Style + Ask The Edit

State of the Blog: Getting Everything for Free, or Not

Belle – I LOVE your blog, but have been disappointed to see your product reviews without the required FTC disclaimer that you’ve been given something free to try if you blog about it. Doing so just makes you more credible!


I posted about this topic once before, but the readership has really grown since then, so let’s talk about it again.

As you know, the FTC requires bloggers to disclose when they receive products for free.  Of course, the FTC doesn’t require the magazine industry to divulge when they receive freebies–even though their entire business model is based on taking free things, saying those things are wonderful and then having the makers of those things pay to advertise in their magazine–but, I digress. Despite the unfairness, bloggers, like myself, are legally required to disclose when receive products for free.

Confession: I almost never get anything for free. (A blogger who still buys things? Unheard of!)

After three years of blogging and hundreds of product reviews, suggestions and recommendations, I can count on one hand the number of products that I have received for free.  Why am I still paying for things when so many bloggers live on swag alone? 

First off, I can’t give companies the exposure they want.  Bloggers like Anh at 9 to 5 Chic or Bee at Atlantic-Pacific get a lot of things for free because they wear the freebies in their blog photos.  But I’m pseudononymous, so I’m not going to pose on a street corner wearing my new, free Kelly Wearstler coat. 

Why send me an item of clothing that no one will see me wearing?  It’s not a good marketing strategy.

Secondly, I have a penchant for honest critiques.  I worked with the company SocialSpark for one review.  I disclosed that I received the product for free, but gave it a middling review.  I didn’t love the product, and I wasn’t going to say that I did just because someone tossed $75 my way.  They never came calling again, shocker.

Third, getting free stuff is a lot of work.  Most bloggers who make a mint reviewing things that they get for free actively solicit freebies.  They post their address on their pages, they e-mail companies looking for swag, they attend events where there will be goodie bags, they build relationships with PR companies who send them all kinds of gifts, etc.  Getting stuff for free is their full-time job.

I, on the other hand, have a full-time job.  My blog is my hobby.  The last thing I want to do after a long day of lobbying the federal government is go home and lobby a 24-year-old PR flack for a free sample of shampoo.

So where do the products I review come from?

When it comes to clothing, I post the pieces I like.  If I like a cheaper one (because I know you ladies love a bargain), I’ll post a cheaper one instead.  But the pieces featured on this blog are featured because I like them and want to own them, not because anyone’s giving me freebies. 

However, if Rebecca Minkoff came calling, I wouldn’t send her away.

As for beauty products, I’m very picky about the contents of my medicine cabinet, so I buy 99% of the products reviewed on this site myself. Sometimes, like in the case of my beloved Clarisonic, they’re a gift from family.  And other times, like in the case of the ybf eyebrow pencil, I discovered them in my Birchbox (which I also pay for, $10 every month, well worth it). 

So what have I gotten for free?

Well, last week, Barbara at Brandlink PR sent me some free Voli vodka to try.  I really liked it (and loved that it was low-cal), so I decided to incorporate it into the Happy Hour post.  I mentioned that the vodka was sent to me by a PR company and I mentioned that it was swag, so it was pretty clear that this was something that I hadn’t paid for myself.

Occasionally, the fine people at ELLE magazine (who I’m partnered with via the Style Coalition) will send me a free beauty product from their closet.  And if/when I blog about those products, I always mention that it was sent to me at no cost.  But as for free stuff, that’s about the balance of it.

The FTC offers few guidelines for how bloggers disclose what they receive for free.  Some have lengthy disclosure statements in their posts, most just write “c/o” and call it a day.  Honestly, I’m glad that my lack of blogger swag means that I don’t have to mess with that legalese very often.

So please don’t assume that just because I am a blogger that I get things for free.  I really hate asking for free stuff.  I like to review products honestly, and buying my own products with my own money makes that possible.  So if you see the product here, 99 times out of 100, I bought it myself.


    leave a comment

  1. Belle says:

    Sara- Anh and Bee are great. I'm sorry if you got the impression that that was a slam. I was just saying that of course companies want to give them things to wear because they post photos of themselves in stylish outfits using those pieces.

    I love both the blogs, and adore Anh. I'm sorry if people read that as me being negative about them.

    Also, if I had mentioned the name of anyone who breaks the FTC laws, I could have been in trouble myself. Libel laws and all.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. DCQuarterlife says:

    And it's because you actually buy and use what you blog about that I trust you completely and have fallen in love with some of the products you've reviewed (Laura Mercier foundation, for one). So really, thank you for being an actual honest reviewer and not just trying to get a buck for it.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  3. Courtney says:

    I second DCQuarterlife on the Laura Mercier product! Thanks for all of the great, honest reviews!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  4. Becky says:

    What, a blogger who actually is a normal person, and buys things like the rest of us. Say it ain't so! Thank you, Belle, for giving us the honest low down.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  5. CB says:

    This is why I like your blog so much more than other fashion blogs.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  6. Sarah says:

    I'll go ahead and third the Laura Mercier comment! I can't tell you how many compliments I've received!!!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  7. Monica says:

    I love your style suggestions and love that they are consistent because they are reflecting your true opinions. Nothing worse than following a blog that changes its FAV! product every week. C'mon now, most of us are creatures of habit loyal to our favorite products. I salute you Belle!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  8. Suburban Sweetheart says:

    Refreshing! I think bloggers who buy their own things tend to be more credible. Thanks for this post outlining your policies & free-stuff habits.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  9. Anita says:

    Actually I'm really glad you addressed this because I have to admit this issue immediately came to mind when I read your review this week about the body scrub. Maybe it was the way it was written, but for some reason I thought you had gotten it for free. Thanks for clearing the air!!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  10. renee says:

    Well said!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  11. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    1) The FTC rule is stupid. Magazines don't have to disclose the products they were given but bloggers do? Stupid. 2) It's stupid to assume Belle received free stuff. 3) if you were reading this blog, you would know Belle does disclose. Belle, just delete emails like this. I know you want to defend yourself, but it's not worth your time.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  12. Jessica says:

    I'm a relatively new reader here, so I really appreciated this post. I too was wondering if the body scrub was a freebie — I'm just so accustomed to that on most other blogs. Your policy is refreshing, and I totally respect you for it!

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  13. Sara says:

    If you are going to single people out you should have started with bloggers who actually break this silly law. Anh and Bee both work full time (still not sure what that has to do with your blog) and, from what I can tell, disclose all gifted items.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  14. AnnS says:

    Yet another Laura Mercier devotee, thanks to your blog. I appreciate your honesty and your candid reviews.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  15. A says:

    Belle never said that they did not have jobs or that they did not disclose all gifted items. She was simply pointing out that since her blog is pseudononymous she can not post pictures of herself wearing the clothes or carrying purses etc. that they give her for free. She was in no way hurtfully singling them out. She was stating facts and it was in no way offensive.

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  16. love it says:

    i love that you review things you actually buy! i think it comes through in your writing that you clearly are a regular consumer of the beauty products especially.

    …and this is hilarious: “The last thing I want to do after a long day of lobbying the federal government is go home and lobby a 24-year-old PR flack for a free sample of shampoo.”

    November 9, 2011/Reply
  17. MA says:

    I love and adore this blog. I read it religiously every single day and I have told anyone that will listen to me about it. The one thing that annoys me is when other readers critique and nit pick decisions made by you, the “pseudononymous” blogger. As I a reader get somewhat frustrated having to read these pointless comments, I can only imagine how you who put time and effort into this wonderful star in the blogosphere must feel. The bottom line is: blogs are opinion based. Bloggers have a right to say what they want, review what they want, applaud or trash what they want (within reason). If you disagree with something said or posted, start your own blog so your own personal opinions can be heard… and certainly make sure it is abundantly clear that you are in compliance with all FTC rules… so no one will feel the need to accuse you of something (the horror!)

    November 10, 2011/Reply
  18. S says:

    Belle. I know I have said this a zillion times- but thank you for the time you spend every day providing us with your ideas, critiques and reviews. The fact that you felt the need to address this tragically mislead person makes me adore you and the blog even more. Cheers to CHS!

    November 10, 2011/Reply
  19. Belle says:

    I wouldn't say she's tragically mislead. I think freebies have just become the norm in blogging, so people read a good review and think that someone must have paid for it.

    November 10, 2011/Reply
  20. CHSFan says:

    Thanks for clearing this up, Belle. I have to admit, I also wondered if you were reviewing freebies because I would see things like Birchbox crop up on your blog simultaneously as some of the other blogs I read. I am so happy to know this is not the case! I already went out this week and bought some of the items you recommended on your pinterest board! I also recommend your blog to every woman I know.

    November 10, 2011/Reply
  21. Charisse says:

    Belle one of the main reasons that I read your blog is because it is honest! Keep it that way. I also like that you bring a lot of style to the district (not known for its fashion sense). You offer up stylish alternatives at every price point, which is something a lot of other big style blogs are lacking. Sure I love Louboutin heels but currently on my non-prof budget I can't afford them so it is nice to see outfits of all price ranges instead of a girl similar in age to me, sporting this seasons trends straight of the runway knowing there were gifted; this only leaves me feeling sad and unaccomplished! ­čÖé

    November 10, 2011/Reply
  22. Libby says:

    Hear, hear! It is so unbelievably refreshing to know that a very popular blogger like yourself openly discuss about this ethical/controversial issue. IDK who “T” is, but clearly, s/he is not a daily reader that knows you don't sell yourself out for free swag like some of the other more well known bloggers. I used to be an avid fan on Anh, but since she started doing more PR freebie/swag posts, I stopped reading her blog since it is too advertorial and commercial for my liking. Her blog isn't the only one either.

    Anyway, tangent aside, it's very empowering and refreshing to know that there are still bloggers out that don't receive free swag AND that post honest critiques. It's one of the many reasons why I read your blog daily (or as often as you post), along with your wonderful sense of style, tips for being a stylish “corporette” (another blog that I love, which I discovered through yours), and impeccable spelling and grammar (something a lot of current bloggers seem to lack).

    Thank you, Belle!

    November 13, 2011/Reply