The question is asked, and too-often precariously answered, Do book bloggers make a difference? Can they beckon new readers to a book? Do they have the force of persuasion? To the litany of the old questions has now been added the complication of this new: How will book bloggers operate in the wake new Federal Trade Commission guidelines, effective December 1, 2009, that are designed to require them to disclose not just their material connection to the "advertiser" that provided the ARC or book in question (the publisher, for instance), but to return that product to its original source once the review has been posted. (For a full reporting on the issue, visit this site.)
Picture book bloggers, who read books and post reviews for the uncoined privilege of participating in the greater cultural exchange, now paying for that privilege via stamps and post-office lines. Here is what one of the most genre-crossing, mind-stirring, consciousness-raising bloggers has to say about that. What will happen to the book blogging industry that has, I would argue, stepped into the void left ragged by the vanishing of traditional review media, the curtailing of book tours, the squeeze on promotional dollars? What will happen to the authors who, yes, have had their fortunes shifted by the virtual embrace of readers whom they have never met?
I am one of those authors -- unadvertised, untoured, rarely pedestaled at industry events -- and I remain an author, I am convinced, because of the book bloggers who have found their way to the work that I do and have made it matter to others; I'm hardly the only beneficiary of such outright generosity. More than that, though, I have been challenged to think harder and to dig deeper because of the book bloggers whose posts I read -- because of the books that they bring to my attention, because of the debates into which I am drawn. Let's stop asking, then, if book bloggers can make a difference. Let's start figuring out how they can operate -- with integrity and commitment, without fear of being fined -- in the coming era of new FTC guidelines.