Having been blogging professionally for nearly a year now, I've realised that my attitude to blogging has changed dramatically from how it was when I was a hobby blogger. Don't get me wrong, I still absolutely love it, but there are times when I feel that the earning money part is very, very difficult - as any self-employed person I'm sure will tell you. I am writing this from a full-time blogger's point of view, so if you have no intention of monetizing your blog this may not be the post for you. If, however, you are either already earning money from your blog, or you want to earn money from it, you may find this food for thought.
I'm talking about product reviews, and whether brands should pay bloggers for them.
I'm sure most of you will remember the your very first product review: the excitement of saying yes to an offer, choosing an item or two, the thrill of receiving and opening the parcel. I can remember mine well. Three years down the line, and many gifted items later (for which I am hugely grateful and very, very lucky to receive), there is always a niggle that creeps up on me whenever I then ponder what I have to do in return for my lovely gift.
Namely - a product review is an awful lot of work. And I mean a lot, as I noted recently with a product review I was writing and preparing. It totalled 4.5 hours of work: choosing what to have sent, taking photos, editing photos, uploading and tagging photos, writing the post, adding in links, promoting the post on social media - it's basically half a day's work. In any 'normal' freelancing profession you would charge your half-day rate for that many hours.
And yet, we're not paid in cash for all that effort.
“A product review is an awful lot of work. In any 'normal' profession you would charge your half-day rate for that”
The currency that is used to pay us in is goods: a pair of shoes, a dress, jewellery, make up, etc. It can't buy us food, or heat our homes, or pay for petrol. In contrast, however, what the brand receives is publicity, advertising, social media mentions, click throughs (the more unscrupulous ones asking for 'do follow' links) - all of that for the (cost) price of an item of clothing... their item of clothing, that they have in stock, often as press samples. If an agency was involved as a middle man, they will be paid as well for managing the blogger outreach... so why are bloggers paid in goods only? They're the ones directly promoting the brand. Why are we not paid in cash for writing a review?
The main problem lies within the fact that "professional blogger" isn't a job that officially exists yet (in the UK at least) - it's still very much in its infancy as a profession. There are hobby bloggers and there are professional bloggers, and those in-between who earn a little by monetizing their blog where they can. All the time that hobby bloggers accept goods - and goods only - in exchange for a product review, the professional bloggers will struggle to compete. (Please don't think I have anything against hobby bloggers because I was one for two years; I'm sure there aren't any bloggers who started as full-time bloggers from day one - it just doesn't work like that.)
Think of it this way: In order to write a review, film critics have to go and see the movie in order to write about it. They watch the movie, they write the review, and they're paid for the review. No one says to a film critic, "We'll gift you a ticket to the cinema to see this new movie, and in exchange could you write us a review and include links to the trailer and talk about it on social media". Payment in cinema tickets? I don't think so. So why do brands think that payment in clothes and jewellery is acceptable for a review on someone's blog? After all, it's my profession, it's what I do to pay the bills.
“Film critics... are paid for the review. Payment in cinema tickets? I don't think so”
Recently I replied to a brand who emailed me about guest posting on my blog (I don't publish guest posts from brands - to me that really is something-for-nothing). I said that I'm mostly interested in writing sponsored content, if they would consider that at all. The reply I received was "I'm afraid we don't pay for any content".
Really? How is that any different from saying "We don't pay for any advertising"? Who is going to give it to you for free then?
Oh that's right... bloggers.
“I'm afraid we don't pay for any content”
I've been reading a lot of posts lately where people are making other bloggers aware that we should be paid - and paid fairly - for our time. Bangs & a Bun recently wrote about a preposterous offer of a collaboration that would have effectively taken up 11 days of her time for the princely sum of £100, "and a lovely lunch":
"...if I were to approach the agency, I'd most likely be told that they don't have a bigger budget with which to do this. In which case, my response would be, you can't afford to do the project. Simple. If you don't want to pay people adequately for their time, you need to come up with a different way to achieve what you're trying to achieve or wait till you can afford to do it". (read the full post here)
Perfectly put, the key phrase being "pay people adequately".
However, there are some areas of blogging that, for some bloggers, pays handsomely. This (UK) TV report mentions how much YouTube bloggers can receive - from £5,000 to £15,000 - for the mention of a brand, so not all areas of blogging are affected this way. But the pull that your blog (and your brand) has makes a huge difference of course.
Many bloggers do not ask for payment however, and unfortunately that affects those of us that need to make a living from it; brands are taking advantage of bloggers and expecting something-for-nothing. I asked the opinion of a couple of fellow bloggers about this subject, just to see if I was being unreasonable. One said:
"I find when a brand asks if I would like to choose something, review it and post about it, it actually takes a fair bit of time what with the choosing, the styling, the photos, the writing with corresponding links and then posting and promoting socially. Divide time spent by cost of product and we are probably talking less than minimum wage... and it's not even monetary, it's clothes! The fact that the brands are actually getting promotional work for very, very little expense to their company is quite wrong really.
"I had an interesting email recently. It regarded bloggers as journalists in their own right... in effect it is what we do. We deliver written pieces to an audience. A journalist would have a set fee for a written piece. Why do bloggers not? It appears we, as bloggers, are a cheap and effective PR solution".
“Divide time spent by cost of product and we are probably talking less than minimum wage”
Another told me:
"I find writing a post about a gifted item takes an awful lot longer than a normal outfit post. I always try to include some background info about the brand and often, the people behind the brand too (especially the smaller independent ones). I spend an average of four hours I'd say on a post which includes a gifted item because of the photos, editing, etc.
"I agree that we should be paid... after all, it would be far less than they'd pay for any other form of advertising".
“We should be paid... it would be far less than they'd pay for any other form of advertising”
Most brands offer a gifted item in exchange for a review post, a do-follow link and social media shares. In complete contrast a couple of brands - just a couple, mind - have offered me additional payment for writing the review as well as gifting an item. It's quite unusual, but I think it should be standard.
In order to come up with something fair that everyone can work from, how about this: I was thinking of a flat rate minimum of £50. Individual bloggers' rates may be a lot higher than that, depending on the influence and reach their blog has, but £50 should be a minimum. If a brand would like a blogger to write and publish a product review, you also need to have a physical product in order to have something to write about so the gifted item is simply a necessity in order to make the review happen. But thinking that the products themselves are adequate 'payment' for the time and effort put in is not acceptable.
“Thinking that the products themselves are adequate 'payment' for the time put in is not acceptable”
I think the problem lies with the fact that we, as women, love the thrill of shopping, getting a bargain, a free gift. Put all that on a plate for a new blogger and you've got an instant, cheap form of advertising without having to offer anything else - women love free stuff and they'll jump at the chance to receive clothes and make up and jewellery and shoes and bags... won't they?
No, not forever.
When I was a new blogger I wouldn't have dreamt of asking for payment - it wouldn't have occurred to me to ask, nor would I have dared for fear of them retracting the offer. But I'm lucky enough to now be at a stage where I can be very choosy about which offers I do take up as I receive a lot of them (this is due to the fact that I signed up to lots of blogger outreach programmes), but the giddy excitement of a free gift has given way to my business head considering whether the amount of work it will generate will benefit me, my blog and my readership.
Maybe what I'm doing is fighting for equal pay: equal pay with journalists, critics, columnists.. or just being paid at all. It's not a perfect proposition, I know that, but something needs to change. My idea has many reasons why it won't work - but I just feel that it needs to be addressed and we get a conversation going in order to try and start to make a change.
What do you think? Do you think that brands are targeting bloggers as a cheap form of advertising? If you have any other ideas of how we can get a fair deal for our time and efforts please do share in the comments :)
N.B. 14/07/2014: This topic has been so popular on Twitter that I've just created a hashtag: please use #fairpayforbloggers if you Tweet about it. It's creating a LOT of discussion which I'm really pleased about!