When it comes to free crap, no one (save maybe celebrities) racks up more gratis perfume, CDs, tickets, books, gadgets, haircuts, trips, clothes, massages, bags, shoes and even home goods than magazine editors. Publicists and their clients are all too eager to send them free everything in hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of the many items piled up around their desks will stand out and land on one of the mag’s glossy pages. (And yes, while that sounds like a dream come true to many, after you get that much stuff for a few years, well, it all just becomes a bunch of stuff, ya know?) Until recently, bloggers didn’t have this “problem,” but since — shocker! — PR firms started to realize the potential of the internet to spread the word about the products they represent (after all, most sites have way bigger traffic than even top mag circulations), the more influential bloggers started getting free stuff, too.
Now, the FTC wants to make sure you know that the lipstick your favorite blogger is recommending was probably sent to her for free. And according to The New York Times, this is gonna rock the online fashion and beauty community, big time. But what does it mean to you?Keep in mind that bloggers are still second-class citizens in the hierarchy of the publishing world. So they’re not getting nearly as much free crap as, say, an editor who works at Vogue literally gets on an hourly basis, mind you, but plenty. In fact, the above-mentioned Times article on the subject reported that at a recent fashion event, all of the magazine editors who attended waltzed out the door carrying a new designer bag, while the
trash bloggers got none. (Twitter outrage ensued, naturally.) Still, the FTC is concerned that if a blogger reports on a fashion or beauty product they received for free, their journalistic ethics have been compromised, so they have proposed that this information be disclosed on even the tiniest of blogs.
When it comes to the reaction of Britt Aboutaleb of Fashionista.com, “If we love a product enough to write about it in the first place, then we’ll happily disclose where it came from, and how, before moving on to more relevant, and interesting, information,” we couldn’t agree more. But she brings up a good point: How relevant is this disclosure in the first place? Out of the many, many items and products a blogger at a major site receives, they’re only going to write about the best ones (save for the occasional OK-this-stuff-is-really-bad-don’t-buy-it post). Of course, the reason the latter occurs so rarely is that who wants to waste time writing about crappy stuff? Why give them the free publicity? Readers come to bloggers they trust to get recommendations on the good stuff and to compare notes with other people in the comments. We get free stuff here sometimes, but I would estimate the percentage of products we write about that we got for free is narrowed down to about one or two posts per week, out of approximately 100 beauty and fashion-related posts in all. So, you know, big deal. And do we write about every single thing we get for free? Absolutely not. We see a lot of clothes and we test a lot of beauty products and we only write about the ones we think you’ll want to know about because they’re awesome. Some we got for free, some we didn’t.
Anyway, getting back to the new FTC regulation which goes into effect on Dec. 1, the weirdness, for me personally at least, is not the disclosure part–I get that and don’t mind the idea of people who write product reviews being held accountable in this way. But what does drive me crazy is that newspaper and magazine writers and editors are exempt from this rule, because that is where the real schwag, the serious major big-money-exchange schwag, is really going down. Bloggers get crumbs by comparison. (I know, because I have been there. Yes, I have ridden private jets paid for by major companies before. No, they do not seem to be offering me that service now that I work online, ha. And that is OK.) But, more importantly, what I’m really curious about is what you guys think about all of this. Or is it simply a non-issue? Do you tend to trust magazine editors more than bloggers? Is there a criteria you set for certain sites–as in, I’m gonna take what Suzy Blogger at WordPress says with a grain of salt but I’ll take oh, say, I dunno, Erin Flaherty, who has a long history in the industry, at The Frisky’s word on an eye cream more seriously? Is a Glamour fashion editor’s word more solid? Or can they not be trusted because they’re raving about a free mink coat that was gifted to them on the label owner’s private jet? Or like me, do you respect the word of experts but live for what real women are saying in, like, Amazon product reviews?