Fitzroyalty

Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

when bloggers sell out audiences stop reading

| 71 Comments

Social media has value because it provides unique perspectives about diverse topics. Much social media content is genuinely individualistic and honest: its creators have no commercial or other agenda apart from the desire to share their opinions and experiences.

Audiences have benefited from this recent increase in the availability of honest media because honesty is fundamentally lacking from commercial media. Unfortunately, the honest individuality of social media is being undermined by crude commercial intervention that threatens to destroy its difference and diversity.

Bloggers are including advertising in their sites, are accepting free meals, goods and services, are publishing sponsored content and are becoming generic freelance writers, who write about whatever they are commissioned to write about, rather than what they love or are experts in. Their sites are losing their uniqueness and are becoming more like generic commercial media sites.

I dislike advertising on blogs and as a publisher I simply refuse to accept it. I think that advertising makes blogs look ugly because the widgets that insert ads don’t match the shape and size of their pages. I refuse to allow my site to look like that.

As an audience member, I question the autonomy of blogs that feature ads, and give their opinions less credit. Fundamentally, I don’t trust that they contain genuine, honest individual opinions. I read them for unique content, and if they undermine their uniqueness they become redundant.

When I see photos in a blog that contain the brand name of a camera in a watermark, I immediately assume that the blogger has sold out. They’re not using their preferred tools, or what they can afford; they’re using something provided to them by a sponsor. They’re no longer independent.

When I see fashion bloggers reviewing people movers or chocolate I consider them to have stopped being bloggers devoted to their subject. They’ve become freelance writers, albeit ones paid significantly less than the already poor rates for freelance writing.

When blogs sign up to be exclusively represented by an advertising agency, they relinquish their individuality. They also expose themselves to pressure to move beyond delivering advertising to write and publish sponsored posts. They’ve become another passive vehicle for commercially syndicated content.

When the advertising agency in question does business with questionable ethics, inspiring rants (warning, terrible site design and extreme Singlish) against it, I further doubt the judgement of the bloggers who allow their sites to be exploited. There should be more analysis of the technology and business model used by such agencies.

When food bloggers are commissioned by such an agency to review a commonly available product, I stop reading them. When they publish a series of posts that appear at the same time, with the same inane gushing writing and the same closeup photos (perhaps courtesy of those sponsored cameras), I want to vomit on them.

Formerly individual blogs that I once read regularly are starting to look and sound like the national daily and local weekly newspapers, but their mimicry of corporate media is not smart. While media corporations make lots of money, educated informed audiences distrust the quality and accuracy of much of the information they publish.

The bland inane restaurant reviews featured in the daily newspapers, for example, offer far less insight than the reviews written by food bloggers, particularly when readers can compare the opinions expressed in different blog reviews.

The commercialisation of formerly unique individual voices damages their appeal and undermines perceptions of their authenticity and individuality. Commercialised blogs that mimic the worst aspects of corporate media, particularly those reporting on cultural topics like food and fashion, are not worth reading.

I’ve been slowly writing this post for weeks, and ironically a newspaper reported yesterday that the advertising agency I have discussed here is claiming responsibility for encouraging the development of blogging as a full time commercial practice.

These people seem to have no understanding of the connection between independence, authenticity and trust. The advertorial and infommercial content they encourage bloggers to create is an abomination.

While some high profile blogs are published by experienced freelance journalists, who presumably know the value of their work, many bloggers seem to be commercially and technologically naive and are therefore easy to manipulate. They are being exploited for the commercial gain of advertising agencies and their corporate clients, but the consequence may be fundamental damage to the reputations of the bloggers involved.

71 comments

  1. I agree. I’ve seen a few hitherto respectable bloggers demean themselves for a couple of those (quite frankly disgusting-looking) Cadbury chocolate bars. It puts me off the blogger, undermines their credibility, and also makes me even less likely to buy the chocolate (although none of their marketing including the ads on the tram has made it remotely appealing). The watermarked photos could at least be done tastefully — but the watermarks are generally just slapped in the corner without any attempt at integrating them to the design of the blog.

    The Bloggess (on my phone, can’t go through the rigmarole of hunting down the link) recently posted about the stupid offers she gets from marketing douchebags (offering 2 boxes of cereal, or a blanket) — and the fantastic emails she sends in reply. Generating interesting and entertaining content… and preserving her integrity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. The above-mentioned blog posts re: blogging and advertising:
    http://thebloggess.com/?p=8267
    And
    http://thebloggess.com/?p=8252

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. A well researched post Brian. I agree that advertising is an issue that bloggers – especially successful ones – need to examine and question. It’s clear that some are being taken for a ride, perhaps because they haven’t thought the issue through properly?

    Each blogger needs to develop a way to handle these requests, preferably before they arrive. Authenticity is one of a writer’s best assets and once lost, can be hard to recover.

    My advertising policy is simple: I do not accept payment for posts, but am happy to promote something if it is relevant to my readers and my mission. This is subject to my discretion however, if I don’t want to post something (or lack the time) that has to be acceptable. I do not like to be pressured, which sadly, has happened at times. Integrity is very important to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. Ads I don’t mind — newspapers and magazines manage to retain their editorial independence while relying on advertising for revenue, and there’s no reason blogs can’t do the same.

    But I agree that it’s a shame to see bloggers become such willing shills for big companies and PR agencies. Professional journos receive SO much free crap from PR companies, you become immune to it pretty quickly. For part-time bloggers, I guess it’s a bit exciting to get some free swag.

    As long as they state clearly that it’s sponsored/a promo/etc, they’re not doing the “wrong” thing, per se, but as you say, it can really detract from the site’s credibility in the mind of some readers.

    The Cadbury example is a good one. Cadbury is a cheap, bog-ordinary chocolate. Kraft Foods, who own Cadbury, is the largest food company in the world, and have the money and the reach to make sure just about everyone in the country knows about their products. I doubt most of these bloggers would otherwise mention their chocolate. In return for giving Cadbury thousands of dollars worth of free advertising and invaluable personal endorsements AND trading away some of their credibility, they get a few free blocks to give their readers. If they’re cognisent of that, and the exchange is still worthwhile to them, then more power to ‘em, I guess. But I hope they realise they’re being played by for suckers by big PR firms who are cashing in on their own hard work in building a readership and gaining their respect — and they’re not even being paid for it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I have recently stopped reading to two fashion bloggers you mentioned because almost identicle posts about the latest fucking chocolate was the last straw. I have no issue with bloggers making money if they want, as long as it doesn’t affect content. When every second post is a sponsored post, I do not consider them to be bloggers. Many other bloggers argue this (undoubtedly hoping to get some of that sweet cash money) in which case, they need to stop considering themselves bloggers and start representing themselves as businesses. And I *don’t* read business blogs and I do NOT appreciate misrepresentation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Completely agree Brian – this year has been the year when blogs really started selling out. It’s a bit saddening to read repeated reviews of the same (free) event across half a dozen blogs. It also takes away the major charm of food blogging for me – these are just regular customers, spending their own money and discussing their experiences. As soon as restaurants start putting on special shows for them then half the value of the whole process is gone.

    There’s another good article on this over at New Epicurean: http://new-epicurean.blogspot.com/2010/09/publicity-machine.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. Absolutely agree. I’m not going to name any names but I instantly stop reading blogs that have ‘sponsored posts’, use donated cameras, write about restaurant meals they’ve not paid for or go to events they have been given free tickets for in exchange for a review. It’s banal, stupid and insults our intelligence. I’ve got better things to read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  8. Yes! As a friend said to me when a bunch of Sydney bloggers were wooed by Electrolux and all blogged gushingly, at the same time, about their heavily sponsored dinner with Tetsuya, “where is the critical thinking, people?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. You missed one of my favourites – food blogger reviews dog food:
    http://jeroxie.com/addiction/a-heathly-challenge

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Interesting and thought provoking read. I agree re the saturation point of some posts – ie everyone blogging about the same thing at the same time -it’s a little transparent and definitely with the sponsored posts – I personally won’t be paid for something I WANT to write about. I write what I want to write about, you lose your authenticity in my view by not doing that.

    I have recently invited advertisers, that’s my prerogative but it’s about carefully managing your advertising and not let it take over or compromise your content. Your advertising should fit the voice and theme of your blog, and you need to be discerning. I have rejected offers of advertising for those reasons.

    Rave about stuff you love, give it a plug, blog your experiences. A free event or meal is an experience but it shouldn’t be the bulk of your content, and you don’t need to blog about every experience, just the ones you think your readers would enjoy and something you can be honest about.

    On the whole, readers want to connect with people, not products – if the content is good and relate-able, readers will come back. They won’t if they feel like they are constantly being pitched to!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Lucy – I was one of those bloggers wooed by Electrolux. I’d like to add I gushed over Tetsuya several times prior to that event where I paid the bill for dinner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  12. Great post. Well thought out and said everything (in a far better, more researched way than I ever could). It’s SO boring that everyone blogs about their free stuff/packs handed out at the same time, and it’s always a shame when someone you think wouldn’t do it goes ‘there’. I have only just started to get asked to a few things and I am VERY wary about the whole thing. In fact, I have probably already made a mistake, but I tried to write about it best I could and in the way I normally would. Best stick with what I know best right? Thanks again GREAT post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Thanks everyone for the fantastic comments! It’s difficult to know how people feel about an issue until I publish a story and see the response develop. Has anyone started down the commercialisation path and pulled out once they realised what the implications would be?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. interesting post, Brian.

    it was inevitable that PR agencies & advertisers embraced non-mainstream & niche content producers, having had their hallowed (lucrative) ground in mainstream media constantly eroded for the last 5+ years. it’s all a bit like ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, where ‘Star Wars (A New Hope)’ was the rise of bloggers/podcasters/etc over those past 5-10 years.

    i think you’re spot on, this is as much about commercial naivety by amateurs as anything else, who’ve never had to tackle the realities of the PR Machine, as have their ‘professional’ counterparts in mainstream media, where the knowledge of how to deal with, and to what extent you really are selling your soul to, the PR Machine is retained within the broader organisation despite staff churn.

    the phenomenon you’re describing is largely thoughtlessness, greed, naivety, & ego at being wooed by PR sharks.

    i can’t wait for the next episode!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Thanks Anthony, I will have a subsequent post examining more of the financial issues and the technicalities, such as how much the attention of an audience is worth, coming soon.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for your post and sharing your opinion on bloggers commercialising their blog.

    The links that you’ve shared and advertising agency you mentioned are obviously pointed squarely at Nuffnang. As the director of Nuffnang, if we could please, we would like to take the opportunity to respond and correct the accuracy of the research links.

    Firstly the approach of Nuffnang is not necessarily asking bloggers to provide their endorsement. As best as possible, we seek brands to participate with the bloggers. We do our best to protect the integrity of the bloggers by a) bloggers have the option to decline an invitation b) advertisers cannot change the opinion of the bloggers and c) be 100% transparent. We aim for the brand to sponsor the content (not the content to be about the brand) and it’s a constant challenge we face with advertisers. Much like sponsorship of a TV show.

    Nuffnang is in four markets and have been the leaders in each market with over 130,000 bloggers in our community. We have used our experiences and success to nurture the blogosphere in Australia through various initiatives such as Nuffnang APAC Blog Awards (http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=nuffnang+blog+awards), local meet ups and competitions.

    In terms of commercialising of bloggers, we believe we have successfully achieved this in the general blogosphere. A testament to this is all our bloggers have experienced a sharp growth in their traffic – ie. Readers are accepting the branded content, growth in our Nuffnang blogger sign up rates and bloggers are finally starting to make a serious income from this without jeopardising their core content.

    To correct some of the research piece on Nuffnang… the “questionable ethics” Techcrunch link was 3 years old about a $1 fee was due to the massive growth of Nuffnang in the early days. Nuffnang had to impose a $1 fee which a minority bloggers complained that was understandable. Today, Google Nuffnang and you will find pages of a vibrant blogger community.

    The second link of “rants” was a site by competing blogger agency Advertlets. Struggling to compete, they undertook dodgy guerilla marketing efforts to discredit Nuffnang. Another example of their work: Hijacking Nuffnang Twitter (http://twitter.com/nuffnang). To get a sense of who Advertlets of how bad they are: http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=advertlets

    In response to the news.com.au article, whilst we appreciate the coverage, a lot of the content / quotes were taken out of context. Eg. We’re not the “first in the world to connect blogs and advertisers” and the reason we don’t “detail any blogging success stories” because at the request of bloggers, we respect their income privacy.

    We respect everyone’s opinion on commercialisation of bloggers and we are forging a new frontier – we are finding a balance of bloggers making an income so that they can keep blogging whilst maintaining the integrity and richness of bloggers. Nuffnang foremost is about fostering the Nuffnang blogger community in Australia. If you have any queries or concerns, you can freely contact me – david @ nuffnang.com.au.

    Thank you,
    David Lee
    Director at Nuffnang Australia

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    • Thanks for your comment David, which I have published intact. While you may claim that “We aim for the brand to sponsor the content (not the content to be about the brand)” the reality, such as in the chocolate example, is the opposite. The content is primarily about the brand and it is boring and annoying to read.

      I find the way you market your agency’s participant bloggers as a community to be impressively disingenuous. Running events and bringing your bloggers together in the real world is a good promotional tactic for recruiting and retaining them but it does nothing to improve the quality of their content. It’s not a real community: they’re just a group of subcontracted freelance writers.

      It’s just like big pharma promoting itself to medical doctors at conferences by giving them lots of freebies. This is now seen as unethical as a commercial practice that brings the independence and integrity of individual doctors into question, just as it does individual bloggers.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  15. We have accepted a handful of items that suit our interests from PR companies over the past 12 months (and declined dozens of others). I am very, very wary of becoming a tool of the PR folks and the unconscious biases that can creep in when freebies are involved. The question I continually ask myself is, “Would I buy this with my own money and post about it otherwise?”

    I’ve toyed with different ways of testing that (all of them involving full disclosure!), e.g. setting up a taste test with competitors’ products at my own expense, cooking with the product and not mentioning the brand name, consuming the product received and only blogging a subsequent purchase of it made with my own money (if I’m enthusiastic enough to make such a purchase!). None of them can guarantee that I’m bias-free (after all, I probably feel positively towards a company nice enough to send me stuff, right?) but I think they’re useful preventative strategies. They also involve some of my time and money, so the freebie’s not much of a freebie any more and I’m really not gonna bother with products that don’t interest me personally.

    So I wouldn’t exactly say we’ve ‘gone down that path and pulled out’ but in dabbling a little and thinking a lot I’ve decided that accepting freebies and retaining authenticity is bloody hard work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Thanks Cindy, I appreciate your point of view :-) I think you’re right in that balancing the opportunities and implications is difficult, and as a result some bloggers make poor choices that could have significant consequences for their reputations. It would be a shame if someone undermined the quality of their own work.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. On another tangent, I wonder whether audiences do stop reading when bloggers sell out! I and many of the commenters here might tune out, yet some of the bloggers touting products and events on a near-daily basis receive many, many comments (and presumably many visitors).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Yes, that’s just my hypothesis, and it probably relates more to active urban educated audiences (blog early adopters) rather than the kind of passive suburban audiences that now look at blogs as well as consuming a lot of commercial print and broadcast media.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  17. I agree with your post – I too tune out of sponsorblogs and don’t accept freebies. It seems that I have managed to retain my critical faculties despite living in the suburbs of a (gasp!) regional city.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Brian, I disagree to a certain extent. First of all, an advertising/PR body plays a direct role in promoting and driving traffic towards the blogs. Blogs that so-called ‘sell out’ are more popular, receive more traffic and therefore more influential. If one were to want to promote their blog and drive traffic for revenue gain, this is an excellent way to do it. Yes, these blogs run PR-driven contents for pittance return (free products) but they also receive, in return, traffic and exposure. On the contrary to what you claim, such blogs do not have declined readership. They just receive a different type of readers.

    Certain popular blogs that have been around for a long time (I’m talking at least 5 years) have the luxury to decline these frivolous offers and still maintain their readership, newer blogs do not. They had to start somewhere and they have to make that choice.

    Which brings me to the next point, what type of readership do you want your blogs to have? If you are writing a blog for click-through revenue, then all you really want is as much traffic as you can possibly get. If you want to be influential and eventually demand cash in return sponsored contents, then you want followers. You want a definable demographic. This has to be built over time and early exposure helps to set this up.

    I feel a certain sense of unfairness to some of the blogs that have been singled out here. Some of them I know personally. These people work hard on their blogs. They spend money going to restaurants, they spend money and time improving their blogs, they spend money buying camera equipments, they spend money paying for web hosting. They are not making any substantial returns on investment here. They do it because it’s fun. They do it because they can be heard and they do it because of their willingness to contribute.

    So what if they have some watermarks on their photos? So what if they are advertising dog food? We all have to start somewhere and while I don’t do the same thing for my blog for a whole range of other reasons, I feel that we should respect the efforts they have put into their blogs and see past these little quirks (that’s how I see them). And surely we all have done things we eventually regret and it’s a live and learn thing for everyone.

    I just don’t think there is one right way to do things. Everyone is going to approach their blogging differently. Some are in it for the freebies, some are in it for vanity, some are in it for a hobby and some are in it for business. You just need to take people as they come. Discard what you don’t like

    No, the mass isn’t going to understand. They will see chocolate giveaway and think it’s cool and they won’t care about the PR machine behind the genuity of the blog content. But that’s how mass media works.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 6

    • I carefully selected the links to represent examples of the ideas I was discussing, and I made no attempt to single out specific blogs.

      As for the idea that an advertising agency helps to drive traffic to blogs, how does it do this (apart from providing some incoming links from its corporate site)?

      The blogs that have sold out seem to have done so because they have large audiences and thus represent value to advertisers. Sites with a very small audience have no value to advertisers and thus little opportunity to sell out.

      Where’s the value of striving to influence as many people as possible, including people you would not want to know in real life? There’s value in influencing friends and peers, but influencing suburban bogans is not on my agenda.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  19. Well said. Thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  20. Good points here Brian. The advertising and editorial independence issue isn’t blog-only – it’s rife across many kinds of media, like newspapers and magazines and stuff. I think some publications keep their independence and some don’t, and consumers can choose between the ones they trust… I think the same kind of situation might evolve on blogs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Hi Lisa, thanks, I think the main problem for individual amateur bloggers is that, unlike commercial media companies, they don’t have business managers, lawyers and other advisors to help them make good commercial decisions. They’re on their own and are more liable to make uninformed, and possibly poor, business decisions.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  21. Thanks for this, I have been complaining about the transparent nuffnang promotions amongst friends for a while, and other promotions where it feels like the writer is just giving away free or not very well paid for advertising. I think it was when fashion blogs were writing about dog food that really did it for me. My complaints have often been met with ‘well if you don’t like it, then don’t read it.’ I guess this is fair enough to an extent, bloggers have no duty to produce content that I like, but I have stopped reading and so have others. I am also sad as blogs I used to enjoy I no longer do. The other response is often along the lines of ‘I put a lot of effort into this blog and you read for free so why shouldn’t I make some money.’ Once again, fair enough to an extent, but my issue is that often I feel there is some big time selling out going on for probably very little financial gain. If they are getting so little back in return for their sponsored posts or ads then why on earth have them??!
    I also feel personally that while social media, blogs etc don’t have to be not-for-profit as a rule, it is the switch from non money making, individual voices, presumably unbiased opinion to money making, ads, samey blogging and definite bias, or the unclear line between what is sponsored and what is not that makes me most uncomfortable and turns me off reading.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Perhaps the future is sponsored tweets!

    Honestly though? As long as they openly spell out that it’s a sponsored post etc, I couldn’t care less. I’ll just happily tune out if the topic matter is boring. Whether that means I’ll revist a blog once I tune out depends on whether I’ve felt any connection with the author or not (through their blog/twitter/forums etc).

    Perhaps they need to be a bit more creative on how they promote things (whilst still declaring that they are sponsored, and it what ways). I think bloggers are generally worried about “I have to be positive about them, else I’ll not get any future opportunities” etc etc.

    I’ve followed a few blogs who review electronic gadgets (and are given to them by companies), and they never personally keep those products. They’ll always offer them up to readers. Obviously this isn’t an easy thing to do in some blogging categories.

    A long held view of mine is that Google and the way they’ve ranked blogs has contributed a large part in all this. Whether intentional or otherwise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. As both a professional journalist and a blogger, I also worry about how this sort of thing will effect the credibility of online media as a whole. I remember a while back, there was a bit flame war between some local celebrity chef and food bloggers over their legitimacy as food critics. I did (and would still) defend the valuable contribution non-professional writers can make (apart from anything, I know well enough that plenty of people who end up as professional food writers are just journos who get lucky — their palates and knowledge are usually no better than that of the weekend foodie), but really, if they want their opinions to be taken as seriously as the mainstream food critics, they have to hold themselves to the same journalistic standards.

    The argument that up-and-coming bloggers “don’t have a choice” is rubbish. Of course they have a choice. Major newspapers like The Age are hemorrhaging money and will likely go under within the next decade. But christ, can you imagine if their writers started shilling for dog food companies in the name of increasing readership? (and I’m not naive, I know there’s plenty of free desserts and blind eyes in the professional world – Stephen Downes’ rant on the subject is worth a read – but punters still EXPECT better).

    If bloggers don’t care who is reading their blog or what they’re writing about, so long as they’re making money and getting free gifts, then that’s fine (I mean, as I said earlier, I think it reflects poorly on the blogosphere as a whole, but it’s their prerogative). But they can’t expect to be taken seriously as writers. If bloggers want to be credible writers, offering good, unbiased opinions and commentary to discerning readers who value what they say, then they simply can’t let money dictate or influence their editorial. You can’t have it both ways.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  24. Having vented my spleen about this rather publicly* (hello Eat Drunk Blog participants) I know there is a big divide in the blogging community over this. Some bloggers thrive on how much free stuff they can get, seeing it as kudos or whatever, while others like us are in the minority and think it deducts credibility points.

    The reality is no one points a gun at our head to write a blog or read other peoples posts. We have absolute choice in what we write or read. Time is precious and once someone heavily “monetizes” their blog or gushes loudly in unison about the latest restaurant/product/bar/event I switch off.

    * resulting in at least one facebook unfriending (and yes I’m still laughing out loud about that)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. I ought to add a whopping disclaimer to the beginning of this comment by saying that I am signed up with Nuffnang and I have done one sponsored campaign with them.

    I’m in a unique position as a personality blogger who writes about fat discrimination, plus size fashion and my own art practice, and I think that by tarring all Nuffnang bloggers with the same brush you’re being a tad simplistic. Nuffnang haven’t really found many clients willing to offer me campaigns, perhaps because my content and audience aren’t your typical blogger fare. I am grateful they haven’t sent through poorly matched ones, I do trust that they research and match clients and bloggers pretty well.

    The campaign I did take part in was for fashion awards sponsored by an alcohol brand, and I took part for my own reasons and not particularly for the money. The inconvenience of having to fly interstate several times disrupted my art practice, and as it turned out I was poorly compensated for this disruption. However I really wanted to participate in the campaign for my own subversive reasons: as a fat woman I am typically excluded from the fashion industry, so it was quite a novelty to have these people blow smoke up my spectacular derriere!

    Please don’t assume that all bloggers involved in considering generating sponsored content are so naive as not to consider how their audience will react to this content hitting their RSS feed. The little soapbox I have built for myself is very precious to me, and I am loathe to jeopardise my independent voice for monetary gain (bar the chance perform the subversive role of fat lady at the fashion event). I do share some of your concerns but I figure that bloggers who do not take care to consider their audience may well eventually be left without one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • Thanks Natalie. I did not claim that all the bloggers signed up to the advertising agency (which I did not even name) are the same. I simply provided some examples of current blogging practice and commented on those practices. What you make of this is for you to decide. My main concern is that the potential loss of reputation is far worse for bloggers than the petty compensation on offer.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. I am also NOT a fan of sponsored blog posts. I find the nuffnang ones on popular fashion blogs extremely transparent and although I am yet to unsubscribe from some of these blogs, every time I see one of these posts I feel offended, as if they don’t realise that we see they are getting free samples to promote some multi million dollar company. And usually the items they promote have NOTHING to do with their blogs.

    I have noticed the same thing happen on American fashion blogs but the bloggers seem to think about it more sensibly. where fashion bloggers here are advertising dog food, chocolate, foot massagers, electronics and people movers. (nope no clothes) The fashion blogs overseas tend to stick to fashion related sponsorships only receiving and reviewing items that their readers have an interest in. Also they make it seem less like a flashing beacon advertorial and more “look at this… nice huh?” Plus other than the usual modcloth sponsors they tend to promote smaller companies like independent sellers on etsy and the like.

    It seems like the Australian bloggers are just getting off on the fact that they are receiving free stuff or at least that is what we readers see it as. They will eventually lose readers when their blogs become one giant priceline pamphlet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  27. Fab article and a stirring debate, my tuppence worth? Commercialisation, once caught, is the incurable cancer of all creativity. It makes the great insipid and the once tantalising rather tawdry, always has always will. A sanitised form of corruption. We all get corrupted, every last one of us, one way or another.

    I’d hazard a guess that a less than tiny number of (for example) food bloggers, embarked on their tippity-tappity musings with their heads swirling dreamily of free food-mixers, simpering restaurant staff, the best table in the house, large shiny, wipe-clean book deals, slim shiny wipe-clean friends and never having to get a proper job again. Granted, not all, but a few. Of course I’m not criticising that desire for financial success through (at least initially) doing what you love but ultimately, inevitably there’s a tricky balance to be made, one between principle and (internal) compromise.

    Now, Brian, about that 2 by 2 column ad you offered me for the right-hand side of your front page, well I’ve been thinking, it’s a bit pricey, surely we can come to some sordid arrangement instead? ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. I think it’s all about your personal approach.

    As a fashion blogger who gets approached daily by random companies to promote weird stuff like hammers and contact lenses I don’t post about 90% of the stuff I get sent. The rest, like make-up, accessories and the odd box of handbag shaped chocolate I do post about because it’s relevant, it’s stuff that I like and stuff I think that my readers would like. Simple as that.

    I will also never replace the original content of my blog for sponsored advertising which I think is what annoys readers the most. That they loved a blog and all of sudden it turned into a magazine where every second page is an advertorial. I can understand that. It’s all about balance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. woo hoo, a thumbs down for such innocuous comment….

    I’ll be generous and assume that it was because it was so brief. (An aside, I love the phrase “it was because” rolls of the tongue so nicely.)

    I have a few spare minutes now, so I’ll say a little more.

    Spot on Brian. It never ceases to amaze me how cheaply souls can be bought for and to what levels of immorality people will stoop to chasing the almighty cent.

    Who’s worse the PR pimps who pay peanuts or the blogger whores that take the peanuts? Strong Language? Yes, but to paraphrase and not attribute, “We have already determined what floggers are, now we are just negotiating the price”.

    I will put up my hand here, I agree with David 2, I also have a price, somewhere north of an all expenses 1st class month in Europe will do for starters.

    Well, times up, have enjoyed the angst your post has generated looking forward to reading more righteous indignation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  30. This is an important debate.The advertising networks don’t pay well and the people promoting stuff for them are doing so cheaply. But they are cheating readers who want good independent content. I’ve taken freebies but I =find it difficult to write about them. I do sell advertising but it doesn’t mean I write about those companies.
    I can’t see there is anything wrong being paid to host an ad, it’s writing about these free things that is wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    • Hi Ed, thanks for contributing. I agree that simply selling advertising is a relatively minor issue, and where bloggers like you do so independently, I see no problem with it. The slippery slope is where bloggers sign up with an agency, which then encourages them to publish its ads exclusively by paying them a higher rate if they don’t publish ads from other sources, and which then pushes them to publish sponsored advertorial posts.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  31. This has become such a hot topic right now that it’s practically infiltrating my air supply. Advanced apologies if this highly defensive response is particularly ranty but I can’t even breathe without ingesting this issue anymore.

    You can finger-point at Nuffnang and similar advertising > blogger agencies all you like but when you boil it down, the issue lies souly with the publisher who chooses to accept or reject sponsored content.

    I am a member of Nuffnang and do accept sponsored post campaigns. I also reject them.

    My views on sponsored content are made clear when reading my blog’s disclosure policy. I have NO problem with sponsored content providing it’s MOSTLY relevant to the blog and that it’s generally infrequent.

    I feel that as an independent blogger who’s motivation to publish is fairly self-absorbed (as opposed to being an “authority on a particular topic”), I don’t have a responsibility to ANYONE to do ANYTHING. Being morally upstanding and caring about my integrity as a publisher is something that as a blogger I should want to do FOR MYSELF, not at the behest of an angry audience who feel like they’re owed something for something they consume for free. And I do care about my integrity because I don’t like to go to sleep at night feeling like an utter twat.

    This is not to say that I don’t value my (small but loyal) readership – because I do, they are seriously cool people. My point is that I accept full responsibility for my integrity and my content because I want to.

    It’s a difficult line and one that each blogger or content publisher must draw for his or herself. Sadly there are many bloggers who can’t see the line for the trees. I don’t think it’s their intent to be morally sleazy, but it’s possible they just don’t value their integrity highly enough to even consider it as a deterrent — which doesn’t make me angry, just a little sad.

    No person is morally perfect. When I read your article I feel so upset and vicariously defensive of these examples you cite because you do it in such a self-righteous way as though you’ve never had made a questionable judgment in your life. I know it’s easy to get worked up over an issue you feel strongly about – I’m the poster girl for taking it too far. But it would be nice that in this time where these issues are fairly new and strange for many independent content publishers – that we all may be allowed to make mistakes before we get crucified for our actions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

    • Hi Alicia, you’re right that we don’t owe our audience anything as we don’t receive anything material from them, but there is a balance between writing for your own pleasure or for the response you receive from your audience. Disclosure is good, but it is not enough. As I suggest, I don’t think some blog publishers understand the connection between independence and trust.

      As Ruth says, you can’t have it both ways. Either publish a trusted and loved site as an enthusiastic amateur, or a distrusted and unloved site as a commercial enterprise. Take your choice. You don’t get to control or determine the intellectual or emotional responses of your audience. But you do have to take responsibility for your actions, and naivety is not an excuse that is likely to win back your audience after they have abandoned you.

      Like Phil Lees, I’ve had enough of the commercialisation of food blogs. Perhaps there are different cultures in different blog genres. I don’t claim to be an expert in the fashion and mummy genres, but the same commercial processes are impacting on all these genres.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  32. Hey Brian

    Great post. I agree with mostly everything contained within. I’m not too fussed about bloggers putting the watermark of the camera they are using (not that I’ve done it). I guess it’s nice for those guys to get a camera for free, I’m sure all would agree; but I also understand your point of view. What makes me sad is dishonest, irrelevant, boring, repetitive, regurgitated, dictated content that even the bloggers themselves don’t believe in. I also dislike seeing bloggers who are in it for the goodies, and not for the love of the subject matter itself (be it food or fashion). I coincidentally don’t have issues with banners and advertisements, just false, invalid opinions and advertorials.

    I want to raise one point though, with regards to Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday)’s comment. Kat, you made it sounds as though you believe that blogging is, at the end of the day, either about click throughs, or about becoming influential. Does anyone else agree that blogging should be about neither of these things?

    Here are the issues I feel PR companies are creating when it comes to bloggers. I guess it’s been said throughout the comments, but this summary is sponsored by L’Oreal:

    1- PR companies are inviting bloggers en masse to events that result in a downpour of posts that discuss the same topic. All individuality we seek in a blog is eliminated.

    2- PR companies ask people to use certain phrases when they write a sponsored post. This makes me unable to trust the opinion of that blogger because it has been dictated to them. A blogger’s credibility is their most important asset.

    3- Bloggers feel they need to write something positive about a sponsored event and product otherwise the PR company will stop handing out the goodies. Most often than not, PR events and product receive little to no critical opinion from the blogger, because they fear the backlash from “the hand that feeds you”. So they write glowing reviews about anything…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  33. Thanks Brian,

    Please understand that I more-or-less agree with the “larger picture” regarding your contention, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as one or the other.

    I think there CAN be a happy medium, but if you do write for an audience, it can involve trial and error to see what works or doesn’t work for your audience. The repeat offenders who claim to write for an audience but have no regard for them get no sympathy from me; and there are many.

    Thank you for the discussion though, conversation raises awareness which contributes to education. And I guess I believe in education over condemnation wherever appropriate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  34. Hi Brian,

    I thank you for reading my blog in the past, and I hope that you continue to do so in the future. As mentioned in one of the other responses to your post, food bloggers work extremely hard, and invest a lot of their personal time and money into producing the blogs that you read. Yes, it is a hobby, and yes, hobbies do involve out-of-pocket expenses, however there are a numerous costs involved in running a blog (food supplies, kitchen equipment, camera equipment, web hosting etc) and these costs add up.

    I joined Nuffnang for a number of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that I am interested in meeting other food bloggers, and Nuffnang occasionally puts on sponsored events where like-minded food bloggers can meet.

    When I found out I had been chosen for a Cadbury campaign (and I do buy Cadbury and other brands of chocolate for myself), I was excited to be able to allow a reader to win a prize, as I can’t really afford to buy and send out prizes to readers on a regular basis. As a reader of many other blogs, I have entered sponsored competitions myself and have been lucky enough to win some great prizes. When I told the winner of the competition that they had won, they were very excited to have won something.

    I have worked extremely hard on my blog and I sincerely hope that the readers that I do have will not stop reading because of the occasional, clearly labeled, sponsored post.

    You have stated in one of your responses that you did not intend to single out any particular blogs, but by providing direct links to these sites, you have done exactly that. I understand that you are giving examples of such posts for your readers, but I respectfully request that you remove the links to those sites. I know of many other blogs that contain far more sponsored content than the ones that have been listed, but none of these are mentioned.

    Regards,
    Anita

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 14

    • I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: you can’t tell me what to publish or demand that I edit or censor my writing. You’re providing further evidence that bloggers like you simply don’t understand the concepts I am discussing.

      I don’t offer prizes but I still attract readers. And I don’t think bloggers buy kitchen equipment for their blogs. They buy it to further their love of cooking. The fact that they write about their cooking later is a separate matter.

      I have web hosting to pay for too but I don’t whinge about it, I accept it as an essential cost associated with my hobby.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 12

  35. Hi Brian,

    I’m am intrigued why anyone needs to spend extra on blogging.

    If you can’t indulge in your hobby because you can’t afford it, then don’t. Simple.

    You blog about your hobby/likes/dislikes/opinions etc. Blogging isn’t your hobby/likes/.etc

    (To get in first, if any readers of this do consider blogging as your hobby I would argue that no it isn’t, writing is your hobby, blogging is just publishing).

    and as for the web hosting costs, how much do people pay? You can have a perfectly reasonable looking blog for nothing, free, gratis. Even if vanity insists on a personalised url these are available for just a few dollars a year. What gives?

    Kind regards

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  36. Thanks Brian for highlighting something I have been noticing for awhile… I really do love some of the blogs that have been doing Nuffnang sponsered content, and while I admit I definately did enter the cadbury competition recently, I’ve been skipping posts that involve sponsored content because I really don’t care about back massagers, pet food, or cars, for instance, on fashion blogs. I don’t go to those blogs for that content, but it hasn’t driven me away from them either.

    In terms of my own blog, often I get invited to events/given materials by PR agencies that work for my blog that is content I would otherwise have no way of bringing to my readers – content that they are truly interested in. I admit I will talk about said product/event, but ONLY if it’s appropriate and of interest to my readers, and ONLY if I genuinely like it. If I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to my close friends, I won’t touch it as far as blog content goes. I also do acknowledge how I came to possess/attend. That is my way of keeping integrity in my content.

    I do work for a national magazine and definately do notice that our content is driven by advertising needs and that is unavoidable – you need advertising to make money for a magazine and the reality is that it is really the advertising that pays for it. I can understand that bloggers want to make money out of their passion, that’s only reasonable, but a bit more thought into what items they wish to promote might be appreciated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  37. Any foodie who gets excited about shit products like second rate mass produced chocolate is not worth reading. Honestly, Cadbury? Such blogs make reading Fairfax look like fair and balanced journalism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  38. Fouad – You are wrong to perceive that I “believe that blogging is, at the end of the day, either about click throughs, or about becoming influential.”

    I merely stretched a few reasons why one may blog commercially. They are very simplistic, and not definitive, reasons for commercialised blogging. But I couldn’t possibly recite everyone’s blogging reasons (mostly because I don’t know what other people think).

    But the absolute MAIN point was that: what blogging is about is determined solely by each blogger. It is not for a group of bloggers to get together and decide the right way and the wrong way. There may be ways that people perceive to be the smart way to blog (which will differ between people and groups of people) and there may be dumb ways to blog. But there is not the right way. Your blogging is not someone else’s blogging and everyone need to think carefully before they judge.

    But if you are interested in what I think MY blogging is about: try this link http://spatulaspoonandsaturday.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/how-and-why-i-blog-about-food/

    (Brian, if it’s all right with you for me to post that link, that is)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Hi Kat.

    Thanks for answering me, and for giving our the link to your site. Great to read your ethos on food blogging.

    I understand where you are coming from, and in reality, I agree with you. Blogging is a personal hobby, and the reasons why people choose to do it is theirs alone.

    Here’s an excerpt from your blog: “I will never write about some silly products for PR purposes. I will not write sponsored posts. I will not write anything I don’t want to write about. ”

    Can you explain why you take this stance? Would you encourage other bloggers to do the same?

    Fouad

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. To be honest I stop reading when a blog posts too many attacks on others in the industry – it is on the same level as ‘selling out’ when there is so much aggressive negativity. I am only here again because of a tweet.

    These recurrent attacks have nothing to do with Fitzroy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

    • Well done for your blind refusal to read the explanation about Fitzroyalty: it features stories on the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia, and reflections on life from a socially libertarian, economically socialist, culturally anarchistic and radically individualistic point of view.

      My critiques of Melbourne’s online publishing scene are well read and commented on because such critical analysis is rare and therefore valuable, and because many people evidently find my analysis relevant and interesting.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  41. Terrific post! It sums up what I have been feeling towards many blogs for quite some time. I used to visit quite often a number of blogs that you have linked to and ‘selling’ out and I have since stopped because they are becoming mundane and uninspired. That sponsored chocolate post which seemed to be doing the rounds on many Melbourne blogs was particularly grating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  42. Nicely argued article. I question any blogger who states they needs to advertise to cover the costs of blogging. I’ve never bought any equipment or services that i had to have because i blog. As you state we buy our kitchen appliances etc because we like to cook, we buy the ingredients because we like to cook and eat, we buy camera equipment because we want to take pictures (generally of family/holidays etc). The only expenses i have chosen to incur in relation to my blog is a website and photo editing suite. I could have easily avoided the expense of hosting and site design by staying with blogspot. Additionally there are plenty of free downloadable photo editing software choices that are adequate for what i do. But i chose to incur those expenses. I don’t delude myself that my blog is anything other than a hobby that fulfills me. It certainly is not a public service and nor is it a vehicle into another vocation, thus I accept any costs involved in running my website. I will never write for free ‘stuff’ or money because i want my content to be about what I want to cook; about the equipment i choose to use etc My blog/website will always be ad free so that my content remains independent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  43. dear brian –
    you have said what has been a little seed in my mind for while now. i am not a blogger but i do read an inordinate number of blogs regularly. i have no problem with bloggers doing write ups on stuff they like that is related to their regular blog content but when massage chairs, people movers and dumb chocolate start becoming the regular content i think it is time i stop following.
    thank you for making that seed become a little plant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  44. Hey Brian, I can sympathize with your concerns. For me, I guess my general rule is, if I don’t like it on someone else’s blog, then I wouldn’t do it on my blog either. If I don’t mind it, but am not too keen on it, I’d give it a miss too.

    I have ads situated in a couple of locations on my blog because I don’t mind seeing the occasional ad on a website and will even click on something if it catches my eye. Though I have to say I have been wondering if it is worth my while, as it seems that if one doesn’t have thousands upon thousands of visitors per day, the income earned is a mere pittance. There goes my naive dream of being able to quit my job and blog full-time! I still have them up but I’ll be re-assessing things as I continue along. Circumstances can change, as can perspectives.

    As for sponsored posts – I don’t mind if a blog has a sponsored post once in a while. I am a sporadic-to-regular reader of some of the blogs that you have linked to, and I don’t think they’re that heavily sponsored – it probably just seems that way because they’re all running the same campaign at once. If I’m not interested in a particular post I’m happy to overlook it because most of the time they offer up content I do enjoy reading.

    And if I am approached one day for a sponsored post? I don’t really know. If I basically have to work off a press release, then I would find that really unappealing. I won’t lie, if they’re offering a tidy sum of money, I admit that could be tempting. In the end it would come down to my personal yardstick.

    I will venture to say that the bloggers you linked to are genuinely doing what they love and don’t see anything wrong with a sponsored post every now and then for some extra income. And on that basis, I would cut some slack. Having said that, this is a topic that I do think about and it’s good to have healthy discussions where we can share our viewpoints amicably.

    :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  45. I don’t mind ads on blogs, as long as they’re not interfering (ie. not pop ups, or ugly). But look, at the end of the day, it’s simple – if people like it, they’ll stay, and if they don’t like it they’ll leave. That’s the reality of any media or almost any commercial goods/services.

    The commercialism of a blog doesn’t have any bearing on whether I’m interested. If it’s interesting, I’ll read it regardless of its affiliations (unless the blogger has ads from neo-nazi sites or promotes Stalin, or something weird like that)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. Hope I’m not too late to chip in on this convo! I think that audiences won’t pull the plug on the blog just because they have done some advertorials. Many of us do not actually have a notion that blogs should be independent. Perhaps it’s a sad by-product of our oversold culture. The lines have also been blurred by the huge presence of blog shops.

    That said, I do agree that audiences may be more cautious of blogs that have sold out. Personally, I continue reading these blogs, but on a much less regular basis. I simply skip over all the clearly sponsored posts, to the content that I care about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Hi Michele, I’m writing for an Australian, and particularly Melbourne, audience where the the cultural expectation predominantly is that blogs are independent, if not necessarily non-commercial, publications.

      Many blog creators and readers are aware that the culture of blogging differs between countries and that entrepreneurial commercialism is the norm in places like Singapore.

      Within Australia, Melbourne has a particularly strong ‘do it yourself’ independent arts culture that values individualism and creative expression without overt commercial compromise. The introduction of Asian style blatant commercialism seems to be taking hold of the Sydney food blogger culture, but it is not as well entrenched in Melbourne.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  47. So whats the difference in bloggers selling out and having a twitter account that just churns out tedious retweets of positive spin on a product. Surely as you say, people just switch off after a while if the content is not engaging?
    Dont need to be an ‘expert’ to work that out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Hello spammer from Hobart (yes, I checked your IP). This article is about independent publications (AKA blogs) that don’t sell anything. How a corporation uses social media to engage with consumers to sell them more stuff is very different. But you’re not smart enough to understand that are you?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  48. Firstly-why am I spammer for simply asking a question?. I am sorry that you took offence. Was there any need to be rude to me as a result? Is this the way you regularly respond to enquiries from people who as you say, aren’t smart enough?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  49. I think you are imagining things. Just an ill informed question as you say, but your overreaction is telling. So whats at the heart of your victimization conspiracy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  50. By not posting my last comment you have confirmed that you are muzzling dissident opinions. Yours is the action of a hypocrite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Actually no, I just went out. I don’t sit in front of a computer all day waiting for inane off topic comments to arrive. How am I supposedly a hypocrite?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  51. Hello, Very interesting, food for thought blog brian.

    I am wondering apart from the obvious and insidious plugin advertising that destroys any original page design and payment for freelance writing about subjects/products that have no connection to the writer… how can a focused blogger make money?

    I realise making money is not the point, however if there is a good writer who focuses much of their time on their blog, how can they generate a little extra coin to pay some bills and rent so they can go to their service job only 3 days a week instead of 5 and spend more time on their stories?

    Also how do you feel about lets say a gig writer/blogger being invited to gigs (free entry) by the bands or promoter to write about it? Is this similar to being given free food products for food bloggers etc?

    I have no real opinion on any this (apart from those flashing shitty plug in ads and the overall look and feel of blog sites) just interested in the discussion!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.


You own the copyright of your comment. By submitting your comment you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.