an amateur, I was more concerned the statement would make ME look like one.

    Regardless, I do not like the idea of one slice of the media world (bloggers) being regulated in this way by the federal government, when other parts of the media are not. Since I don’t have “journalistic policy” to follow I need the government to force me to red stamp my reviews. I think I do have a journalistic policy, because if I don’t give honest reviews then eventually no one is going to read them.

    I think the whole idea that we as bloggers need to be regulated and reeled in from our wild west antics is sad, and it taints everything we are trying to do. If the government said disclosure should cover all media, then I would be much more behind it, but since they are splitting the pie into slices, and indeed a slice I happen to be in, I call baloney.

  9. John T, I didn’t take our conversation that way at all. It’s some from the more traditional media that have taken that attitude regarding disclosure.

    Brigid, Did you read the Dear Author (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/)post on all this? Very interesting how little the FTC understands about the blogsphere and the book review community.


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