Allow me to direct your attention to my sidebar momentarily. What do you see there? Your standard archives, search option, a link to my Twitter account and one single solitary ad, for my own publishing company. What don’t you see? Ads for anything else. And that’s because this blog is not a business. I do it for fun, and to promote my own writing and other projects. I don’t expect to make money at it.
For many years, I ran a professional, blog-based website that was a business. It was done with the intention of making money. We ran paid ads in the sidebar. It was registered as a business; we paid business taxes, we had a business account at the bank. But this site, my personal blog, is not something I expect to make money on.
I point out this difference because I think it gets lost on a lot of bloggers. The project that they started out for fun, as a hobby, suddenly becomes something they feel they must make money at. They see a few high-profile bloggers get book deals or report massive traffic and high ad earnings and suddenly doing it for fun doesn’t cut it anymore. They attend blogging conferences where so-called “experts” give seminars on how to “monetize” their sites and all of a sudden they feel entitled to be paid for their time and effort.
Bloggers everywhere, regardless of the content of their blogs, are finding themselves constantly pitched to by PR companies. Most PR companies have absolutely no idea how to work with bloggers. Blogs are not mainstream media outlets with offices and receptionists and clear rules and protocol for accepting samples. It also seems as if PR companies think that most bloggers are ditzy housewives, and that if they contact the blogger with an intimidating yet patronizing pitch email, that the blogger will give them free publicity.
But in mainstream media, aside from the patronizing pitch email (how I wish PR companies would just send bloggers a professionally written press release like they do for everyone else), freebies and samples happen on a daily basis. I guarantee that every newsroom in the world currently has a table full of stuff that was sent in as a free sample in the hopes that the paper would cover it in some way. 99% of this stuff is never covered and ends up sent back or taken home by employees. In the years of running my own professional food website, I have had couriers show up at my door with everything from a basket of bread to full-size bottles of premium single malt (sometimes multiple full-size bottles of single malt). The theory being, of course, that a writer has to try said product before they can write about it and recommend it. As long as these samples don’t get too lavish, this is considered acceptable in most industries.
Amanda Rettke of the blog i am baker outlines her frustration at the wacky pitches in her post Blogging 101 – The Pitch. I share her frustration at the PR pitch, the assumption that bloggers will be happy to promote a product in exchange for a free box of macaroni. And Rettke is right when she points out that such an endorsement will affect a blogger’s relationship with their followers.
But she loses me when she suggests that bloggers reply to the PR person requesting monetary compensation.
Whether you take money for an endorsed post, whether you follow US law and declare the post as a paid endorsement or that you received free samples/product, it all boils down to the same thing – taking money to promote a product on your own blog, regardless of whether you like/use that product or not… is payola. And it’s really fucking skeezy.
Anyone concerned about their reputation with their followers, within the blogging community, or as a businessperson in general, should be much more concerned about being seen to be easily bought than by their association with a specific product. And any blogger who is truly trying to move into the world of journalism and paid writing should avoid asking for compensation from companies – like the fucking plague.
Look, I know there’s a philosophy out there that blogging is a lot of work and that bloggers deserve to be compensated. That philosophy is bullshit. If you started you blog **as a hobby** then you didn’t start it with the idea of getting paid for your work, you started it because it looked like fun. No other hobbyist expects to get paid. Model train collectors don’t make money at their hobby. Scrapbookers don’t make money. Sure, there are often opportunities to turn a hobby into a business, but bloggers need to be clear on what they want out of their blog when they start. And if that changes from a hobby – that they do for fun, to share stories and recipes with friends – to a situation where they want to write professionally or turn their blog into a business, then a clear delineation from hobbyist to professional needs to occur.
I vehemently believe that all bloggers should:
- determine a policy on what they will and won’t cover and post that somewhere obvious on their blog like their Contact page. Don’t drink? Don’t eat meat? Make it clear so PR people promoting those products won’t bother you.
- make it clear to PR people, either somewhere on your website or in a reply email, that accepting a sample of a product does not mean that you will write about the product, even if you like it (compared to mainstream publications, this is where PRs really believe they can bully and intimidate bloggers)
- make it clear in the post (as is the law in the US) that the product was a sample and that your mention of it is not necessarily an endorsement
If you want to make money from your blog, instead of asking for/accepting payola:
- offer graphic ads in the sidebar or headers. Set specific rates, post them on your site and send PR people who pitch you products or requests for coverage a link to your ad rates – be clear that, for ethical reasons, you will not write about products/companies that run ads on your site.
- do not EVER reply to a pitch for coverage asking for compensation – the comments in Rettke’s post include people who have done so and never heard from the PR company again. This is a great tactic if you want to be left alone, but not if you want to be taken seriously. Again, and I can’t reiterate it enough – ASKING FOR COMPENSATION TO COVER A PRODUCT ON YOUR SITE IS UNETHICAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL.
Also, if you feel that you deserve to be compensated for the time you spend writing, developing recipes, etc… become a real writer.
- pitch stories to relevant magazines, websites, and writing anthologies
- enter writing contests, cooking/baking contests, or recipe contests
- answer calls for writers on group blogs that cover topics similar to your own blog (recipes, local food, parenting issues, etc.)
- create a page on your website/blog indicating that you are “for hire” – turn your blog into your online writing resume – through this blog and my (now defunct) professional blog/website I have gotten freelance work writing for magazines, newspapers and websites. I have gotten gigs with local restaurants, creating content for their websites, ads and promotional material and press releases for their events.
I agree with Rettke that bloggers should stand up for themselves and make it clear to PR people who come at them with silly pitches that they won’t promote their products for free. But I think the blogging community – not to mention the media as a whole – would be better off if bloggers had a clear ethical stance and made it obvious that no form of payola would be considered appropriate.
Whether you’re blogging for fun, or as a business, you’re not entitled to be compensated for your work unless someone specifically pays you to run that blog or you can attract advertisers to run ads. Compensation in exchange for coverage is never, ever cool. And if, as a blogger, you feel that’s the only way to make your hobby worthwhile, please shut down your blog and take up knitting.