#fairpayforbloggers – it’s about time

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#fairpayforbloggers, fair pay for bloggers, not dressed as lamb, reviews, paid for content, sponsored posts, giveaway, giveaways

I’ve recently been reading the Not Dressed as Lamb fashion blog written by Catherine Summers. While the fashion tips and imagery Catherine produces are fantastic, these have not been the reasons I’ve been visiting the site. I am not, after all, a woman seeking “occasion appropriate” style tips.

I’ve primarily been reading the blog because Catherine has done something very brave. She’s launched a #fairpayforbloggers campaign and suggested that bloggers, in particular pro-bloggers, should get paid for writing reviews. 

Purely by chance, Catherine’s campaign has coincided with several requests for my assistance to promote products or services. I’ll go into more detail about just two of these requests in a moment. Suffice it to say they would have required effort on my behalf, immense effort in one case, and yet I would not have been paid a single, solitary penny.

These requests have been just enough to tip me over the edge. Inspired by the #fairpayforbloggers campaign I am in the process of updating my reviews policy. I’ve always charged for hosting certain content, but the time has come to be much more consistent in how I do it.

As a former journalist, I struggle with the ethics of being paid directly for a review. Readers may feel you’ve ‘thrown’ the review in return for cash.

The truth is, times have changed and bloggers are a massive part of the media mix the PR industry must engage with. So long as a well written and transparent disclosure policy is in place, I don’t believe there is any conflict of interest if a blogger is paid for the administration of a review, or content such as a giveaway. In other words, an organisation pays a small fee for a guaranteed publication date, anchor text and an agreed number of mentions on social media.

This is essentially the model Catherine has adopted with Not Dressed as Lamb. I think it makes huge sense. It’s a guarantee for both parties; the blogger knows they’re not being exploited while the organisation seeking publicity is guaranteed to receive the exposure they’re looking for.

Of course the option is there for any company to send a review sample and not pay a fee. In these circumstances they take a risk. The blogger may choose to write a review but nothing is guaranteed. If the blogger chooses not to, they shouldn’t be on the receiving end of complaints.

That said, allow me to shed a little light on two of the requests recently made of me. I think they illustrate quite clearly why things must change.

There is no budget to pay you
This isn’t an example of a review but a sponsored post. I was approached by an agency and asked to host content on behalf of a limited company that operates in the public sector. As is all too often the case, there was no budget to pay me. I will dedicate page space to charities free of charge, but not limited companies.

I did a little research and discovered this company is owned by a private equity investment vehicle. It is also valued at £103m and posted a pre-tax profit in 2012 0f £3.5m.

I sent an email back to the agency explaining all of this. I also asked it to find some budget. You won’t be surprised to hear I haven’t received a response.

The test drive
This is a particularly interesting example. It demonstrates the confusion that still exists in some quarters between salaried journalists and un-salaried bloggers.

As you may have gathered from the heading, I was asked by a car manufacture to test drive one of its vehicles. It would have involved travelling to a major European city. This jaunt would have taken place mid-week in school term time and I’d have been away from home for the best part of two days.

That would have meant two days away from the keyboard earning no money. Added to this, I’d have needed to arrange and pay for additional post school / post nursery childcare for my two young daughters while my wife was at work.

I asked about the possibility of being paid a small admin fee and for childcare costs to be covered. The total childcare costs for both kids would have been something like £60.

The response was very telling. I received an email explaining that I and the “other journalists” would have travel and accommodation fees covered but that was it. I was very unimpressed at the comparison with journalists, not to mention the issue of childcare costs.

I had no option but to decline. To agree would have led to an interesting conversation with my wife; “Darling, I’m going away on business for a couple of days. I won’t earn any money and you’ll be looking after the kids solo for two evenings. Oh, and by the way, we have to pay for the extra childcare costs.”

My wife’s Glaswegian. I can assure you her response would have involved the colourful language her kin are famous for.

Bloggers are not journalists
Lumping bloggers and journalists together shows a lack of understanding as to how we operate. The overwhelming majority of pro-bloggers are running small businesses and are not backed by huge publishing houses with a variety of income streams.

We are, however, an influential bunch. If companies want us to promote their products to our readers, well, it must become standard practice to make it worth our while. The opinions we provide are trusted, down to Earth, from the heart and take hours of effort to write and promote. We can only be expected to do so much without some form of recompense.

It’s time for change
I applaud Catherine for launching the #fairpayforbloggers campaign. I don’t think pro-bloggers should be paid for reviews, but should receive something for administering various pieces of content, be it reviews giveaways and so on. In return for a fee, however, we must deliver. This approach would benefit everyone.

Photo credit: Steve Depelo Photo reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0 agreement. for further information about Creative Commons and a link to the agreement, please see my disclosure page.

6 thoughts on “#fairpayforbloggers – it’s about time”

  1. Hmmm. ‘pro-blogger’ I hate that term. I’m a blogger, if the definition is that I write a blog. Am I a professional? well I’ve had no training, and I make no money from it so no.

    Nor do I want to make money from my blog. It’s just my little chatty part of the web. Do I review things? Yes sometimes something I bought, sometimes something I heard about, sometimes something that was sent to me for free. But that’s it. I don’t claim to be anything special. Most of my blog is random stuff I’ve done or rants about what has ticked me off recently.

    Do I think you should be able to ask for payment for what you do? Of course, but there is no harm in asking for something to be free. I’m polite to PRs (though I may snigger at thier cheek in private) what ever the request. That includes polite ‘no thanks’.

    I don’t think that blogging for free on my little blog hurts the huge ‘pro-blogger’ community either. I think you(?) they(?) are big enough to stand up for themselves.

    ooops I appear to have over-ranted 🙂

    1. No, you’ve not over-ranted at all! It’s an issue that needs to be discussed and debated. I’m not a huge fan of the term “pro blogger” either but I do make money from my blog and associated activities so I guess I fall into that camp.

      You’re right, there’s no harm in being asked to do something for free. We’re all at liberty to say no. Personally speaking, however, I have had some outrageous requests made of me recently and I think it’s a sign that things should change.

      you’re right though, I think there’s more than enough space for the “hobby” and “pro” bloggers to rub along together. There’s a comparison with the publishing industry where music and football fanzies sit alongside professionally produced publications (…and the fanzines are often much more creative!).

  2. I think this is an important issue, thanks for writing about it. Im not a pro-blogger but I am a qualified journalist who puts a lot of unpaid hours into my blog. Big companies can certainly afford advertising, their budgets are huge. I think a lot of the time they are getting a great deal as bloggers can have such influence. So if a company wants me to write about them then they shouldn’t claim they can’t afford to pay, it seems dishonest.
    I think it is fair enough when a company sends you something to review; that way you get something and aren’t obligated to write something positive or are told what to write. I think if a company starts telling you what to say then they should be paying you. This campaign is a great idea as there needs to be some sort of standards set for bloggers so that their value is recognised. 🙂

    1. I agree Christine. Sometimes I get to do reviews that are worth doing for free. Either the financial value is worth it if you can keep the item (or have a marvellous day out with the family). Other times, however, it isn’t. For some time I’ve been troubled by one company that would lend me review items. they weren’t particularly expensive but once the review was published, I was expected to sit at home all day and wait until a courier turned up to collect the product. I stopped reviewing their items because I felt like I was being exploited.

      I think you have to be flexible to a degree, but as you say, I’m not happy about being approached by large organisations that claim to have no budget. That’s just wrong.

  3. John where do I start? Firstly – thank you so much for the mention, I’m glad the post got you (and so many others) thinking). I reckon it’s awoken a feeling of “why am I pandering to brands’ requests and not getting paid” in so many bloggers – hobby and full-time alike. I must comment on the car test drive offer you described… that was UNBELIEVABLE! It echoes a very similar request I had just before Christmas:

    Firstly, I’d won a competition to win two tickets to Fashion Week last September through the big, luxury car people that sponsor FW (I won’t mention which one but suffice to say the first word rhymes with “ercedes” and the second word rhymes with “enz”). I wrote a post all about my (first time) experiences at FW just because it would make an interesting article – they later asked me if they could use it in their blog and newsletter. That was no problem, I hadn’t written it for them and I would be credited, etc. so that was all fine, no extra work for me.

    Then in December they got in touch with me with a great offer that I couldn’t possibly turn down: How would I like to test drive an A Class car for the day? And could I go to the Exeter Xmas market and take photos of the market and what I bought? And could I write an article to go on their blog and in their newsletter? At first I thought WOW yes I want to drive one of those around for the day, then thought…

    1. It would be a whole day out and my husband would have to come with me to take photos and miss a day’s work/pay (he can get good overtime on a Saturday).
    2. I wouldn’t be able to earn any money any other way as I’d be out for the day.
    3. I still have to drive the 15 miles from home to Exeter to get the car from their showroom.
    4.Then I have all of about 3 miles to drive the A Class into town to park it. OR I could just pick up the car, drive it 200 yards into the Park n Ride that is NEXT DOOR and catch the bus into town because parking’s a nightmare at Christmas in the town centre. (Woop-de-doo: test drive an A Class for 200 yards.)
    5. A photographer would charge at least a half day’s work for taking pictures of this sort of thing – I’m just “lucky” my husband takes my photos and doesn’t charge me.
    6. I’d already done my Xmas shopping and didn’t need anything else, but they wanted pictures of what I bought.
    7. I’d then have to spend at least a day editing pictures and writing up a post.
    8. If I wanted to take an A Class car for a test drive, I could do that for free any time I wanted.

    Their offer of payment? NOTHING. Not a bean. I know the motor industry has been having a little bit of a hard time in recent years, but I’m sure this manufacturer could at least have afforded £150 (minimum) to pay me to do this. Seeing as they were able to buy me train tickets to get to London for FW that cost about £250 per person (I’m not exaggerating – they were bought a couple of days in advance and they were open-ended returns), it seems amazing they couldn’t pay me to do this assignment for them.

    Safe to say you have summed up everything I want to say about the #fairpayforbloggers subject only better(!), and the point that brands should be paying for the administration of a review, not our opinions, is spot-on.

    Apologies for the lonnnnnnnng comment, I did warn you on Twitter it’d be an essay!! I’ll be sure to include a link in my “round up of bloggers’ opinions post” I do next month, and tag you in of course on Twitter, etc. Well done John, you’re the man.

    Catherine x

    1. Thanks Catherine. I hope the campaign has the desired effect and gets brands and bloggers working better together and on a more level footing. I think the time is right!

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