What Should We Disclose?

Rather than attempt to answer a question today, I thought I’d ask one instead. This is a question primarily for people who read blogs, though certainly people who write them may be interested as well. The question is this: How much should bloggers disclose?

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Let me explain. Bloggers tend to put a lot of work into their sites but receive relatively little in return. There are usually just a few options open to bloggers who wish to make a few dollars. One of the more popular of these are affiliate programs. Stores like Amazon and Westminster Books offer programs whereby anyone who links to them will receive a small amount of compensation. It’s usually a safe bet that if a blogger links to Amazon, he is doing so through his affiliate account, meaning that any items that are sold after people click through that link will kick back about 6%. Westminster’s program is a little different in that they tally clicks and pay out a certain amount at the end of the month based on the total number of visitors sent to them.

What I am asking today is whether you think bloggers should disclose when they are referring people to some kind of affiliate program. If a blogger writes a book review and links to a store for which he is an affiliate, should he disclose that he is part of the affiliate program?

I’d be interested in your responses to this.

Why? Well, there may be several ramifications. Here is just one: In theory, a person may direct visitors to a particular store or even a particular product he would not otherwise direct people to because he knows he will receive some kind of compensation. He may direct people to a store that offers higher prices or inferior service not because this represents the best deal but because he stands to benefit. Just take a look at the number of bloggers who chose to announce that Westminster Books (which has an affiliate program) upgraded their design compared to those who announced that Monergism Books (which at that time did not have a program) had upgraded. People stood to benefit directly from one announcement but not the other.

This is not to accuse anyone of dishonesty or deliberate deception. But it is definitely something worth considering as bloggers attempt to establish some kind of code of conduct and as they seek to find their place in this new media.

So let’s talk it through…