Monday, June 22, 2009

blog compensation and the FTC

Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission has decided to start policing bloggers.

Companies increasingly include bloggers in their marketing drives. The FTC is concerned that not all bloggers reveal their relationships with these companies while consumers turn to the blogs for product reviews. Basically, the FTC believes consumers have a right to full disclosure when receiving product advice.

If the guidelines are approved, bloggers would have to back up claims and disclose if they're being compensated — the FTC doesn't currently plan to specify how. The FTC could order violators to stop and pay restitution to customers, and it could ask the Justice Department to sue for civil penalties.

Any type of blog could be scrutinized, not just ones that specialize in reviews.

.... the guidelines also would cover the broader and common practice of affiliate marketing, in which bloggers and other sites get a commission when someone clicks on a link that leads to a purchase at a retailer.

I'm generally not a fan of government regulatory agencies, but the FTC proposal certainly makes sense under current law. It's more a clarification of how existing laws apply to blogs than a creation of new rules. There's ample room for regulatory abuse, but I expect it will generally be business as usual.

In any case, this seems like a good time to talk about my own site's company relationships. I've spoken about them with fellow bloggers from time to time, but never explicitly discussed it on here.

First, you've probably noticed the "Partners" section in my sidebar. I used to have it labeled as something else, though I don't recall the label. For five or six months now, I've received a small amount of revenue in the form of monthly payments for including hypertext ads in that section for various companies and organizations -- enough money to buy one or two games each month. The advertisers are found through a middleman company, and I accept only ads that I think are somewhat relevant to my site.

When I started this blog years ago, I never dreamed I'd be able to make any money or derive any benefits from it. Now that I do, I'm a little stricter with myself about posting almost every weekday, but you can peruse my archives and see that the content is basically the same. I have had to consider how commercial I'll let the site become, though.

I think my priorities are pretty clear. If money was my top priority, I'd be spamming and posting all over the internet, writing more about news, writing many articles per day, etc. But money is not my top priority for this site, nor will ever be. That's why most my articles are still philosophical and niche, why I only write one article per day, and why I rarely mention my site apart from POTD (Post of the Day) links on Twitter.

Over the years, I've been given beta access directly by developers, given interview opportunities, given products and prizes to give away in contests, and have even received a few review copies of games. On a few occasions, I've been solicited for design advice by developers; and I briefly worked for a European developer (primarily as a reviewer). I continue to link to CrosuS, a product which I contributed to in a small way, but more because it is unique and respectable than because I have any affiliation with it (my contribution to CrosuS was negligible).

Most relations I've had with marketers have been brief, but I've been an EA Contact for months now. EA has given me exclusive screenshots, interview opportunities, a heads-up on new web content, and a few free review copies. In return, I offer to review particular games and help games I like gain exposure... usually by incorporating details of the game into a philosophical discussion typical of Anyway Games. I only review and market games I'm truly interested in. I've rejected offers concerning many games, from EA and others, such as THQ's Dragonica Online.

Have these relationships affected the honesty of my reviews and comments? I don't believe so. You might note that, while I gave Dead Space and Spore good reviews and have praised many EA games (just look at their present list of upcoming titles -- impressive), my reviews were not so kind to other of the publisher's games, like The Godfather II (which I received a review copy of) and Mass Effect. In fact, I am one of the few who have been very critical of Mass Effect, despite acknowledging that it's a good game overall (I'll be writing about hopes for the sequel this week).

Pandemic is responsible for one of my favorite games of all time, Star Wars: Battlefront. Recently, I've been helping them to advertise The Saboteur because it looks like a potentially awesome game. But I wrote a rather scathing review of another Pandemic title, LOTR: Conquest.

The point is that I am a brutally, compulsively honest person. I have Asperger Syndrome and am a reasoned Catholic. Put those two together, and the result is an extremely stubborn commitment to truth and morality. I care more about truth, God and my fellow human beings than profit and rewards. And I reject the common notion that moral rules change depending on whether one is acting in or outside of business. I certainly am not always right or accurate, but I try very hard to be honest with myself and others.

I also try to be open. So I've added a note in this site's heading for readers who don't communicate with me regularly. I try to make my biases plain, but please feel free to ask me if ever you'd like to know where I'm coming from.


  1. Hmm, interesting.

    I wish I had more to say, but since I don't really monetize in any way the only person I work for is myself. Still could be interesting to find out if I could nailed for not advertising that I represent my own interests. =P

  2. Good to know Aaron, good to know. Thanks :) I personally blog for free and I think I'll keep it that way since I make plenty from my normal 40 hours a week programming job.

  3. Interesting... I've never considered blogging for profit anyway (my job takes up way too much of my time as it is) but the (new?) legalese puts a spin on things. Hopefully it's more hands-off and things just run themselves normally unless a rash of people abuse the system.

    Curious: I don't have Aspergers but I'm quite... socially awkward... usually. Do you find being online (IM, chat, or VOIP) is helpful compared to face-to-face, or is it nearly the same? I'm very social and chatty over chat but over VOIP not as much (depending... I've had periods of being very outgoing and chatty on Vent/XBL...)

  4. I started making money off mine precisely because it required nothing beyond what I was doing already with my blog. All you have to do is write regularly.

    @Scott: Online communication is different because you're not having to process facial expressions; and not tone-of-voice either in type. It acts as a middle ground that lets socially awkward people experiment and learn.


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