Disclosure, Sponsored Content and Keeping It Real


I see an awful lot of chatter in the book blogosphere around the importance of FTC disclosure for book reviews, so why aren’t we setting the same standards for the sponsored content floating around?

I limit the disclosure on my review posts to noting the source of each book. We all know that ARCs don’t have value and I’m not being paid for my reviews, which are the two requirements for the FTC guidelines. I let my readers know the source of my books in interest of transparency but, as Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness discussed in her great post about Blogging for Books versus Blogging Because of Books, I think that centering language on an “exchange” is problematic and pushes books closer to being payments for reviews.

I do, however, think the disclosure rules should apply to posts that do clearly fall under the guidelines. And this is where I think we’re letting things fall through the cracks, my dear bloggers. Sponsored content, whether it’s paid in pure cash or nice products, has been pretty standard in other corners of the blogosphere for a long time and seems to be working its way into book blogging. I don’t see anything wrong with sponsored posts, if they’re noted as such, but I’ve seen some content over the past few months that has me a little worried.

Back in June, Kelly from Stacked Books wrote a post On Blogging, Responsibility and Content Ownership that touched on the topic after a fallout over sponsorship in the BookTube community. The major issue with BookTube was sponsored reviews, which hasn’t bled over to blogging as far as I can tell. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a pretty significant uptick in sponsored posts that hide disclosures and even a few I suspect aren’t disclosing at all. Is everyone doing this? Absolutely not. There are some great sponsored pieces with fantastic, clearly marked content. But I’ve also seen a few that scream payment with nothing noted.

I’m not aiming to point out anyone specific, but I do think it’s important to think about. If you don’t feel fully comfortable with a sponsored post or want to hide affiliation for fear it won’t be read, it will be clear to your readers and likely isn’t worth the money. FTC aside, many of us are proud of the fact that our reviews reflect our own opinions; don’t we owe it to our readers to clarify if we’re sharing something outside that framework?

How do you feel about sponsored posts? Have you noticed posts that hide disclosure or seem to be dodging it? 


  • I was offered to do a sponsored post and I went back and forth on it for weeks. I said yes and then I got scared off by it. I just wasn’t sure if the YA community was ready for it tbh after I asked people what their thoughts were on it. I saw no problem in what I was doing because I knew it was honest and something I would write anyways but I didn’t know if I wanted to be the pioneer to bring sponsored content into this corner. When I was still planning on doing the sponsored post I picked a post that had been on my “ideas” list for a while because after reading the book I thought it would be a good fit! But then I got scared to do the post and letting everyone know it was sponsored content and i would be getting paid. SO I ended up emailing the contact I was working with and just telling her I was really sorry but I didn’t want to go through with the actual getting paid part. I did the post for free (because it was seriously a post I had planned on doing regardless of that book) and I’m planning to write up a whole “case study” sort of thing like…this post was what I wrote…no payment or anything. How would you have felt if I went through with agreeing to accepting payment for it? Would that have skewed your view of my post? That sort of stuff. Haven’t had time to type it all out but MAN this stuff is tricky. I mean, I would be VERY picky about any sponsored stuff I do (I BARELY do blog tours) but it would be nice every once in a while to be able to receive some compensation for something I want to do with all this. A lot of people think it means you aren’t genuine but I think, for me, it wouldn’t have an affect and it would be as honest as anything else. BUT ALAS. I don’t think my blog was quite ready for it yet!

    • I’m with you on the picky vs. it would be nice to receive compensation debate, but my picky brain has always won over. I don’t mind anyone else doing it (though it would be nice to see original content over something canned) I’m just worried that some are having that same internal debate you had and choosing to hide disclosure instead of not taking the post.

      • Yeah, the only reason I said yes to it at first was because I could pretty much do whatever I want. I refuse to do canned. I don’t care if it is the most exciting release of the decade. I did “books I would want to read if I had an adult fiction book club” because I mostly always talk about YA and my book club is YA! So when I read the book and thought of the post idea I already had I was like THIS IS PERFECT. And then I got scared haha.

        I’m sure that people do have that debate and choose not to unfortunately. Whether it is a matter of integrity or one of not knowing..I don’t know. It’s still one of those taboo issues in this corner of the internet and I’m glad it’s being talked about. I remember back when ads were a thing people were like OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE BOOK BLOGGERS ARE PUTTING ADS ON THEIR SITE. Now it’s mostly accepted though widely a personal choice and doesn’t make others think that that blogger is “selling out” though some choose not to do it for their site. I think as a community we need to be open and honest (and accepting of others decisions to do it or not) and I appreciate discussions like this to do so!

  • Jennifer Smeth

    Great post and topic! I have definitely seen an increase of non disclosures. For a while I didn’t do any sponsored posts. Not because I was against them. It was more that none felt like a fit for me, my blog or my readers. I recently opted to participate in two sponsored posts. They felt like a fit and I disclosed the information. I should add that my receiving compensation was dependent on this disclosure. It was part of the contract I signed. It makes me wonder then about the companies paying. They know this needs to be disclosed. Are they not asking to see links? Imo the enforcement is a two way street.

    • Definitely true. I guess if the blogger isn’t going to say anything, maybe the company feels like they’re getting even more out of the deal? It’s like an added bonus of not being tagged as advertising.

      • Jennifer Smeth

        Maybe….. I just know i was reminded of the copy to use more than once…..

        Would be interesting to have the perspective of a company who pays…

        • I think there might be a difference between working with a big publisher and a smaller company, too…you might not see as much concern from the latter.

    • The one I was offered it was in the contract as well! Though I will say I saw some that I am PRETTY sure got offered the same opportunity as me and I didn’t see them disclose. :/

  • Great post Shannon. I too have noticed an up tick in sponsored posts and what seems like a lot of non disclosure. In a way it comes down to blogger integrity. Integrity is very important to me, so I would always disclose, but it may not be so important to others. But then, standards also vary from country to country. I do not post an FTC disclosure on my blog, because it is (from what I understand) an American thing, but I do like to indicate if i was given an ARC.

    • You’re definitely right about FTC being American. I totally agree about integrity and it just boiling down to openness, especially when you’re being paid for something.

  • I’ve not noticed much, but I don’t have a huge remit of book blogs I am following at the moment, and I can fail at being observant.

    I don’t mind sponsored reviews as long as they are honest and informative. I would be annoyed however, if a post ended up being sponsored and I wasn’t aware, I’d feel a bit tricked. I don’t think blogs should get bogged down by marketing, but they shouldn’t feel put off doing it either.

    • Yeah, I don’t think anyone should be afraid to give something a shot, but it does come down to being open and, like you, I’ve felt a little duped while reading some posts.

  • I haven’t noticed sponsored posts as much on book blogs, but I have on some of the running blogs I read. But, I’ll now keep a closer lookout! You mentioned centering language on “exchange” is problematic…do you mean stating in your disclosure that “I received X book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review”? I say some version of that (I do use the word “exchange”)…mainly because I saw that’s how some others worded it. I think I see your point about using the word exchange, though…especially since I’m not technically required to review a book I get through NetGalley, so it’s not a true exchange. I might change this wording moving forward – thanks for your perspective!

    • I think the “exchange for an honest review” language was what was suggested by the FTC for reviewing products for paid sponsorship, which is why I don’t really feel comfortable with it. If you look through the comments of Kim’s post that I linked to, there are some good alternative suggestions and more explanations that get deeper into it. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with!

  • I haven’t noticed, but I know it happens. I’m not big on sponsored posts myself, though I will accept one once in a while if I believe in the content. I did a sponsored post for BlogHer a while back, and one of the things I love about them is that THEY REQUIRE that ads and sponsored posts be clearly labeled. Integrity. Yissss!

    • YES, that’s awesome. And it seems like those posts give you the freedom to write about whatever you want, too, which is even better. I don’t mind anything like that, either. Just have it be labeled and we’re all good!

  • This is a really great post Shannon. I’ve been seeing more and more sponsored posts pop up on book blogs. Most of them have disclosed the fact that they got compensated, others it was just obvious that it was sponsored since there were many other similar posts for the product. I like to think that if a blogger accepts compensation for a post, they believe in whatever it is they are plugging. Be it a book, or other product. So it doesn’t really bother me too much. I think we would all love to be able to make a decent amount of money from blogging, since we do it ou t of enjoyment. I also found your point of using the word “exchange” interesting. I use this word, but as Sarah says above, I saw so many others using it that I didn’t think twice. Now if I received a book because I had guaranteed a review then that’s different, but most times accepting a book for a review does not guarantee a review. Maybe I will update my review policy page and then update my disclosure to link to that page for more information. You’ve really opened my eyes to this, and got me thinking a bit more how the FTC guidelines apply to me and my blog.

    • I think it’s really something that is totally up to you, but I think it kind of circulated because that was suggested FTC language for product endorsements/reviews…book reviews are a little different. If you look at the comments on Kim’s post that I linked to, there’s some really good discussion that goes into it a little deeper, but I hope you find what feels comfortable for you!

  • Jenn Lawrence

    YES! I was just tweeting about this! I personally don’t accept monetary compensation for my posts/blog activities. I know others do, and that’s fine. My issue is they aren’t up front about it. The case I’m referring definitely has a high compensation value, yet no one is mentioning it in their posts. Unethical, in my opinion.

    • Exactly. I’ve yet to have someone approach me with a proposal that makes me want to shift my content, but if others do that’s totally up to them. I just hate that I can see that shift on other blogs with no note/mention of payment.

  • That is so true! I like that you mentioned that a lot of the times people don’t even think twice about word “exchange” which I think I’m one of those people too. I have never got compensated for posts but do mention that I got a copy for review at the end of my post. Great topic!

    • I think it just became a common way of phrasing, but in the comments of Kim’s post there are some great suggestions for alternative ways of letting readers know the source of your book.

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  • These are definitely important points! I haven’t noticed an uptick in sponsored material in the content I typically read, but that might be because the disclosures aren’t “clear and conspicuous,” as required by the FTC. I used to have a statement on my blog that made it clear that I don’t receive ARCs or money/goods/services in exchange for reviews, even though it wasn’t required, but I decided to take it down after I thought more about the nature of my blog.

    • It’s totally possible that you haven’t seen any of the instances, but there really have been a few sneaky situations where “clear and conspicuous” was definitely not happening.

  • Stacy (The Novel Life)

    I always seem to be behind the times which can be good and bad. I’ve done one sponsored post in the long history of my blog and made darn sure I was in compliance with disclosures both from contract-perspective, my readers perspective and my own. I guess I’m not paying as much attention or just not reading the blogs you’re referring to ~ with regard to the receiving a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review blurb I’ve been going by a post from Jessica at The Bluestocking Society:
    interesting topic!

    • I think with FTC and the ARC situation it all comes down to the way bloggers feel about their role. I went through Jessica’s (great) post during Bloggiesta not to long ago and the one thing that stood out to me was “Bloggers receiving free products or other perks with the understanding that they’ll promote the advertiser’s products in their blogs would be covered” For me, I don’t think I have an obligation to promote a book just because I received an ARC, nor do I think that’s the agreement we make with publishers. If I did, it would make my reviews feel a little cheapened. Again, personal preference!

      • Stacy (The Novel Life)

        that is a good point about not having an obligation to to write a review – I think I’ll come up with a “best of both” blurb to incorporate into my reviews. thanks for sharing!

  • jayne190

    As long as they are noted as such, I have no problem with them, but if the blog continues to do sponsored posts (yes I am including those who get ARC’s and who do book tours), then my interest declines, especially if the blogger continues in that vain. I understand why bloggers do them, but honestly they get a bit irritating, if that is all they are doing.

    • I don’t put ARCs in the same category as sponsored posts, but I think any blog that only plays one note is doing itself a disservice.

  • Great post, as always Shannon. I agree that there’s a difference between a sponsored post and accepting ARCs. All the same, I feel like the disclosure requirements to my readers (and possibly for the FTC) are ABSOLUTELY necessary to maintain the integrity of out blogs.

    It saddens me to see bloggers that fail to disclose the sponsored posts because … well, is that what we are? Is that what we want to be?

    I have thoughts brewing. ;)

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