Sunday Salon: Friday Reads and Paid Content

This past Friday, there was a bit of a firestorm on Twitter when participants in the popular #fridayreads meme learned that some of the meme’s organizers were getting paid to promote books to the Friday Reads community. As is typical with Twitter controversies, the conversation quickly went from people asking questions to people making accusations and yelling boycott while others got defensive and stopped listening to the real concerns.

I’ve been participating in the Friday Reads meme since it started. There are things about it that I find silly. I think some of Friday Reads founder Bethanne Patrick’s tweets encouraging people to share are silly, and I dislike the whole “even cereal boxes count” philosophy, which seems to be more about numbers than about reading. And I’m not sure why books read on Friday are more worth talking about than books read on other days. However, I enjoy seeing what others are reading, and I’ve had some nice twitter conversations with others who take a minute to share their reading on Friday. It’s fun.

As annoyed as I get at the tendency to monetize every little thing, I also don’t much mind that Bethanne and her team (Rebecca Schinsky and Erin Cox) have found a way to make some money from the venture. What I do mind, however, is that it hasn’t been clear that some of the Friday Reads content on their feeds is paid content. This is a serious issue.

[Edited to add: Bethanne has responded to the questions surrounding Friday Reads on her site, and I encourage everyone to check it out.]

Many of you know that I work in magazine publishing. In my world, we try to make it abundantly clear what content in our magazine is advertising and what content is selected by the editors. The ads look like ads, and the editorial content looks like an article or column. If we ever get an ad that looks too much like editorial content, we require the advertiser to redesign it or we add the word “Advertisement” at the top of the page. Readers do not have to hunt around to figure out what content is paid for and what content is not. They do have to understand the conventions of magazine publishing, and every now and then, someone does complain about an ad as if they thought it constituted an endorsement of the product. In 11 years in the business, I can remember this happening at my magazines no more than once or twice. People understand the conventions.

In the new world of social media, the separation is less clear. On Friday, some of the Friday Reads defenders claimed that the paid content was clearly marked as sponsored content and that readers who followed Bethanne’s stream could see what was paid and what wasn’t. But the thing is, it wasn’t clear at all. It looks to me like the team was using a shorthand and a format that was clear and understandable to them but that wasn’t clear to those outside the circle. Never once did I see the word “paid” or even “sponsored” before Bethanne tweeted about how the program operated on Friday morning.

So what material is paid for? According to the Friday Reads FAQ, publishers pay to offer weekly giveaways through Friday Reads. They also pay for Twitter interviews with Bethanne. This information is available on the Friday Reads website, so the team has not been hiding it. The trouble is that before Friday there was no reason for readers to go seek it out. For a lot of people, that means it might as well be hidden. As a blogger, I know that publishers frequently offer books free for giveaways and do not pay the blogger who hosts the giveaway. Why then would I think the Friday Reads team was accepting money for giveaways? As a professional editor, I know that people do not pay to be interviewed in our magazine. Why then would I suspect that the Twitter interviews in Bethanne’s stream are paid for? There was nothing so unusual about this content to make me go and seek out the FAQs.

Because what the Friday Reads team is doing is new, I’m willing to cut them a little slack and say they weren’t intentionally trying to deceive anyone. That’s what Bethanne  has said in response to this superb analysis of the situation from Katherine Catmull. Now that they’ve been alerted to the problem, I hope that we’ll see the paid material more clearly marked. Because Twitter is ephemeral, I don’t think the organizers can count on a single tweet on Friday to handle it. (Surely they know this, given that they don’t count on a single tweet to rally the participants.) I really liked Katherine Catmull’s suggestion of a #paid hashtag, and I prefer #paid over #sponsored because the book blogging world as well as sites like LibraryThing and Goodreads have set a precedent of free publisher-sponsored giveaways. Also, paid has fewer letters than sponsored, which looks like a win/win to me. There are probably other good ways to manage the disclosure, but my own future participation in the meme will probably depend on how clear it is.

[Edited to add: Bethanne is now tagging posts about their giveaways (and other paid efforts, I assume) with #promo. A good result, IMO.]

And before I finish, I do want to respond to a couple of patently offensive comments made by the Friday Reads defenders. Some people seemed to want to discredit people’s concerns because they were raised by Jennifer Weiner last week when she was complaining about this Book Riot piece (a piece she had every right to be aggravated by as it oversimplified a complex issue). The overlap between the Friday Reads team and the Book Riot team made it look personal, and maybe it was, but that doesn’t make the concern any less valid.

Also, a few people wondered why people weren’t also complaining about paid bookstore placements and Amazon suggestions and online ads and so on. You know what? I don’t like those things either, and when I go to a big box bookstore, I tend to browse the stacks so I can be directed by my own interests. If I look at the tables, I keep in mind that the publishers paid to have their books there. Do I wish it were more clear? Sure. But a bookstore is more obviously a place of commerce than a Twitter stream is. If the publishers weren’t paying to be there, the bookstore might still be choosing the most sellable books, not necessarily the best ones.

For those who are concerned about the lack of transparency, I also have a couple of thoughts. One is that if you enjoy the meme and don’t mind that your participation is making money for someone (the number of participants will make it more appealing to publishers), keep at it. If you just don’t like seeing paid content that isn’t clearly marked, you probably won’t see it if you aren’t following the Friday Reads organizers and if you don’t follow the hashtag as a whole. If you just don’t enjoy the meme, the answer is easy enough.

My plan is to watch and see what happens. I can be a pretty cynical person, but I find that I’m happier and get along better with people if I assume good intentions. So I’m assuming the team behind Friday Reads didn’t realize that they weren’t being as clear as they could be to their Twitter audience. For the most part, their responses on Friday were appropriate and reasonable, and they can’t control their defenders. I don’t mind their making some money, but I do mind not knowing when I’m reading content and when I’m reading an ad. If I know, I know how to react to the information.

And for those who aren’t on Twitter at all, sorry for the shop talk. Back to more obvious bookishness next week. I’m thinking about next year’s reading, and if I’m not in a post-Thanksgiving turkey and pie coma, you can expect a post about that.

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103 Responses to Sunday Salon: Friday Reads and Paid Content

  1. Marie says:

    Lame.
    People doing ads on Twitter should know their disclosure obligations and abide by them, period.

    • Teresa says:

      Yeah, they probably should have known, but I can imagine people not thinking things through or realizing how veiled their disclosures are. What’s important to me is what they do now that concerns have been raised. If they do a better job disclosing in the future, I’m willing to let past mistakes go.

      • Wendy says:

        Although when you read about the founder of Friday Reads (Bookmaven) here: http://bookmavenmedia.com/

        You have to wonder how she could not have known. Here is an industry professional in every sense of the word. Disclosure is not a new concept.

      • Teresa says:

        You’re right, Wendy, that she should have known better, but sometimes disclosures that look obvious to someone on the inside (like the website FAQs) aren’t so obvious to outsiders. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt for now (even if the cynic in me remains skeptical).

  2. Wendy says:

    Well, this is a bit disheartening to me. I am not a big Tweeter, so this is the first I am reading about it. But for me, transparency is very, very, very important (and it seems to me that the FTC also thinks so). I routinely participate in Friday Reads on FB, but I don’t know now if I will continue. It bothers me that I provide many, many giveaways for publishers on my blog, but no one PAYS me to do it (should I ask them to? Now I am wondering if I am just a sucker). There is no way anyone would assume a blogger or a website owner would get paid to give away a book, so by not telling people, that is a bit dishonest in my view. Thanks for all the links…looks like I need to read a bit more about this.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m really glad you weighed in on this, Wendy, because I did wonder how people who do publisher-sponsored giveaways would feel about it. (Tim from LibraryThing commented on it a bit on Twitter. They don’t charge for the ER program, and they’re huge.)

      I also wondered what the disclosure situation was like on Facebook. On Twitter, space is at such a premium that I can see not mentioning in every tweet, but that’s not a issue on FB. It’s also interesting that this didn’t show up on FB. Very, very interesting. I’m going to keep a sharp eye on this in future weeks.

      • Marie says:

        Even on Twitter you are supposed to disclose ads in every tweet. Just use the hashtag #ad. I do this when I do sponsored tweets for BlogHer. BlogHer requires us to disclose because they could be held accountable by the FTC if we don’t.

      • Teresa says:

        Ah, I wasn’t aware that the FTC guidelines had been updated to address Twitter, but I see here that they have. Very interesting indeed. This didn’t create nearly the level of conversation the previous update did, so I’m glad you mentioned it, Marie.

      • Marie says:

        Teresa, the guidelines haven’t been updated. They have always included Twitter because they cover all online advertising and promotion- blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If you’re being paid to promote or endorse a product, you’re required to disclose that. It doesn’t have to be fancy or wordy but it has to be clear and it has to be transparent.

      • Teresa says:

        Thanks for clarifying that, Marie. I must have missed the Twitter aspects of the discussion when it was making the rounds, and the document I found when I went looking around was dated 2010, so I assumed it was an update.

  3. Juxtabook says:

    I have to confess that I couldn’t give a proverbial either way. It is better to make ‘paid’ clearer but in terms of world commerce this is so small as to be barely relevant. That they make money cost me nothing. I don’t buy books based on tweets by people that aren’t either a) people whom I know a lot about their tastes (like you or nymeth or cornflower etc) or b) where there is an accompanying blog post or enough other info to see why they are recommending the book. I do look at the searches generated by the hashtag but only to pick up new titles to store at the back of my mind in case I come across good reviews or cheap 2nd hand copies. To be honest if anyone is being ripped off for #fridayreads it is probably the participating publishers! I shall continue to use it just as a hashtag.

    • Teresa says:

      Ha! Yes, the publishers are probably the ones being the most ripped off. And I’ve never been influenced to make a book purchase by of the paid giveaways, etc., so it’s no actual skin off my nose. Like you, I count on people whose taste I already trust. I’m just not keen to support a venture with squirrely ethics behind it.

  4. Nymeth says:

    An excellent, balanced summary of the situation and the concerns involved – as is the Katherine Catmull post you linked to (thank you for that). I agree with pretty much everything you said. I have no reason to assume there were bad intentions and don’t think there’s anything wrong with making money per se, but disclosure really is vital – and it should be all the more clear in new contexts where clear conventions have not yet been established. Hopefully that’s what will happen in the future.

    • Teresa says:

      There’s no way we can know whether the obfuscation was intentional, but going forward it needs to be clear what’s happening. They can see now that, whether they agree or not, a lot of people think they didn’t do enough. They get to choose now how to respond.

  5. Amy says:

    I have been a bit absent from Twitter due to some stuff going on lately so I missed a lot of this .. thank you for your thoughts on it. I really appreciate the balanced view you brought to discussion of the topic! I had no idea that #fridayreads was more than a hashtag. I never thought to go seek out more information on it. I assumed what it appears a lot of folks did … that it was just a hashtag. It never occurred to me that it was something beyond that. In the end, I don’t think that anyone meant to mislead but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they did. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

    • Teresa says:

      I knew from the beginning that it was more than a hashtag (I was following Bethanne Patrick already when she started it), but I assumed that any monetization was along the lines of the team using it to raise their own visibility, which would support their other ventures. I’m not so naive to think they weren’t gaining something, but actual charging for mentions in what to me looks like editorial space took me by surprise.

      • Susan says:

        This. I figured out a long while back that there either must be some current money-making angle or that it was all an effort to raise their status to make money for their websites/get postions in the industry proper on down the road. At least one of the individuals spent quite a bit of time a year or two back spinning marketing and branding into a great positive and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s not where my interests lie and I hated to see book blogging turn more commercial as a result.

        But I never dreamed they were being paid in this manner.

      • Teresa says:

        Susan, I remember all that spinning a while back and felt the same way. I’ve seen the same person talk about the importance of ethics and disclosure, which is another reason it never occurred to me they’d be doing something like this.

  6. gaskella says:

    I agree totally with Juxtabook. It would be nice if it were clearer, but I’m not really bothered as I don’t know or follow any of those involved. I only click through on recommendations from people I know and trust. For me too it is just a hashtag.

    • Teresa says:

      I follow enough of the people involved to have seen the “ads” that looked like editorial content, and that does bug me. But if they clarify in the future, I’m fine to keep participating. If not, I did like Jennifer Weiner’s suggestion of #amreading as a hashtag, or #FridayReading, which I think came from Rohan Maitzen.

  7. Aarti says:

    Wow, I missed all this (as usual). Hmm. I don’t know how I feel. I think there are some book bloggers who veer much more into paid content than book reviews, and therefore I no longer follow them because I don’t really believe in the honesty of their reviews. Actually, there aren’t really “some.” There’s just one I can think of off the top of my hand, but she seems very monetized to me and I am just not a fan of that.

    I think that’s also why I’m not a fan of BookRiot. I think those founders invited everyone and their mom to join “the movement” or whatever, but often it just seems like people are writing posts that might become incendiary topics in hopes of getting more comments/visits/ad revenue. I don’t mind people making money off blogging -more power to them- but for me, after a certain extent, I just stop following those blogs.

    • Teresa says:

      I definitely lose interests in blogs that turn toward the commercial. I’ve dropped quite a few from my reader for that very reason. But I follow others that do monetize but don’t seem to let it affect their content. (My guess is they don’t make much money either, more’s the pity.)

      I’m not much of a fan of Book Riot either, to be honest. Their viral pre-launch campaign really got up my nose. And when they finally did launch, and I saw that the people who were tweeting about it the most were all contributors, well, that raised my eyebrows, and I’ve been a skeptic ever since. They have some good content (and a couple of bloggers I like a lot are part of it), but I think they’re relying more on maintaining high visibility and having a brash attitude than on providing serious, thoughtful content. (That post that Jennifer Weiner got angry about was a case in point. You didn’t have to dig very far to know that she was never mad at Jonathan Franzen but at the critical establishment. And the Times Square billboard is completely different from the cover of Time. That is basic media literacy.)

  8. Danielle says:

    I had no idea. I assumed it was one of those spontaneous things that seems to happen on Twitter and just became a weekly sharing item. I only occasionally log in to Twitter and don’t always do the friday reads thing, but like you it is fun to just see what people are reading and maybe chat about books. I think I’d rather chat about a book someone is honestly enthusiastic about rather than one they are hawking for someone else. As for being paid for these things–I’m not sure. If I ever do giveaways or Q&As with an author it is because I truly love a book or an author’s work (and I rarely do them) and I can’t imagine being paid for it–that’s too much like work and blogging is meant to be fun. All very interesting–thanks for sharing your take on it!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve had some really nice chats with people because of Friday Reads, not so much because I follow the hashtag carefully but because when I do tweet with the hashtag people I don’t know often share their impressions of what I’m reading. And it’s also nice when my Twitter friends mention what their reading, especially when it’s books they won’t get around to blogging about.

      People have asked me before if I’d like to be paid for blogging, and my answer has always been that I’d do it only if I could keep blogging in exactly the same way I do now. Alas, I don’t think my way of blogging is a money-maker. If I ever did an interview or a publisher-sponsored giveaway, it would be for a book or author I loved. Not much money in that.

  9. Wendy says:

    Aarti: I agree – I don’t begrudge those who have figured out a way to monetize their blogs. I do feel that the disclosure should be obvious. But, when I see that publishers are paying for reviews, giveaways, etc…it makes me trust the blogger less in terms of their recommendations. I don’t see how anyone can be objective about a book when they are being paid to review it (or give it away) – they are essentially the paid employee of the publisher at that point. This is very different from being paid to work as a third party for a site (ie: the publisher is not paying the reviewer directly, the reviewer gets paid through a third party who encourages honest discussion – this is the case for print reviewers). I have a feeling there is more of this going on than we are even aware of – I don’t think that bloggers are fully disclosing because I am hearing more about this kind of thing (ie: bloggers being paid to host giveaways). It discourages me. If I ever accepted payment from a publisher, it would be very obvious on my blog and no one would have to guess.

    • Teresa says:

      Good point about the difference between being paid by a publication and being paid by the publisher. That difference is key. I think the Friday Reads team would say that what they’re doing isn’t reviewing but “promoting” and that their “reviews” are never for books they’ve been paid to promote. The question is whether that distinction is clear enough to their audience.

      I’ve been strict with myself for years about calling myself a reviewer or a reader and not a promoter because I think promotion implies some vested interest. But I’m not sure that distinction is clear to everyone.

  10. cbjames says:

    Yet another reason why I don’t Twitter. And I don’t have a cell phone anyway, so it wouldn’t be much use.

    I do put a disclaimer at the end of reviews if I’ve received a free copy. I think it’s good be upfront about what is paid content and what isn’t. If you want to remain credible, you really should do this.

    That said, if someone out there wants to buy space on my little book blog, I’m willing to sell it. So far, I’ve not had any offers. ;-)

    • Teresa says:

      FWIW, I hardly ever use my cell phone for Twitter. It’s not necessary, although high tolerance for drama is (and you no doubt get enough drama teaching middle schoolers!)

      We tag all review copies as such, although I may start mentioning it in the text of reviews (I usually do, I think) because it just occurred to me that people on feed readers won’t see those tags. But I don’t really consider review copies payment; there’s a long tradition of them in journalism (as my office bookshelf when I was a review editor would attest), although I can see the need for disclosure for free copies in new media outlets like blogs.

  11. Steph says:

    The fact that I don’t follow Twitter in any capacity generally makes me feel out of the loop when it comes to these things, but your post today made me feel really relieved that I am generally blissfully unaware of these cat fights that seem to always break out on Twitter. I guess with respect specifically to Friday Reads, I don’t really see the point about posting about what people are reading on that specific day, since most of the blogs I follow write reviews about what they’ve read, so while I might be slightly behind the curve, I do still see what people are reading, but generally in a more in depth way. And I have tons of blogging friends on GoodReads, where I can quickly see what people are reading as well and that works fine for me.

    • Teresa says:

      You know, Fridayreads is, for me, a lot like the GoodReads feed, and I’ve had some nice conversations in both places about books people are currently reading. It’s not my main source of book talk, though. I rely on blog posts for the meaty stuff.

  12. I had no idea about this until the Jennifer Weiner thing, and I was way late to that party as well. I kind of liked the idea originally. It seemed spontaneous and fun and a way for people to own their reading (because many people ARE embarrassed about what they ready or THAT they read). However, after that whole debacle, I was honestly really turned off. I felt that the people involved know enough about disclosure and marketing and all that to realize no one knew. Yes, it was on their blog. No, no one really got that.

    I won’t be participating anymore, but it’s more for a combination of reasons. I don’t like that the same people who pose that “reading anything is good” are also the same people who want to dictate “good reading” and “bad reading” on Book Riot. I don’t like talk out of both sides of the mouth, and that bothers me. As a teacher, I’m glad people read, and I don’t feel like I need to approve of what they read. I don’t want to be involved in something so proscripted.

    SO. Guess I’m more opinionated about it than I thought. Thanks for the open forum.

    • Teresa says:

      I can definitely understand why this would turn someone off to the whole thing. And I know what you mean about people talking out of both sides of their mouths. (There were several things about the Jennifer Weiner thing that bothered me on that score.) I’m trying not to lump all the people from Friday Reads and Book Riot together, even though there is overlap and they’re obviously all friends, but they’re also individuals and may not always agree among themselves.

      • This is a really good summary of the issues raised, Teresa. I wasn’t on Twitter much Friday, so I didn’t catch a lot of it. I was also having a bad day, so I didn’t really want to invest much time researching a Twitter controversy, you know?

        The whole new media landscape is complicated, and so I think everyone is still figuring out what things need to be disclosed and what the best way of doing it is. I think there’s also a tendency, as people have said, to think phrasing something one way is clear when perhaps it really isn’t. I’m not sure what the best answer is, but am curious to see how this one shakes out as an example.

        One more thing — although a few of the people who work with FridayReads also work with Book Riot, they are different. I’m a contributor at Book Riot and I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’m not in a position to say much about the editorial/management of the site other than the posts I contribute, but did just want to put that out there.

      • Teresa says:

        You’re absolutely right about how complicated it is, Kim. That’s why I’m inclined to give the folks involved the benefit of the doubt.

        And I’m glad you weighed in on the Friday Reads/Book Riot connection. I think people do tend to lump groups together when they see several people involved in the same projects, but there’s not a complete overlap, and it’s not really fair to paint everyone involved with the same brush. I’m not crazy about the BookRiot approach as a whole, but that’s mostly down to personal taste. There is some good content there, and some very good people like you who write for the site.

      • Thanks for pointing out that not all members of one are members of the other. It just seems the leaders of each are the same. I appreciate your post and its thoughtfulness.

  13. Excellent post. Thanks for saying everything I was thinking, only better than I was thinking it.

  14. Caitie F says:

    Great post summarizing it all. I am no longer participating and have be weary since they have been pushing numbers so much. I think it was all very unclear. Sure, i knew publishers provided the giveaway books, but didn’t know those (and interviews especially) were paid for. I looked at the books more closely since i thought they picked them and they liked them. I also think they handled it in a very very bad way. I was watching the tweets and several of them were being VERY condescending to others. It was completely inappropriate and rude.

    • Teresa says:

      The numbers thing (especially the anything counts part of it) has struck me as a little silly, but not so much that I’d stop participating. Early on, it was actually exciting to watch the numbers grow.

      And you’re absolutely right that there were some condescending and downright nasty tweets going around. I don’t think any of them came from the actual paid staff, although their intern could use some training in appropriate professional behavior on Twitter.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, and I meant to add that the interviews are a bigger concern to me than the giveaways because they’re much closer to traditional journalistic content, and as such I’d assume they held to the same standards.

      • Caitie F says:

        Yes, that really bothered me more also honestly also. I figured they interviewed because they liked the book and the author and wanted to promote it because of that (like most bloggers do). Again, thank for this great discussion!

    • Teresa says:

      Bookmagic,

      Rebecca’s reactions didn’t really bother me (I only saw a few from her), and their intern is new to the job and probably still figuring out how to represent FridayReads while retaining her usually brash Twitter voice. I think it’s easy to react out of passion on Twitter and regret your remarks later. As with FridayReads as a whole, I’m less concerned about this single incident than I am about future reactions.

      • @bookmagic I’m sorry if I offended anyone. I reacted too quickly, and was just trying to defend something I believe in. Like Teresa said, I’ve only been an intern for a few weeks and still have some learning to do. I’m not great at self-censoring ;)

  15. Vasilly says:

    Often I’ve noticed that Bethanne has stated that this week’s giveaway is brought to you by Publisher X or something similar so I’m not surprised that she’s getting paid for this. I’ve been on the Fridayreads blog many times and also Bethanne’s own site.

    #Fridayreads isn’t the only bookish meme but it is a huge one. There’s also another similar meme that’s hosted on Mondays. Plus the #reading hashtag is often used for Goodreads updates.

    • Teresa says:

      I have seen those tweets, but I honestly thought the books were donated, and I think they were early on, and she was mentioning the publisher by name as a courtesy and a thank-you. I’ve been on the blog and on Bethanne’s site a few times, but not often and it had been a while before Friday.

      I haven’t seen the Monday reading meme, but I have seen the #reading hashtag for Goodreads. If a lot of people leave Fridayreads, hopefully another will catch on.

  16. softdrink says:

    I missed all of this, since I’m rarely on twitter anymore, but I prefer your summary over experiencing the firestorm firsthand. Call me naive, but I thought #fridayreads was still just a fun way to get people to read. I’d noticed they were doing more giveaways, but I didn’t notice that they have a staff and sponsors, or whatever the correct terms are.

    And like others, I’m not upset that people have found a way to make money off of book blogging, etc, but I do think we’re starting to lose that sense of fun, as well as realness. Like the aforementioned BookRiot, which I try to avoid (although I, too, know and like some of the contributors) because it seems like it’s trying to be intentionally outrageous. Same with some of the bloggers making money off of various bookish gigs…they just don’t ring as true as they used to.

    • Teresa says:

      Like I said above, I knew there was something more to it (at least there was once it really got going), and I really don’t mind that. I do find, too, that the blogs I go back to again are the ones that are less plugged-in to the industry and do it mostly for fun.

  17. ashley says:

    There was a similar issue in the parent blogging community a year or so ago. These excellent guidelines came out of it: http://getgood.com/roadmaps/2010/04/02/eleven-urban-myths-about-the-ftc-guidelines-for-endorsements-testimonials/

    I assumed that these had become part of the tweeting/blogging community procedure as a whole, but it seems that it’s just now making its way to the book blog world. It’s kind of nice when things stay small and intimate and focused on the community, but I guess we all grow, and along with that comes the inevitable growing pains.

  18. I’m involved both personally and professionally with many of the parties here, so I’ll refrain from giving my thoughts on the matter directly.

    The larger matter, though, is the blurring of the lines between content and promotion (this is especially true when it comes to social media). As traditional ways of writing about books (and supporting the writing about books) become less sustainable, a whole bunch of models are being tried out.

    One way sites stay up is by not paying most of the contributors (The Millions, Huffington Post Books). Other ways are of using niche advertising (like we do on Book Riot) or sponsored recommendations (like The Staff Recommends).

    Authors and publishers are looking for new ways to promote their books just as new methods and channels for discussing books are emerging, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that some of this stuff will be a surprise. For example, I was inspired after the present discussion (after long wondering), to check out what TLC Blog Tours charges for those giveaways and tours we see on so many books blogs. (Not everything is available online, but a 10 blog tour looks like it runs about $1000). Do the people who host know that figure? Do readers of blogs know that figure? Does it matter?

    My point is that as familiar ways of promotion fade, so too will our ready-made understanding of what is promotion and what is not.

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you for weighing in on this. You’re absolutely right that this does speak to some larger issues that go with the shift to new types of media. We’re all still feeling our way and trying to understand. My own preference, coming from a traditional print background, is for the lines to be clearly delineated. But of course it’s up to me (and any other media consumer) to decide what to do when we see approaches that we aren’t comfortable with. And it’s up to the media outlets to figure out how to respond to reader concerns.

      There was a lot of discussion about book tours a two or three years ago, so I imagine most participants were aware there was a fee involved. But people who weren’t around then perhaps aren’t, so it’s good to revisit.

      • Ah, I wasn’t yet blogging so I missed the extant discussion of blog tours.
        I wonder what “clear delineation” will look like moving forward. We know, for example, that when Bud Light says that it is the official sponsor of the NFL (just as an example) that that means they paid a boatload of cash, but I think we only know that from experience. If you see and ad in a magazine, you only know it’s an ad through experience (most of the time.)

        Until the transition to new media is more established, we are likely to see more of these liminal cases.

    • Wendy says:

      Since I occasionally tour books for TLC, I’d like to weigh in on your comparison. First of all, the issue is not the amount of money made on a promotion, it is the disclosure that money is being made. TLC has done a fine job of disclosing. As a reviewer who tours books with them from time to time, I am well aware they are running their company as a business. They have never tried to hide that. So when I make a decision to do a tour with them, it is with a clear understanding that I am supporting a business.

      The problem with Friday Reads is that it has been promoted as a fun meme which celebrates reading. Their disclosure is on a site that no one who participates in the meme even goes to…I find it interesting that on the FB page there is absolutely NO mention that this is a promotion based business – they have plenty of FAQs there, an About page…even a page about prizes, but no mention that they are being paid to promote book giveaways, etc… That is not full disclosure.

      I’m afraid comparing a business like TLC who is up front with their objectives and their platform to a “meme” like Friday Reads is like comparing apples and oranges.

      Lastly – time does not change the definition of promotion. I think we all know what a promotion looks like….

      • Wendy-
        My point was less about a comparison between the two than it was about the collision of content and promotion. Are TLC blog tours content or promotion? I think the answers is “both.” Likewise, I would be surprised if all readers of blogs who host TLC blog tours know that publishers/authors have essentially paid for coverage, even though through and intermediary. I sort of did, but I didn’t know the dollar figure/arrangements.

        I’m going to avoid discussing Friday Reads directly, since, as I mentioned, I have ties there that make any such discussion unwise. Still, as someone who writes a book blog and has a book site with advertising, I’m interested in thinking about and discussing the larger issues.

      • Wendy says:

        Reading Ape:

        I know what you are saying – but is it important to readers of my blog to know that TLC is a book promoter? My answer is “no” because it does not impact the review I am giving. I do not get paid to do a tour with them. My reviews are always honest – but, I still disclose the book was free to me for review through TLC Book Tours. What is important is that the bloggers who agree to tour the books know that TLC is a book promotion site. Knowing they get paid, I can then make an informed decision as to whether I want to support their business by being on one of their tours. TLC has always been transparent. Everyone who tours their books knows they get paid.

        All I was saying before is that Friday Reads was NOT transparent in their disclosure that theirs is a business. I don’t care if they want to run a business, but their supporters (ie: those who post on their FB page and use their hashtag) have a right to know that so they can decide if they actually want to support that business. Friday Reads’ success financially is directly proportional to the amount of posts/tweets they get and the number of likes on FB…the ONLY reason publishers are willing to pay them is because of those numbers. What I am saying is that they got those numbers by being less than transparent…and that is wrong no matter how anyone wants to spin it.

        I know you can’t respond directly about Friday Reads…but I did want to clarify why it bothers me.

      • Wendy-
        Can’t figure out how to reply to your reply, so this might get lost.

        If there’s any lesson to be learned here for those of use who write about books online, it’s that assuming you know what your readers want to know has the potential to get you into trouble. Even if your motives and coverage are pure, your readers want to decide that for themselves.

        (Just anecdotally, I skip all blog tour posts. I have no problem with them existing and I still read blogs that host tours, just don’t like the idea of them. Just one reader’s opinion).

    • Lisamm says:

      Hi, just want to weigh in here. I’m the co-founder of TLC Book Tours. Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on this kind of discussion but felt compelled to set the record straight about this. I wouldn’t want this type of misinformation to be taken as fact. Our 10 blog tour doesn’t cost anywhere near that much; in fact that is about double what we charge. We are in the mid-range when it comes to what blog tour companies charge- there are several that charge much more than we do, and a few that are bargain basement. I’m curious where you got your information. As Wendy put so well, we are transparent and never pretended to be a free service. We’re being paid for doing a job; securing reviewers and coordinating the scheduling of reviews for a particular book during a set timeframe. I think most people get that – it’s not like we try to hide it. Frankly I don’t see the similarity between our business and what appeared to many as simply a fun meme. If you have any questions about what we do, feel free to shoot me an email at lisamunley@ca.rr.com. Thanks.

      • I looked at your webpage yesterday and there were prices for some of the packages. I just looked again and it looks like those prices are no longer posted? Perhaps I mixed up the numbers (I seem to remember that one of the 15-blog packages was around 1400, is that right?), but now I cannot check.

        Why aren’t the prices public? (Not being accusatory, my own site is new and we are in the process of trying to figure out these kinds of issues)

        My point was this and this alone: I would guess that most readers of blogs who host TLC blog tours do not realize that those reviews are placed by a company.

    • Lisamm says:

      The packages you’re referring to are combined services with another company, Bookclubcookbook.com. We offer our 15 blog tour at a discounted rate when it’s ordered together with one of their services- the price is for the packaged combined services, not just for the tour. Because the tour and their services are not itemized it’s hard for anybody looking at that to separate out what a tour would cost vs. the entire package, so Trish and I decided that to avoid confusion we would take that down so that it could be explained to any potential client. Many authors/publishers are looking for something more creative outside of the basic stuff we offer, so when they email we can discuss any number of ways to market their book and aren’t limited to just the basic tours.

      Reviews are not being “placed” by us. We don’t supply tour hosts with content; they write whatever they want about the book they read. It’s not an ad. It’s a review, without any expectation on our part that it will be positive or otherwise. I just noticed that you’ve emailed me; I’ll take this to email now. Thanks so much for your questions and the opportunity to shed light and dispel misinformation.

      • So when were those prices taken down? Was it indeed yesterday?

        And we’ll have to disagree about the meaning of “placed.” If I understand it correctly, you guys get paid to get bloggers to review books and guarantee a certain number of reviews. That counts as placement to mean, even if you do not provide the content yourselves.

    • Lisamm says:

      Agreeing to disagree then. Also reminding you that we’ve taken this to email as I feel we’re hijacking the comments a bit and it’s off topic.

      • Sorry Theresa do add on to this mini-hijack, but I do want to fix my mistake. The 10-blog tour from TLC is not $1000, it is $549. There are packages from them in conjunction other companies available that run upwards of $1000, but not the 10-blog tour. I seem to have misunderstood the pricing when it was available on their site over the weekend.

  19. Kathleen says:

    For me it is all about being transparent about everything on my blog and I like others to do the same. I work on Marketing/Advertising for my day job and so I get “it” but it is all about being upfront and not being tricky.

    • Teresa says:

      Being upfront is key, and hopefully now that the FridayReads folks realize they weren’t as transparent as people would like, they’ll be more upfront (and participants more aware).

  20. bookmagic says:

    I wasn’t as upset about the paid giveaways (which by the way I never saw ANYTHING that said they were paid, I assumed they were given books by publishers for publicity but not that they got paid to tweet). however, I am upset about the “twitter tours”. I just thought the Friday reads teams was doing book discussions but I didn’t know they were paid to do it. And looking back at the tweets where they gush about the books and I now know they are paid to do that, I think it is disgusting. Some people get paid to review books but it shouldn’t be by the publisher. This calls all their recommends into question for me. I stopped reading The Bookladys Blog because it was more about pleasing authors than honest book reviews. Now I won’t do the #fridayreads and I no longer follow Bethanne on twitter. I think they knew what they were doing. Before, when Jennifer Weiner first started tweeting about it, they ignored it. Only after others asked questions, did they suddenly get “transparent”. I’ll be using the #amreading hashtag instead. Sorry to ramble, glad you blogged about this.

    • Teresa says:

      The tours are more of a problem than the giveaways for me too. They absolutely look like editorial content to a general reader, which makes it feel squishy to me. Like I said, I’m giving them a week or two to improve (working out a new strategy is bound to take a little time) before I decide whether to keep supporting it with my participation.

  21. Anastasia says:

    What a great post! :D Yeah, I had no idea that the #fridayreads folks got paid for their promos, nor did I know they even had a website where I could learn about that info. I don’t mind that they get paid, though, just that they didn’t make it more clear that they DID. I think there definitely needs to be some more tweets about the site/promo stuff throughout the day, not just in the morning, so everyone gets a chance to see it.

  22. After reading through all the previous comments, I have a couple of observations I’d like to add. The first is that for most book bloggers, reading and reviewing books is more about community and conversation that creating income or becoming part of a professional team of reviewers. As someone who participates in TLC Book tours, I think there is little comparison between the Book Blog Tours and the #fridayreads hashtag. TLC Tours are a business, but the reviewers don’t make any profit (other than the free book). I totally understand why some readers would question the objectivity of such reviews. As a reviewer, I do make every attempt to a) request books I don’t think I will hate and b) give a fair and disinterested review. If readers question whether such reviews can really be objective, I do understand their reservations. But when I reviewed books for a newspaper, I certainly got a lot of free books, but no one ever suggested my reviews might be biased because the books were free.

    The #fridayreads hashtag, probably inadvertantly, created an illusion that this was just folks talking about books. One tweet on the twitter-firestorm suggested that if tweeter/readers didn’t know that #fridayreads was also in the business of paid promotions stated: it is on the web page FAQs, and then said “due diligence” as if we should all research every hashtag before we tweet! Due diligence for hashtags? See, that makes me feel suspicious of every hashtag, which destroys the sense of bookish community I was feeling every time I participated in #fridayreads. I really don’t have a problem with the bookmaven and others making a little money from their expertise. I just want to see #paid or something similar when a tweet is really a paid promotion. Whew. Anyone still reading this? Didn’t think so!

    • Teresa says:

      Yep, yep, yep. There was nothing in the Twitter stream (or, as it turns out, on the FB page) to make anyone think there was a reason to do “due diligence.”

      Every review I’ve seen for TLC has the logo or at least a mention that it came from them in the post (and probably a link to their site as well?), which is enough to make people at least curious enough to do “due diligence.” A #paid hashtag in a Twitter stream would have a similar effect.

  23. trish says:

    You’ve really summed up the issues well. What I didn’t like was that Bethanne’s first tweets on Friday that addressed the issue were STILL vague and unclear as to exactly what Friday Reads is. She’s since been more clear, but I’m weary that her first reaction wasn’t, Oh my goodness, was this not clear, here’s exactly what’s going on. I do respect her for the way she handled it after it blew up, though I don’t know that there’s any other way she could have handled it. I think her reaction seems so nice because it’s contrasted with some of her associates, at least one being her employee (I don’t know who the intern is), who were condescending and rude, as someone else mentioned.

    Bethanne says that #fridayreads is both a hashtag and a business. I don’t think it can be both. It’s one or the other. If it was just a hashtag, she wouldn’t make money on it. And since it’s her business, I can’t participate in the community aspect of it without being well aware that I’m helping her make money by boosting the #fridayreads numbers. If I could opt out of helping her make money, then #fridayreads would be both a hashtag and a business. Ironically enough, if I had the choice of opting out of helping her make money, I would choose to opt in for numerous reasons, one being that I’m a fan of anyone making money, especially in this economy.

    • Teresa says:

      From what I can tell, part of the problem on Friday was that Rebecca and Bethanne were both out of town and less able to monitor the situation and figure out what to do. (I didn’t see the whole thing unfold in real time myself, just saw part of it during my lunch break and had to go back later to investigate fully.)

      Interesting thoughts about whether #fridayreads can be a hashtag and a business. There really isn’t a way to participate and opt out of helping Bethanne make money (and I for one am happy for her to make money), but people can participate and still avoid seeing the paid content. It’s just a matter of not following the organizers or the hashtag as a whole. (Limits the value of the meme, I suppose, but it’s been ages since I did more than glance at the full stream for the hashtag.)

  24. I’m not on twitter much so I missed all this. Thank you for providing such a comprehensive and balanced round-up. The comments have been interesting to read through too.

    I was aware that #fridayreads was going beyond a meme and asked the @bookmaven what she was doing with all the stats a few months ago. She said they hoped to do something, but they weren’t being used for anything at present. I guess things have changed, but I was never made aware of when.

  25. As usual Teresa you do an excellent job of discussing a potentially touchy subject. My overall thought about monetized book chat in general is that I just find it boring. If I see a blog post that is part of a tour I can’t be bothered to even skim it–even if I am interested in the book. Anytime I see that little logo I just hit delete in my feed reader. One would think from my frequent gushing reviews that I am on someone’s payroll. I can’t imagine any amateur book blogger (or Tweeter) is making enough money to even cover their monthly internet service fees. Or am I wrong and hopelessly out of the loop?

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Thomas. It is a touchy subject–the kind of thing I usually avoid, but it didn’t seem like anyone was getting beyond one-line tweets, and I thought it warranted more conversation. The question of who’s an amateur and who’s a professional is another angle to this. I think there are some bloggers and others in social media who have taken their online work to a level where they’re making at least enough to cover their Internet and more, but I think large dollar amounts are pretty rare.

  26. Alyce says:

    I participate in Friday Reads most weeks, but usually only to quickly post what I’ve been reading. I normally don’t have time to hang around and chat much, even though I would like to. I missed all of the controversy, but agree that things should be obvious when it comes to paid endorsements or sponsored products. I’ll have to check it all out and reevaluate.

    • Teresa says:

      I haven’t been able to do much more than quickly post lately, but it is fun to look at the whole feed when there’s time. I’m really curious to see what happens. I do hope things move forward in a positive way.

  27. Teresa says:

    I just want to make sure everyone following this thread knows that Bethanne Patrick has responded to the questions surrounding Friday Reads at http://bookmavenmedia.com/2011/11/21/fridayreads-full-disclosure-from-thebookmaven/

    I’m going to refrain from commenting on her post, but I do want to clarify my remark about “squirrely ethics” in this comment thread. I did not intend to imply that Bethanne or her team were being unethical prior to Friday by not disclosing as much as many in their audience would like. My belief is that it was an honest mistake, and we’re all entitled to make honest mistakes. My remark referred to what my feelings would be about the FridayReads venture if they didn’t take any action in response to the concerns that have been raised. I apologize if my comments were taken in any other way.

  28. trish says:

    That was a very professional post Bethanne wrote. I liked it.

  29. Wendy says:

    Thanks for giving us the links to Bethanne’s post. I have noticed the comments there are pretty much in support of her. I tried to post a comment, which was not rude or attacking, but was not supportive (although I did thank her for trying to be more transparent now). My opinion was that she should follow the FTC guidelines which say that every tweet should be labeled as paid content. My comment has been sitting in moderation now for more than 12 hours while other comments have been approved since I posted mine….all those comments are fully supportive. I suppose it is her site and she can choose to only allow comments through which agree with her – but I wonder why, since she said she would like input, she is shutting down people who don’t see things the same way she does.

    • Not all the comments are supportive at all. Some of them are pretty insulting- I think one called her “half-baked.” Insinuating that she’s censoring comments when some of them are pretty mean doesn’t really make sense.

      • Wendy says:

        Actually Dead White Guys – go back and read them. The ONE negative comment (the one you noted) has been deleted. There is not any negative comments on the post at all. She absolutely is censoring comments – in fact, she actually put a note on the top of the post saying she is holding negative comments until she can clarify them. Censorship for sure.

      • I did read them- it was still up 10 minutes ago. So was the one under it.

      • Caitie F says:

        Dead White Guys PLEASE do yourself a favor and just shut your mouth about all of this. You are connected and should not be posting about it. If you are still an intern, you should consider yourself lucky to keep your position after Friday. If you want to work in publishing, commenting on all of this is a BAD idea. It is a VERY small industry. When you are looking for a job and someone connects you to all of this…it could keep you from getting a job easily.

        Every assistant in every department (and those higher up) interacts with readers in social media now and you are showing that you really need to work on it from a company’s perspective. The correct way to handle it publicly is “Thank you for your comments, we will look into it and get back to you”, then respond to the person privately. I am not trying to be mean, I am just letting you know how the industry works. You are obviously very smart and forward-thinking (I have read your blog for a very long time and enjoy it), so if you want to be in this industry, we would love to have you. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot now

      • Uh, thanks for the career advice, but really- I’m good here. *finger guns*

      • Caitie F says:

        Wow – you will NEVER get a job with that attitude.

    • Teresa says:

      Let’s keep it civil, please. Any additional comments along this line will be deleted.

  30. Wendy says:

    Not seeing them. *shrugs* And why then did she post a note saying she was holding negative comments? I don’t get it. Oh well.

    • I dunno, maybe she took them down since I looked this morning. I was just saying that what I said was true when I said it, heh. I also *shrug* :)

      • bookmagic says:

        Mine is up and it wasn’t positive. It went up immediately after I commented, I didn’t realize she had moderated comments.

      • Wendy says:

        Bookmagic: Since I posted about this, my comment was approved. Yes, she is moderating comments – not that I think there is anything wrong with that (I have moderation on my site to prevent spamming)…my complaint was that she was approving only positive comments for awhile – it seems that now she is not doing that and even dissenters are being allowed to comment…which I am glad to see.

  31. Pingback: Transparency and Why It is Important – caribousmom

  32. Teresa says:

    I just wanted to pipe in again and let everyone watching this thread know that Bethanne is tagging posts about giveaways with #promo. A good way of going about it, IMO. And one of their volunteers contacted me to let me know they’re adding information on the paid content to the Facebook page, and she’ll be making sure promos posts by their page are identified as such.

  33. I have nothing to add, but wanted to thank you Teresa for your thoughtful post on the subject — and the discussion it’s generated, good, bad or indifferent.

  34. Kristen M. says:

    I was off of blogs and Twitter for the past couple weeks while running my school’s book fair (promoting the reading of a wide variety of books and not getting paid for it … haha!). This is really an interesting discussion. I didn’t know that it was anything more than a hashtag. I guess I never thought about it much either except for being happy that reading was being promoted. But now that I know that there is much more being promoted, and for just a few people to make a buck, it kind of sours the whole thing for me. I think I’ll skip it from now on.

  35. Kinna says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful post. I think we make too much of the”newness” of social media. The mode is new but what it is doing is nothing new as traditional media does it as well. We know that we have to disclose. So if we accept that, then we should just find a way to disclose what we have to disclose! I left a long comment on Bookmaven’s post about how she could go about it. I advised her to look at #fridayreads as a TV show and incorporate regular scheduled tweets into her broadcast just like ads are done for TV shows. Disclosing when the show has not started – well who is tuned in then? It did not take me 10 minutes to come up with this solution and I’m not in marketing. I’m not sure if my suggestion will work; my point is there is any easy solution out there and one that is well suited to Twitter. She should have alerted the #fridayreads community the minute she started charging as it marked a material change in how #fridayreads was managed and conducted. Same goes for the Twitter interviews which, as you’ve pointed out, are even more problematic. She basically has two sites of engagement; her website for publishers/agents/promoters and Twitter for the consumers. It was unreasonably to expect the consumers to go searching for disclosure where we are not engaged. Especially since we didn’t know there was something to ‘fess up about. I’d stopped being a regular participant because it got to be about the numbers. I’m not averse to folks getting paid for their bookish activities. But the thought of #fridayreads as a sort of grassroots popular movement to promote reading on Twitter also appealed to me. Oh well.

  36. amymckie says:

    I have to admit I’m shocked that there was money making behind #fridayreads behind just ad content on a website or something. It started as a hashtag to share a global love of reading (I thought that was the reason behind it anyway?) and instead it’s a few people making money. Disappointing. That being said, I have nothing at all about people making money, I just think it needs to be better disclosed. I would never think to look at a website and FAQ because why would I assume there is anything to know? I hope the fact that there are ads and money involved is much clearer in the future.

    As for BookRiot… yeah, it sounded interesting but I don’t know. It seems to be a bit of a club now with certain people talking about it and participating and telling the rest of us what should be done. Like Bookrageous – I have to admit I loved the idea at the start of the calendar and money for book charities and etc but now it’s just a couple people talking about books they like… but my name was associated with the original project… but they don’t speak for me. If that makes sense?

    • amymckie says:

      omg… just read the BookRiot article and wow. And the comments… I’m deeply offended but the majority of them is all I can say. But then, you know, women complain because that’s what women do, and men win awards because they write better not because there is an issue. Duhhhhh. Silly me.

  37. Care says:

    I am just now finding out about this. I have suspected that the #FridayReads crew was churning something more than a fun meme, but it didn’t really bother me. I actually won a gift certificate when the hashtag was just getting started so I encouraged others to ‘play’ because they might win something. Now, I’m just feeling deflated. I think I just might continue to tweet the current book title I’m reading on Fridays and just leave the hashtag off.

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