There has been a big storm brewing ever since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled that bloggers - and only bloggers (ahem, "traditional news-gathering organizations are exempted") must "clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products" even though they "stopped short of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest."
I worked in magazine publishing as a writer and editor (on staff and freelance) from 1990 until 2005 when I started my first blog, Anovelista.com. When I started this blog in June 2006, it was with the intention of continuing what I was doing as a magazine editor and writer. Despite the notorious low-pay and the precarious nature of the publishing business, writing about beauty, fashion and lifestyle is something that I have always loved. If I did not love it, I would not do it.
Long before the existence of blogs, I received plenty of free things (review items and otherwise) - far more than I have ever and will ever receive as a blogger. I have attended countless press events held by every major cosmetic and entertainment company you have ever heard of: cocktail parties, galas, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, yacht rides, spa visits, movie screenings, "listening" parties for new albums - they all qualify as press events. The purpose of these events is to celebrate the launch of a new fragrance, shoe, hair product, nail polish or lipstick, to announce a new spokesperson, a new initiative, introduce a new brand or store. At the end of these events, more often than not, each editor in attendance receives a gift bag containing the product that was introduced or occasionally, a gift certificate related to the brand. Even with all of that, there is no guarantee of coverage. I have attended many press events where I did not write about the product or service for one reason or another. As a magazine editor, that reason may have been the editor above me nixing the idea. As a blogger, I may decide to go to meet the professionals behind the brand with future articles in mind.
A free lipstick or a fabulous press event has never and will never make me gush over a product that I don't like - or doesn't fit the blog. If I agree to attend a press event, it is only because I believe the product, service or event being celebrated is relevant and interesting to my readers. There are also instances where I may like some items - but not others - from the same brand. I don't feel the need to trash any brand to prove how objective I am, therefore, you are not going to see a negative review here for the sake of a negative review. Instead, I strive to write honestly about things that interest me - things that I think will interest you as well. All along, I have organically disclosed where and/or how I came across something, whether I bought it or received it in a gift bag. I touch on topics that are not pretty and even uncomfortable, but I believe that it contributes to the experience. I believe that readers who are familiar with my blog already know this and respect this about me, but I wanted to be clear.
The point of starting this blog in the first place was to have the freedom to feature exactly what I liked (things that don't always make money for me) and not have to ask an editor above me for permission to write about it. Sometimes, that entails working with public relations professionals who represent quality brands and services. These PR professionals send me the exact same products and invite me to the exact events they invite magazine editors to. The smart firms are selective and respectful to bloggers. I purposely avoid invitations breathlessly promising "goodie bags and free cocktails!" because if you have to say that, it means a.) You think bloggers are a bunch of idiots who will be forever grateful to you for a free gift and/or b.) Your product sucks and you'll take any coverage you can get - even from lowly bloggers. I'm not interested.
I also work with several affiliate programs that represent quality brands that also appeal to the 55 Secret Street reader. I can't imagine you haven't figured this out already, but every advertisement that you see on this blog is derived from my affiliate relationships, not unlike the advertisers you see every month in print magazines and newspapers. When I am writing stories, if there is an opportunity to use an affiliate link I will absolutely do it. If you see a post on this blog, I took the time and energy to do it because I thought it was worth your while. You can usually tell if a link is an affiliate by hovering over it (it will usually show a code). If you see a post that features a product from one of my advertisers, I am most likely using one of their links. I also have "Coupons, Codes & Deals" pages for 55 Secret Street and Revenge of the Curves that feature these affiliate links. These pages are similar in nature to the "advertorial" pages you see every month in print magazines.
I am not doing anything differently as a blogger than I did as a magazine editor except I work out of my house or a Starbucks, I don't get paid anything except the small revenue from the ads you see on this blog (not enough to pay my rent...) and I occasionally buy products that I talk about and review. I never have and never will guarantee coverage to any company (if I am pressed, I never work with them again) and I am a stickler about working only with public relations firms and companies who know that and respect it.
However, with this FTC ruling targeting bloggers (in every category - not just beauty and fashion), it suggests that when companies start a campaign promoting a new product and send out press releases and product samples to magazine editors and bloggers for review (hoping for coverage of course) the products the magazine editors receive are legitimate "review products but the same exact thing for a blogger is a "freebie." I find that ironic, especially since it is because of the power and rapid growth of blogs that "traditional news-gathering organizations" in every category were forced to develop blogs of their own. I have no problem with transparency and disclosure, but I do have a problem with being lumped in with, ahem, "cloggers" who don't write (they cut and paste press releases verbatim) and who actually brag about going to a professional event on Twitter like it's a game.) This is a big deal because there are powerful lobbies who want to get rid of the independent nature of blogging all together. One CEO of a nascent company that built their business on the backs of beauty bloggers suggested that beauty brands should not work with bloggers - many of whom (like myself) have long established relationships with many brands and PR firms) - but go though them only. How is that for independent? On this planet, those bloggers would be called employees!
If you have any questions for me, feel free to leave it in the comment section.