• 27Jun

    Blogsploitation?

    A little while ago I was nominated, along with many others, in a popular awards contest for bloggers. It was a nice feeling, mainly because I didn’t ask to be put forward and I still don’t know who did it. It also got me looking again at the numerous Blogging PR Networks that exist, questioning why I struggle to engage with them, and examining what it is about them that makes me so uncomfortable.

    Many blogs (including mine) are linked up with a network, if not a number of them. Most networks are based on a business model of acting as brokers for advertising. Often you get a forum and links to advice (often generated at no cost to the company by users) and can register for ‘PR’ contacts. Some rank your site, promote your posts,  run blog link-ups, share tips and organise conferences. Their popularity makes them a powerful draw, especially for people hoping to gain readers and find income from their writing.

    But as this influence grows and blogging becomes ever-more popular, I’ve found myself increasingly uncomfortable with how this works out for regular bloggers. Mainly because of what Networks send out, and who they link to.  I’ve been registered with several Blogging PR Networks for well over a year and the approaches received from PRs are, by and large, laughable.

    Instead of serious approaches to ‘work with brands’ as sites often promise, my inbox is usually full of the following types of ‘opportunities’ which bear little resemblance to paid work:

    Offers to copy-paste an advert or ‘The Gift of Nothing!’
    Almost always described as giving you ‘free content’, PR people frequently ask you to do this for nothing in return. If you enquire about rates they will often ignore you (they don’t like tricky people who value their own time) or give you a patronising explanation of how it will improve your blog.

    Offers to review products or ‘Will You Blog for Treats?’
    In this case PRs say there is no payment but the product is for free. Let me explain how this works: if you get the product, the product is the payment. It’s really that simple. Whether it is goods or cash, if I wouldn’t have written a review otherwise and it is done in agreement with the company, it is a payment. Same reason politicians have to declare gifts. Sure I can choose to raffle it on the blog, but it was still a payment. And by raffling it, they get double the advertising, and I’ve given away the only thing I gained from doing it.

    This system of payment-PRs-keep-pretending-isn’t-payment means that they value your blog space at the cost of the item and P&P. So a book review is asking for five hours of my time to read it, an hour to write about it and publish it, for less than a tenner’s worth of product. Less than £2 an hour.

    Asking you to attend an event or ‘You do the Legwork!’
    These invitations have ranged from free tickets to museums (which cost just a few quid anyway) through to a major retailer inviting me to a new store launch, for the princely payment of ‘10% off any purchases’. Yes you read that right! I was asked to travel to a store, to review it for their benefit, for the equivalent to the discount they already offer on Quidco!

    Blogging Contests or ‘Write Your Own Blog Spam!’
    These are more and more popular. Disregarding any pretence of paying bloggers for effort and blog space entirely, Blogger PR Networks invite you to write about a subject in order to win a prize donated by a company who want brand profile. It’s literally a payment lottery. It’s like a caption competition only its takes longer, if you self-host if effectively costs you to enter, and you send every entry to all your subscribers.

    Offers to write about a product or brand for a fixed fee, or (‘I Can’t Believe it’s Not Blogging”)
    On occasion (very rarely) I have had an offer to write about a product for a fee. They call it a sponsored post, I call this writing PR – we’ll agree to differ! There are plenty of review sites where genuine customers write about a product, but reviews can and do bring in money, and if bloggers want to write them and can make a living out of it, good for them.

    However, the amount offered varies hugely. I have heard of people writing for amounts ranging from £4-£50. There seems to be little logic or consistency in the amounts offered, or how people tender for the work, nor are the terms of the contract clearly spelled out. Also, the ethics of writing without clearly marking reviews as such (from the outset) are questionable. Print media are strongly encouraged to declare an ‘advertorial’ whereas blogs are not. Posts are entirely the bloggers’ work and therefore any risks associated with copyright, libel or even potentially mis-selling would rest with the author. In sum, while there is money to be made there is little consistency or security for those writing these posts. Nor will the average blogger be able to retire on it.

    Printing Money

     

    The concern for me is that a new industry is developing which is generating millions of words of advertising content by utilising non-professional writers, on often unfair or exploitative conditions and/or rates which professional writers would not tolerate, and over which the bloggers have little or no control. It undermines everyone involved if the only response is ‘you don’t have to do it’. In almost all of the ‘opportunities’ I’ve seen or been sent, I would be better off flipping burgers.

    Some bloggers turn to this kind of arrangement precisely because they DO have to do it. One blogger recently told me she had accepted an opportunity to write content every week, at a rate of £4 a post. She accepted because ‘her blog is still quite new’ and she needed the money. Another, facing financial hardship, decided to accept a rate they felt was too low, because they need to feed their family, and every little helps. You can’t blame her. But the reality is, so long as it goes unchallenged, PR companies won’t offer more next time, because the supply of people who need money and of more new blogs is endless. Others still say they do it for fun or to cover the costs of self-hosting, but this is akin to telling people who need to work for a living that they have to accept poor terms, because you’re lucky enough to work for a laugh. Work is work, and it undervalues everyone when people accept poor terms.

    But it’s not a dead end problem. Just as Networks all claim to have dominance as the biggest/best etc, so they could take responsibility for what they provide to bloggers. It’s tricky because the Networks are private companies and legitimately unaccountable – if you don’t like what they do then suck it up – they aren’t obliged to be democratic. For that reason they will naturally promote bloggers who are compliant and don’t disagree with their business practices, who will in turn support them.

    It could be simply changed – by setting agreed standards for the ‘opportunities’ they promote.For example:

    • Companies promoting PR opportunities should look after their blogger following by only advertising ‘opportunities’ which don’t exploit the people they target.
    • Any PR approach should be asked to estimate the hours involved to deliver their proposal, and offer compensation at the very least minimum wage plus expenses. Because it IS work.
    • Basic contracts should ensure the bloggers interests are served and that expectations on both sides are fair.
    • Bloggers should name and shame big PR companies who offer exploitative terms.

    Don’t get me wrong, Networks can be fun, slick and entertaining. But they are nothing like writers’ unions and shouldn’t be mistaken as such. They are, at least in part, commercial organisations who derive credibility and income precisely from the kind of loyalty their high profile commands, intentionally or not, from dominating the creative community. Creativity which is itself at risk of getting stifled when writing to please a PR or sponsor becomes involved. If bloggers don’t like it, they should feel free to feed that back.

    Using these site is personal choice, but their increasing dominance in the area means that they are both influential and are hard to ignore for any aspiring blogger. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from a blog, but it should be equitable, and the stuff I get sent frequently just does not cut the mustard.

    Comments, as always, most welcome!

    JT

     

    Picture credits : Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos www.123rf.com

Discussion 17 Responses

  1. June 27, 2013 at 10:54 am

    They’re not about fairness. They’re capitalists. Their businesses are built on exploitation, and as long as vulnerable people exist, capitalism will exploit them.

    As a solution, I suggest a spot of worldwide feminist revolt.

  2. June 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Hello! The blogging industry is still very young – blogging per se has been around for 10 or so years, but the industry that’s built up around it is still very much in its infancy. I believe there will be massive changes over the next five years, there have to be, because it’s all over the place at the moment, there is currently no real industry standard.

    Advertising as we know it is dying on its feet, content marketing and the search engine god that is google are king. So, in many ways it’s all to play for, for those of us in at the start of the blogging industry – for those of us bloggers who want to be part of the industry side of it. So it is perhaps for us to work together to set the industry standard for ourselves, define the rules and take charge?

    On a slightly separate note… I’m an ex fashion journalist and an ex PR. I disagree that products for review are payment. They aren’t. They are products for review. The fact that you may keep them is a perk of the job, not a payment. A PR sends them out because they want them to be reviewed and hopefully given editorial space on a blog. What does happen though is that some PRs, who either don’t really understand blogging or who are taking advantage of bloggers, allude to the product as if it is a big gift being given to the blogger. This really shouldn’t happen and no blogger should ever feel that a product is a payment. I think I feel a blog post coming on about this subject… before I take up any more space on your blog!

    • June 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      I will look forward to reading it! It’s a fair point that the industry is new, which hopefully might make it easier for the big players to adopt some of their early tactics.
      On payment/reviews I do still think there is a difference between someone paid a salary to do PR getting perks, and someone whose only income is perks. Also, if you remove the concept of the freebie as payment it’s hard to quantify what consideration the PR people give the blogger ie what the blogger is getting. Perhaps a clearer definition between paid and unpaid reviews would help clarify.

      • August 10, 2013 at 7:45 am

        Google considers the review item to be payment in its guidelines, and states nofollow links should be used, and so does the HMRC – it’s a benefit in kind I believe.

        Really interesting post and discussion, and you’ve given me some ideas for the future. Thank you.

  3. June 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I’ve been discussing this exact topic with Natasha at The 1970s Diet over the past couple of weeks. I have quite similar feelings to you but I know mine are born out of being in quite a privileged position … I neither need the money nor the products on offer. This enables me to pick and choose at my leisure but ultimately means I also get a better deal.

    I only review products that I either love, would buy anyway or am curious about but don’t want to pay for. As a result, I’ve reviewed about ten things over the course of 18 months but they’ve been things that I’ve been genuinely happy to spend my time photographing or writing about.

    I’ve written about five sponsored posts. All have been keyword/link posts so I’ve only had to weave them in to posts that I was going to write anyway. I charge way above the odds for these posts – significantly more than the sum you mention above. I probably don’t get offered as many that charge less but those that have approached me have all agreed bar one.

    The way I see it is that I have given up my job to spend time writing and earn less than I would if I’d have carried on.

    But as I mentioned, I can have standards because I don’t need what any of the PR companies are offering – be that products or money.

    I can understand why people accept lower amounts – they need the money/it’s treats for the kids/they don’t know any better – but it’s going to take something radical to change the current situation and bring everyone up to the same level.

    Maybe this post and any subsequent posts that develop from this will kickstart something.

    • June 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Thanks Rachel, it’s definitely interesting to hear from a blogger who is getting decent contracts! Regarding levelling up – I’m not sure that everyone can expect to get the same amount for everything – but a base limit would definitely be a starting point! What does Natasha think?

  4. June 28, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Fabulous post. I wish I’d read this 18 months ago.

    I was sucked in by the offer of free products and paid posts. Of chasing followers, rankings, and ‘opportunities’.

    Recently I felt I’d sold the soul of my blog for a product I wasn’t at all comfortable promoting, and completely lost sight of why I started blogging in the first place.

    I suspect I’m not alone.

    I whole-heartedly support your ideas, however I worry that whilst a large proportion of bloggers are unprofessional (this isn’t meant to sound derogatory, I’m including myself in this) it will remain a market ripe for exploitation for a long time to come. I hope I’m wrong though.

    Anyway, I’m not sure what I’ve contributed with this comment so I’m off to write a new post, unpaid and without review. It’s been a while!

    P.S. Don’t get me started on Twitter Parties ….

    • June 29, 2013 at 6:57 am

      Thanks Mark. I’m sorry to hear that. I did have a hunch some may feel that way, but didn’t quite want to say it because I know it’s subjective. Lots of people do have the balance right, or start their blog purely for income, but there’s a strong emphasis on doing that as though it’s the norm, and it needn’t be. If anything I do prefer blogs born out of passion rather than profit Hope you enjoy getting your blogging mojo back!

    • June 29, 2013 at 7:01 am

      And also not a fan of twitter parties. From time to time I join in with funny/sarcastic responses, and the promoter invariably ignores it. Petty rebellion, but it makes me chuckle, especially when lots of people favourite the comments ;)

  5. July 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I rather feel you’re missing a little bit about how PR works. What you’re saying is true, to a large extent, but PRs aren’t in the business to keep bloggers in business and/or pay them.

    A PR person’s job is to get his/her product referenced in media. Increasingly, that includes on blog posts. The challenge is how to do that. In the real world, a PR person might send the product to 50 publications hoping to get articles/reviews written by those journalists in the editorial. Inevitably, a small magazine that struggles to get content or has a smaller editorial team is more likely to use it than a large mainstream publication for whom the PR might have to work a bit harder.

    But by definition, PR is not supposed to be about paid for content.

    The point is that you get to choose what you publish on your blog. If you think the product is not good or interesting, you don’t need to do it. If you feel that the ad is not worth it, you don’t have to do it. PR opportunities should not be seen by the people running publications (or blogs) as a way to make money. In the ideal world, a PR person helps the editorial team to generate content that is genuinely interesting to the reader. This works for the benefit of both the PR, and the publication and, hopefully, the audience.

    • July 1, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      I do get how it works, my discomfort isn’t with PR per se, but how it’s pitched by Networks acting as middle men, making introductions on commission, where the blogger gets little or nothing in return. It’s more the way they are selling it as though allies to non-professional bloggers, whereas they are actually profiting from other people doing the work.

  6. July 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Timely post as I was discussing this very topic with some folks from the other side of the fence just this weekend gone.

    I think there’s feelings all round that while there’s a good relationship between some PRs and some bloggers, there’s this … almost seedy underbelly of crappy PRs and media companies willing to offer the crappiest crap they can find and a whole shit ton of bloggers who are willing to accept because hey, it’s free stuff.

    I think we need some sort of setup of bloggers running an impartial network connecting bloggers + PRs where there’s a) mutual respect, and b) honest appraisal of the worth of both the blog and the PR offer so it’s not just chucked out to the lowest bidder.

  7. July 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Great post… It’s taken a while for me to work this out myself, after numerous contacts/opportunities from PRs some of which I have taken up and others I’ve turned down pretty quickly! Like others have said, I only promote products which I feel fit in with my blog and my blogging ethos.

  8. August 10, 2013 at 7:34 am

    What a well written post and I was nodding all the way.
    £4 wow that is low! Below national minimum wage in fact. I heard £5 the other day and I said the same – the more accept it the less everyone will be offered – I think social media is a powerful up and coming source and we should value our worth.

    Incidentally I liked working at a place where they flip burgers but it doesn’t fit my family’s needs, like you say really, this is the one way I can work to support my family.

    • August 10, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      I agree it’s about knowing worth and considering there are broader implications of making offers that fall below it. The burger flipping analogy was more about an obvious example of generally minimum wage work. The point was more that people who may otherwise not accept min wage work (going by their bios) seem to do so when blogging. That was a factor for me when looking at ‘pr opportunities’ – if I wouldn’t accept the conditions in the real world, why do so online?

  9. August 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    [...] read this post Blogsploitation and then there was a discussion on [...]

  10. August 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Great well written blog post and very timely/topical.

    I agree with you.

    Luckily there are places like Collective Bias that pay well :-)

    xx

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