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Free Cookbooks Come with a Price
I don't want to pay it, but I've got to do the right thing.
When Amazon sent me these guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission recently:
I felt a surge of relief. The government still tries to monitor arrangements for paid online content. Yay! But I didn’t realize, until I started reading the rules, that I’ve violated them on Instagram.
Because hey, I’m supposed to know better. As a journalist, I’ve been writing about online disclosures by bloggers and influencers since 2009, when I tried to sway them with my first blog post about an $11,000 fine. I guess I felt heartened in 2012, when one of my most popular blog posts turned out to be New FTC Rules on Writing Reviews, Affiliations, and Sponsored Posts. (It garnered 266 comments! Okay, maybe half were from me. I tried to respond to each.)
Paid disclosures are the most straightforward type, where influencers must point out their financial relationship with a brand or company. Here’s Dale Gray, for example, with her “paid partnership” disclosure on Instagram.
What about gifts in kind? Here’s where I get into trouble. Often publishers send me cookbooks. These are books I’m excited to read and tell you about. Do I have to disclose, each time, that I got the book for free?
Upon reading these documents, the answer is: Uh, yeah. The FTC says I could use #ad for the receipt of a free product. I really hate that. An ad, to me, is content that someone else puts on my site or newsletter, with my permission.
What I write are mini reviews. Do I still need to disclose? According to the FTC, yes. Here’s what it says to a theoretical question about a company that sends out free products:
Knowing that reviewers got the product for free would probably affect the weight your customers give to the reviews, even if you didn’t intend for that to happen. Reviewers who are incentivized to write their reviews because they received free products or the like may tend to give more positive reviews. For example, they may believe they’ll stop getting free products if their reviews are negative, despite your assurances that you only want their honest opinions.
I come from a print newspaper and magazine background. Publishers sent us books all the time. We never said so in our reviews or mentions. But with the rise of influencers on social media who are paid to market products, the landscape has changed.
So from now on, I will pay the price and say, in some version, that the publisher sent me the book. It’s uncomfortable and repetitive, but it’s the right thing to do.
What do you think?
Do these disclosure issues apply to you? Do they make you uncomfortable also? Did you already know the rules?
Books I’m Discussing
Events Coming Up
Saturday, November 25, 10 a.m.
Kitchen Lingo Books
2116 E. 4th Street
Long Beach, CA 90814
Join me for a talk about food writing. The bookstore only holds 12 people (!), so this will be an intimate gathering.
Through a partner, Delicious Experiences
One-hour consult: $250
For years I've had a five-hour minimum for consulting. Now you can book a Zoom consult for just one hour or more. If you want to write a cookbook, get published, or get better freelance assignments, let’s move you forward.
What I'm Reading
The 23 Best Cookbooks: Fall 2023. Bon Appétit flipped through more than 100 books and cooked from 30 to get this list.
The Star of Half Baked Harvest Inspires Loyalty — and Controversy. About the price of fame: so much sniping, and whether she deserves it. There are dozens of comments on my Facebook page about it.
2023 IACP Awards. See who won for cookbooks, photography and styling, food writing and more.
Totally Normal Comments for Online Recipes. Yep, sounds about right.
How I Got My Job: Being a Professional Recipe Developer and Food Photographer. Louiie Victa worked in restaurants before becoming a recipe tester, stylist and food photographer.
Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content. Google has implemented a new way to categorize websites. Most of this seems obvious, but it’s important to understand from a content creation and food blogging standpoint. (Thanks to David Lebovitz and David Leite.)
429: Tips for Styling, Editing, and Monetizing Food Photography with Rachel Korinek. A Food Blogger Pro interview that covers how she shoots multiple recipes in a day, how she reaches out to brands, and why to shoot with artificial light.
Why I *Left* Subst@ck. Yep, all is not rosy on this platform. It’s a good reality check.
Booking It--Advice from Five Booksellers. What authors should know before querying a bookstore for an event.
Why single-ingredient cookbooks hold a special place in my kitchen. An appreciation of Short Stack cookbooks.
How to Do the Dishes. Some cookbook authors are taking this on, says the author.
The USDA’s Pomological Collection. So stinking beautiful!
The Nach Waxman Prize for Food and Drink Scholarship. A new award for food history and more. Deadline is December 15.
Finally, what are you doing next Saturday, November 11? Cherry Bombe will put on its one-day Cooks & Books event in Brooklyn, with panels featuring your favorite food writers.
News About Clients and Students
Tuttle Publishing has published Jacqueline Chio-Lauri’s new book, We Cook Filipino: Heart-healthy Recipes and Inspiring Stories from 36 Filipino Food Personalities and Award Winning Chefs. (I coached her on a previous proposal.)
Tara Christina has self-published her book: More Than a Drop: The Evolution of Identity. (I edited her writing in the past.)
Jaime Lewis was accepted to the writers’ residency at Wellstone Center in the Redwoods. (I worked with her on pitching.)
Food & Wine published Martin Sorge’s piece, 5 Things I Learned From Competing on 'The Great American Baking Show. (I coached him on a cookbook proposal.)
I like to brag about food writing accomplishments here. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for Reading
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Editor, Writer and Coach
Disclosures: I am an affiliate of Food Blogger Pro, Amazon and Bookshop.org.