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One of the biggest differences between working in print and online media is the mandate by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that bloggers must disclose to their readership any free products received, any samples received, any gifts, any gratis experiences, and any non-public events attended in relation to posts and online coverage. Print writers and editors do not.
After a long stint in print fashion media, we (editor speaking here) know, for a fact, that major print fashion editors get waaaaay more free graft than major blog editors. You'd never guess how many print editors get sent multiple iPad "lookbooks" each year, free Chanel handbags every holiday season, or are routinely handed $1,000 gift certificates to stores such as Barneys or Jimmy Choo. That on top of all the regular products sent for "review" throughout the year—and we're not even talking about $500 face cream "samples."
It's not like we're against free stuff—it's part of the industry, always has been, always will be. But we're definitely against unfair laws—and the fact that bloggers are forced to disclose freebies (the FTC famously went after Ann Taylor for offering gift cards in exchange for posts) when print journos don't just doesn't seem like a fair law to us. So, this afternoon, at the ShopSmart Summit panel on shopping scams, we asked Tracey Thomas, an attorney for the FTC, why this discrepancy exists.
You won't believe her answer.
Racked: We know that the FTC has gone after bloggers and companies that work with bloggers to mandate that we disclose online anytime we get anything free or attend an event that's not open to the public. And we're curious why the FTC has not gone after print publications?Well, there you have it, folks. The FTC lawyer doesn't know.
FTC Lawyer Tracey Thomas: That's a very good question I don't think I have the answer to. I don't know. I know that for bloggers and online, you do have to make disclosures. A lot of the things that I work on are bloggers or people who are only promoting products to get commissions or money or things like that. I'm not sure why we don't apply that to print.
To be honest, it seemed like the thought hadn't even occurred to her (FTC lawyers are careful to disclaim their opinions as their own, and not reflective of the FTC as a governmental organization).
What do you think? Do you think the the law should be extended to apply to print publications in addition to online publications? Would you, as a reader, like to know that an editor received a $1,000 gift certificate to Jimmy Choo from a beauty company before featuring the brand's new mascara in the spring issue? Would this change your opinion about how product pages are put together? Sound off in the comments please, we're super-curious.
UPDATE: We requested to speak with the FTC's Director of Advertising Standards—here's our follow-up interview—who didn't really shed any additional light on the issue at hand.
Our disclosure: Transportation to the invitation-only ShopSmart Summit in Yonkers, NY, provided by ShopSmart and Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization.
· ShopSmart [Official Site]
· The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guide [FTC.gov]