If you’re new to blogging this year, or just new to receiving review copies from publishers (ARCs), you may be wondering exactly what obligations you have to disclose to your readers that you are reviewing books or other bookish products that you received from free. Most bloggers seem to be aware they have to include some type of disclosure, but I see questions on Twitters every few months about what those disclosures should look like. Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some pretty explicit guidelines for this, so you don’t need to put that much guesswork into complying.
The General Rule
The FTC’s primary requirement for disclosures is that they need to be “clear and conspicuous.”
At first glance, this sounds open to a broad range of interpretation, but in many cases you can probably use common sense to determine whether you are disclosing that you have received a free product in exchange for reviewing or promoting it in a way that is “clear and conspicuous.”
On a base level, this means no using confusing wording trying to actually hide that you received a free product, no using tiny font, no hiding the disclaimer on a separate page from the review, etc. On a more practical level, this just means you should put the disclaimer near the beginning of the post (not the end) and that you should say something really straightforward like “I received this book subscription box from Uppercase in exchange for an honest review.” Easy.
On Your Blog
The FTC specifically addresses blog posts in their FAQ, stating that you should disclose your source on the individual review and suggesting that placing the disclaimer at the beginning is better than the end because not everyone may read to the end of the post. (“Have the disclosure at the beginning” is a running theme.) You should also be explicit, in case some readers don’t understand abbreviations or other shorthand. This is something I can get better at myself. For instance, I frequently write something like “Source: Netgalley” because I know other book bloggers will know what this means–but more casual readers of my blog may not understand it means “I received a free ebook from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.” That is being is “clear and conspicuous.”
Where in my blog should I disclose that my review is sponsored by a marketer? I’ve seen some say it at the top and others at the bottom. Does it matter?
Yes, it matters. A disclosure should be placed where it easily catches consumers’ attention and is difficult to miss. Consumers may miss a disclosure at the bottom of a blog or the bottom of a page. A disclosure at the very top of the page, outside of the blog, might also be overlooked by consumers. A disclosure is more likely to be seen if it’s very close to, or part of, the endorsement to which it relates.
You are also required to disclose to your readers if you have affiliate links on your blog and if you will receive money if they make a purchase after clicking on the link. In the same vein, the FTC suggests that you say this explicitly: “I will receive money if you buy a book from this Amazon link.” The theory is that simply saying “This is an affiliate link” will not be clear to all readers. Again, this disclosure should be placed near any and all affiliate links; you should not hide this information on your “about” page or someplace else where the reader may not see it.
On Social Media
Similar rules apply to any products (books or bookish goodies) that you are promoting on social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.: You need to place the disclosure near the beginning of the post, and it needs to be obvious to your followers what the disclaimer means.
Last April, the FTC sent letters to a number of “influencers” on Instagram reminding them that they need to use clear wording (not just hashtags like #sp or #ambassador) and that these disclosures need to be in the first three lines of the post because many readers will not hit the “more” button. They also suggest not simply saying “Thank you, [Brand]” as this can be unclear, but you could say “Thank you, [Brand], for sending me this free book.]
Here’s what their FAQ page says about Instagram:
What about a disclosure in the description of an Instagram post?
When people view Instagram streams on most smartphones, descriptions more than four lines long are truncated, with only the first three lines displayed. To see the rest, you have to click “more.” If an Instagram post makes an endorsement through the picture or the first three lines of the description, any required disclosure should be presented without having to click “more.”
Similar rules apply to Twitter. Make the disclosure obvious, and don’t hide it in 20 other hashtags:
What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my message is limited to 140 characters?
The FTC isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the same general principle – that people get the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use only 9 characters. “Paid ad” only uses 7 characters. Starting a tweet with “Ad:” or “#ad” – which takes only 3 characters – would likely be effective.
If you run a Booktube channel, you also have to disclose any free products or any payments you received, and, as always, the FTC wants you to do this at the beginning of the video (I said it was going to be a theme). The theory is that many people will not watch until the end of the video, and they would miss a disclosure there. You are also supposed to include this information in the video itself and not just in the video description:
If I upload a video to YouTube and that video requires a disclosure, can I just put the disclosure in the description that I upload together with the video?
No, because consumers can easily miss disclosures in the video description. Many people might watch the video without even seeing the description page, and those who do might not read the disclosure. The disclosure has the most chance of being clear and prominent if it’s included in the video itself. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have disclosures in both the video and the description.
Basically, there are actual guidelines on how to clearly disclosure, so there’s no need to be confused or to worry about whether you’re doing it right. If you have more questions, check out the rest of the FAQs on the FTC website. Also keep in mind that the FTC tends to “go after” people with far bigger audiences who are receiving far bigger payments from brands than most book bloggers, so you’re probably not on the verge of getting into any kind of legal trouble. Just do your best to be “clear and conspicuous.”