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View Full Version : Amazon Reviews -- When is free copy disclosure necessary?



Tavia
02-13-2016, 12:20 AM
I'm aware that when you give someone a free copy of your book in exchange for an Amazon review, they need to disclose that fact in their review. Do they still need to disclose the freebie if I gave them a free copy, and then they offered to leave a review?

The free copy wasn't contingent on the review at all -- and I don't really want to give the recipient instructions about disclaimers to add, because I don't want to make the review seem like an obligation! I'd be totally fine if they never get around to it, it's sweet enough that they thought about it. But I also don't want to accidentally run afoul of Amazon.

(And my apologies if I'm posting on the wrong board! I wasn't sure if this or self-pub was a better fit.)

Polenth
02-13-2016, 08:17 AM
This isn't about Amazon. It's a US legal thing. I stick to it even as a UK person, as my reviews go on US-based sites. The long version is here: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

The short answer is it depends how they got a free copy. If you did a free promotion on Amazon, reviewers do not have to disclose what they paid for the book. It was the price available to all. If you give an individual a copy of your book, they do need to disclose that. It's not about whether they had intent to write the review at the time they received it. It's about making sure consumers are aware of anything that might change their interpretation of the review. It's a little extreme for review copies to be honest, as a free copy for review is not the same as someone paying you to advertise for them. But the rules don't see it that way.

However, it's not actually your responsibility to make sure reviewers add the appropriate disclaimers. It's theirs. I don't include information on that in review requests. I haven't had anyone tell me about it when they send review requests to me.

Tavia
02-13-2016, 08:59 AM
That's very helpful, thank you! The last part especially is a relief, and I'll go ahead and refrain from saying anything.

frimble3
02-13-2016, 09:04 AM
It's a little extreme for review copies to be honest, as a free copy for review is not the same as someone paying you to advertise for them. But the rules don't see it that way.

I wonder if the rules see it that way because of those reviewers who seem to be really eager for free copies? Thinking that the free copy itself is payment for the positive review.
I could see a reviewer like that only posting positive reviews out of fear that the stream of free copies might dry up if she were to be perceived as 'negative' or 'unreliable'.
Another case of the many being inconvenienced because of the actions of the few.

Polenth
02-13-2016, 09:21 PM
I wonder if the rules see it that way because of those reviewers who seem to be really eager for free copies? Thinking that the free copy itself is payment for the positive review.
I could see a reviewer like that only posting positive reviews out of fear that the stream of free copies might dry up if she were to be perceived as 'negative' or 'unreliable'.
Another case of the many being inconvenienced because of the actions of the few.

I think it happened more because book reviewing was an afterthought. They're mainly talking about someone giving you money to post an advert to your blog or Twitter. And then saying it also applies to free products given for review... where they're assuming it's something like a car. It's clear they didn't look at the book industry when they came up with the guidelines.

For example, they're working on the assumption that readers won't know that reviewers get free review copies unless it's a major review outlet. But I don't think that's true. People who read review blogs are aware of review copies, because it's standard in the book world. Maybe it isn't when you're talking cars, but it is for books.

They also have ridiculous advice for Twitter. It's fair enough to tag a tweet with #ad when it's actually an advert. But talking to friends about a book you read is not an advert, and saying every tweet must be tagged because the book was a review copy makes no sense. If anything, it will confuse people in the other direction, as they will assume the book tweets were purchased by a publisher. I don't do this for that reason. I'll tag my blog posts, but it isn't workable to tag literally every tweet, and I'm not calling them adverts when they're not.

Basically, we got caught up in a mess we didn't make. The concern wasn't that hordes of book bloggers were posting positive reviews because they got a free copy of the book. It was people paying for fake reviews and adverts disguised as blog posts. Often for products a lot more valuable than a paperback.

Arpeggio
02-15-2016, 01:34 AM
Basically, we got caught up in a mess we didn't make. The concern wasn't that hordes of book bloggers were posting positive reviews because they got a free copy of the book. It was people paying for fake reviews and adverts disguised as blog posts. Often for products a lot more valuable than a paperback.

Exactly. If you are doing it for free stuff you're more likely to go for things of more financial value or of more acquisition desire than books! I'm sure at least some of the people who get the discount / free tech gadgets etc. sell it on ebay etc. for profit.

As you might know there is a consensus out there that this type of review with disclosure is as good as fake. http://thehustle.co/a-surprisingly-large-number-of-amazon-reviews-are-scams-the-hustle-investigates

To me, such a disclosure of "I received a free copy" doesn't devalue the review where a book is concerned, not only because of its relatively low financial value but because it takes a certain amount of work to read and asses a book. Whether customers see it that way is another matter, one would hope enough of them do. I have noticed a few authors on Amazon where a majority of their reviews are of this type and not many "verified purchase" reviews.

This experiment is interesting:

http://www.katz.pitt.edu/facultyblog/?p=145

WeaselFire
02-15-2016, 07:49 PM
First, I leave reviews for books I got free all the time. They were not given to me as review copies, but I did not pay for them. There is a difference. For example, I've grabbed free books on Amazon promotions and left reviews. I've used Kindle Unlimited, which at least seems free for the book, and left reviews. I've been given books by friends (not the author) and left reviews. I've even killed some writer's financial dreams on occasion by (Gasp!) taking a book out of the library and leaving reviews. I never disclose how I got the books and it never affects the review. I long ago did a stint as a restaurant reviewer and the rule was you had to pay for your own meals. A restaurant may be bad, but it gets a lot worse if you paid $39 for a filet and got a piece of old boot leather. :)

I have rarely done reviews on request from copies sent by the author, but when I do, the first line of the review is something along the lines of "I was given a copy of this book by the author to review and..." The free copy still doesn't change my review and, unfortunately, some of those free copies have resulted in pretty poor reviews. To be fair, I also let the author know that my review will be honest and fair, but if I think it's bad, they'll get three stars or less. Only had one author ask me not to review it then.

For AW authors who release a new book or especially those who have provided me helpful information, I will buy or use Kindle Unlimited to borrow a copy of the book and leave an honest review. That's more a thank you or support for this community than anything else, but I haven't yet done a review on a review copy given to me by anyone on this forum. Fortunately, the majority of AW authors don't deserve three star or less reviews. :)

Forget the legal thing, this is a simple moral issue.

Jeff

Tavia
02-15-2016, 09:32 PM
Forget the legal thing, this is a simple moral issue.

While I'm disinclined to forget the legal thing (nervous new self-pubber, ahoy), I'm always happy to hear about honesty in reviewing :) Should I end up getting any reviews, I'd want them to tell it like it is.

Arpeggio
05-09-2016, 10:09 PM
This isn't about Amazon. It's a US legal thing. I stick to it even as a UK person, as my reviews go on US-based sites. The long version is here: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

The short answer is it depends how they got a free copy. If you did a free promotion on Amazon, reviewers do not have to disclose what they paid for the book. It was the price available to all. If you give an individual a copy of your book, they do need to disclose that. It's not about whether they had intent to write the review at the time they received it. It's about making sure consumers are aware of anything that might change their interpretation of the review. It's a little extreme for review copies to be honest, as a free copy for review is not the same as someone paying you to advertise for them. But the rules don't see it that way.

However, it's not actually your responsibility to make sure reviewers add the appropriate disclaimers. It's theirs. I don't include information on that in review requests. I haven't had anyone tell me about it when they send review requests to me.

An informative post. Without wanting to sound condescending I would like to ask anywhere says that it's not our responsibility to ensure reviewers disclose? I just looked at the FTC guide you linked. The nearest I could find that resembles is the section titled "What About Intermediaries?".

That said, I see why the FTC would not explicitly state this, preferring to make more likely that we would oversee it (regardless of the fact it wouldn't be realistic or fair in a black and white sense, without going into much "grey area" for various circumstances).

veinglory
05-10-2016, 07:06 AM
It's not our legal responsibility as authors because we are not the creators of the review, which is the work that needs to be compliant. If you wish to feel otherwise obliged, that is a personal choice. I would find an author explaining that to me, as the reviewer, to be a tad patronizing. One glance at my previous reviews would show it was unnecessary.

HistorySleuth
05-25-2016, 06:37 AM
On goodreads, if you do a giveaway, and a person reviews it goodreads requires the reviewer to say that in the review. Goodreads is owned by Amazon and TOS of both says its part of FTC regs because any consumer review that resulted from getting a product free or other compensation has to be disclosed. I can see for shampoo in case getting it free might sway what you say about it, or getting paid to endorse a product so consumers buy it regardless if it's crap or not, but books have always had advance copies for review. To me that's the reviewers responsibility.