The Reading World

Blog payola: Book and device reviews may be under FTC scrutiny

Robert Nagle, writing at TeleRead, has a hypothetical question for book reviewers after reading about the growing concern among bloggers that the Federal Trade Commission may soon seek to regulate blogger compensation by the companies they write about:

Hypothetical Ethical question: You are a  book reviewer for a well-known blog.  Amazon offers to send you a free Kindle loaded with  300 bestsellers (by certain publishers who paid Amazon for the privilege). According to Amazon’s offer, you could keep  Kindle on the condition that you  publish a minimum of 1 review a month  (positive or negative) on their blog for the next 12 months.  Should you accept this offer?

I’ve answered at length over at this blog, and encourage you to join the discussion.

Having recently launched a Blogger Advisory Council for Lenovo (I am the independent moderator of the community, for which I am compensated on a contract basis), I think complete transparency is essential in this day of citizen reviewing and that any pay for performance terms are unacceptable. The bloggers who receive PCs from Lenovo are not required to blog at all, though they are free to blog, whatever their opinion about the PCs, if they disclose their relationship with the company. Disclosure is mandatory.

I’ve been deeply involved in this debate for a long time.

Author & Publisher Strategies Book and Reading News

Ouch! Elsevier admits payola for positive reviews has caught Elsevier’s textbook marketers in a payola scheme, which the company admits and has said violated its own rules, encouraging contributors to post positive reviews at and In an email, the company offered $25 gift cards from Amazon in exchange for positive reviews.

The company’s director of corporate relations issued a statement:

“Encouraging interested parties to post book reviews isn’t outside the norm in scholarly publishing, nor is it wrong to offer to nominally compensate people for their time, some of these books are quite large. But in all instances the request should be unbiased, with no incentives for a positive review, and that’s where this particular e-mail went too far.”

So, Elsevier just put a toe over the line…. Right. With new restrictions on blogger payola coming from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, these “little slip-ups” could cost a company dearly. Don’t pay for reviews and make sure all forms of compensation are disclosed, including free books.