Ethics of Selling Review Games
Amy | On 25, Apr 2013
I’ve been blogging since sometime in 2006 and “professionally” blogging since 2007. While doing this blogging thing, I’ve gotten lots of products in to review. The products have ranged from booze (I was a spirits blogger for a while.) to applesauce–not joking–to video games.
In 2009, the FTC cracked down on bloggers reviewing products and declared all bloggers must disclose any “material connections.” Side note: news outlets and magazines aren’t required to disclose any sort of “material connection.”
If I have to pay taxes on something, it’s my property, right? I should be able to do anything with that property, right?
When a blogger receives review copies of games, is it OK for them to sell/trade in the games once their done? These games aren’t marked as “not for resale” and are almost always the final version of the game but is sent out prior to the release to give reviewers time to give the game a proper play.
Since the FTC and IRS consider that review copy a form of compensation, i.e., money, isn’t it up to that reviewer to decide what they do with the game once they’re done playing the game?
However, there’s always the whispered threat of blacklisting of bloggers who admit to selling review product…or even thinly veiled threats.
Hello [redacted] Bloggers,
It has been brought to our attention that some of our bloggers are reselling the [redacted] on sites such as Amazon, eBay etc after they have completed a blog post. It discredits the integrity of our bloggers when clients see that products they sent out and/or paid for are being resold. Please refrain from selling [redacted] via the internet at this time. Please note that we are taking these incidents into consideration while implementing a new policy in the [redacted] community regarding this matter.
If you have any current online listings of the sale of [redacted] please remove them immediately.
“I don’t think cashing in on review copies is the worst thing in the world; it’s almost expected that, as a blogger/writer/YouTuber, you don’t have a lot of money. It’s a small amount of cash. So there’s that. But on the other hand, it just gives me bad vibes. I’ve never actually sold a review copy for money, as it feels like there’s an unwritten rule between you and your PR representative. I’ve always thought my colleagues just had abnormally large video game collections.”
I can see where Baldino is coming from. By selling the product the PR person provided you, you’re breaking some implicit trust. However, if there aren’t explicit instructions from your PR person to NOT sell the item after review, are you wrong to do so? Granted, you could very well be biting the hand that feeds you, as it were.
David Binkowski, President & CEO of Large Media, seems to see things differently.
I don’t have a problem with it if they agree to review it and do so. Once the product leaves my hands it’s out of my control what happens to it and I think it’s unrealistic to think that someone should be forced to keep something around their house just because they agreed to do a review of it.
That said, the blogger should know that sale of such products is taxable income – but that’s not really my concern once they’re done with the product.
Binkowski is an award winning marketer who “[...] wrote WOMMA’s [Word of Mouth Marketing Association] best practices for blogger relations in 2005, served on the WOMMA Member Ethics Advisory Panel and in 2010 drafted the guidelines for compliance with FTC standards on behalf of WOMMA.” David isn’t a slouch when it comes to marketing and blogger relations.
If he doesn’t see an issue with the practice of selling review products, maybe this isn’t so much an ethics question as a personal preference issue?
This is a tricky topic for several reasons, the main being that there are some people who will take advantage of the situation. While I think that it is ethical to sell review items under certain circumstances the challenge is that this can be somewhat of a gray area because of the people who take advantage of selling review items.
Personally I only accept review items that provide value to my life and my family life. As a business owner I pay taxes on those review items, and they are my property, so after I’ve reviewed something I think it’s a personal decision if I sell, donate, or give away an item.
I’m with her on the paying taxes equals property and therefore I can do with the product what I want. I also agree with her about people potentially taking advantage of “selling review items.” There’s also the “gray area” she talks about.
Looks like we’re back to personal choice.
The last quote I have for you is from my friend David Griner, VP/Director of Digital Content, Luckie & Co. and Contributing Editor at Adweek.com. It’s a long one but Griner sums everything up so nicely I had to include it in its entirety; he makes a nice distinction between traditional media and bloggers.
When I was an entertainment writer and editor for my college paper, I refused to sell anything I was sent to review. This was partly because most CDs and such I got were promotional and literally labeled as not for resale. But I also felt it was unethical to profit from what I was reviewing as a journalist.
Bloggers, however, have been forced into a slightly different ethical position. Primarily, there’s the fact that the FTC mandates all bloggers disclose free product as if it were compensation, or in government speak, a “material connection.” Newspapers never have to say that they received free product, but bloggers are required — unconstitutionally, I would argue — to disclose it as if it were a form of sponsorship payment.
So while I’m no lawyer or professional ethicist, I’d argue that if the FTC considers all review products to be a form of compensation, then bloggers are ethically free to do whatever they’d like with that product. Some will choose to give it away or use it. Others will choose to sell it. In summary, if the government insists on treating free products like money, then I’d argue that you should be able to do whatever you’d like with your “payment.”
Josh Deane, Founder & C.E.O. here at FrontBurnr, has a completely different view from Griner’s.
From an ethical perspective I find the FTC guidelines a non-starter. What the FTC declares as a reflection of what is ethical carries very little weight with me. The artificial distinction between “word-of-mouth” marketer or what is deemed a “material connection” does not make keeping a product or selling a review asset moral or not.
What should determine the morality of the decision is the intent in which the publisher relationship is engaged in. The relationship and actions between the parties carry with it their own internal moral understanding that can be unique per situation. If the company providing the sample is providing the article for informational or review purposes – the question can be asked if it ever crosses ownership. Providing the asset for an endorsement or from a promotional/marketing point of view, the item could be touted as form of compensation and thus crosses into a “do as you wish” type of relationship. Both issues can be overridden by clear consent from the provider.
The main point is that the intention between the provider and the curator must be clear and transparent to avoid confusion. I would always encourage an open discussion with the provider on what their intentions are with a sample, what they are in fact providing and if ownership has indeed transferred. The assumption of transference of assets can be very dangerous for any blogger and I do not recommend it.
As I said to Josh when we were discussing this is Skype: Assumptions will screw you over every time. That applies to both the folks sending out the product as well as the people doing the reviewing. The question of what to do with product once the review has been written isn’t one often brought up and obviously it needs to be talked about from the start.
I know, for a fact, there are counter opinions to these. I know because I’ve read the opinions, but other than Josh’s, I couldn’t get a quote from said folks.
What do you think? Is selling back review copies of games ethical? Unethical? Personal choice?