Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Follow Up Post: Should Brands Pay Bloggers For Product Reviews? My Conclusions

Professional Blogging: Should Brands Pay Us for Review Posts?
Last month I wrote a post entitled Professional Blogging: Should Brands Pay Bloggers For Product Reviews?, and I was totally unprepared for the response I got. It seemed to touch a raw nerve with so, so many bloggers, professional and hobby bloggers alike, and considering how much discussion followed and what everyone's opinions were it seemed only fitting that I write a follow up post with my conclusions. I'm glad to say that so many questions I had have now been answered, I'm feeling a little less disgruntled, and at the end I’ll share with you my own personal policy I'll be passing onto brands.

A quick summary of my original post

My theory was that if you're featuring a product that's been gifted to you and you include a link with anchor text that the brand has requested, as well as mentioning and linking to them on your social media platforms, then that surely merits payment because of the free advertising you are giving the brand. The free gift itself is not payment enough, as you are doing as much (if not more) than you would for a sponsored post which is automatically paid for (hence the term “sponsored”).

One thing that everyone seemed to differ on slightly was what constituted a “product review” - some take it literally where you write a post about a product you have actually road tested, others (like myself) consider it a post where you are featuring a gifted product even if it doesn’t need “testing” per se (such as a necklace or a dress). I was referring to all posts where a gifted item is featured, whether tested or not.



Some of the comments

I thought I’d quote some of the opinions shared on my post - as there were so many of them! - just to give you an idea of the sort of things that others think (I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but I do with a great many):


“I have started to notice the time I spend (on some projects) on advertising / promoting and then writing up a blog post. I'm starting to think these free products aren't worth it” - Donna 

“I can't say what should or shouldn't happen, but it became clear to me recently that I do an enormous amount of work for reviews, and the time had come to insist that be a paid service... the hours and hours of imagination and logistics had become draining. Now, alternatively, I could be less of a diva about it all and just write a quick and dirty review, but that's not my voice, not my goal, not my style” - LPC 

“I recently attended the Blogtacular conference and one of the things I took away with me was that if a brand is making money from your work, you should be paid. I feel more confident now about asking if a brand has a budget (and if not they need to find one!). Brands know bloggers have influence and reach, that is why they come to us, so they should acknowledge our worth and realise that we don't work for free!” - Antonia Ludden 

“Brands (and PR companies) are smart and they know the opportunities they have with bloggers for lots of advertising and extensive write-ups, all for nothing! I was like you, very excited to be asked by a few companies to select an item for a review post, but having done it a few times, I've decided I'm not doing it anymore. It is too much work and I am getting nothing but a dress and a headache out of it” - Jill

“If I know a blogger is getting paid for a review (and honestly, even when the item is gifted), it's hard for me to really trust that review. No one wants to speak negatively about something "given" to them.....I have NEVER read a bad review on a blog. And I think that really says something” - Serene McEntyre 

“I started out about four years ago and gladly took products for free, but four years down the line, I no longer do that. I look at blogging as part of my career--I wouldn't do free work for a client in my freelancing jobs, why would I do free work for a brand? It makes no sense. For me, I let brands know why I charge what I charge. I tell them how much time a post takes, how my effort I put into it. And then I give them a price. If they don't value my time, then I don't want to be working with them anyway. Never work for free. Never” - Courtney Mirenzi 

“I know not only as a blogger, but also a company owner, I would prefer there to be payment exchanged for the writing of reviews. Even having a small sized company, I would never expect a blogger to review my product without financial as well as product compensation. I think you have laid out a very reasonable plan, one that I would be happy with… on both ends… as a blogger… and a company owner” - Tamera Beardsley 

“Being on both sides of the coin (as both a blogger and working in blogger outreach) it's just never that simple. The main problem is that many brands still don't really understand blogs and they find it incredibly difficult to decipher between what makes a good and a bad blog so just follow the crowd. I don't think a huge budget is always necessary to work with bloggers… I do however think that anything commercial such as competitions, link building exercises, anything which a brand is using to their advantage in terms of sales/ SEO /traffic generating turns into more of a commercial partnership and therefore the blogger needs to be compensated” - Bumpkin Betty 

“I think if a brand is offering "free product" without payment, you don't have to guarantee placement. I don't think reviews should be paid for” - Jennine Jacob (IFB founder)


IFB's founder's opinion

I ended on Jennine Jacob’s quote because not only is she the founder of IFB (Independent Fashion Bloggers) and the person who I think has the authoritative (and final) word on what we as bloggers should and should not be charging for, but also because she almost immediately wrote the most superb “in reply” post on IFB to my question. If you haven’t read her post, here’s the best answer you will get to what bloggers should and shouldn’t get paid for:



Jennine covered Press releases, Product campaigns and “Product seeding” (gifting), which was described as

“When a brand offers to send you free product, whether for “review” or to style and post on your blog, etc. it’s called Product Seeding or Gifting on the brand side. Us bloggers usually call it “freebies” or gifts.”
Under the heading “Do you get paid for Product Seeding?” her answer was
“...No, unless you are required to use specific links, post specific verbiage or do specific tasks in relation to the gifting. If you are being sent a product, you are at liberty to post in whatever context on whatever time frame you deem appropriate. If celebrities don’t get paid to wear a pair of jeans, you aren’t either”
So whilst I can understand that we don’t get paid for being sent products, nine times out of ten I have been expected by a brand to include the gift on a post, within a certain timescale and am usually asked to include certain text and links. Therefore, this made up my mind once and for all that we SHOULD be paid for these types of posts on our blogs. If I were to charge for a post, what the brand is effectively paying for is not the review, but the guarantee of a post, anchor text, their choice of links and all the social media mentions that come with it.


My new Product Gifting Policy

I’m glad to say I finally have a new Product Gifting Policy all drawn up - and this is what I shall be (and have been) sending to brands when they ask if I would like to choose a free gift or review something on my blog. They basically have two choices:

1. Send me the gift, but there is no guarantee I will include it in a post or include any links of their choice (no charge)

2. I will include the gift in a guaranteed post within a reasonable time frame, with their choice of anchor text and link, and include x number of social media mentions. This “package” will be quoted for on an individual basis and is therefore chargeable.

The page isn't visible on my blog, but here’s a link should you wish to read it. I'm happy to share this with you as I hope it will help you word your own gifting policy if this is something you wish to do:



If a product is something that definitely requires a “review” (that's to say it needs road testing like a hairdryer or similar), then I will still charge for a product review post in exactly the same way. It’s up to the reader whether they want to believe whether my review is honest or not (it will be), but what the brand is paying for is not the review itself, but the work involved, the links, and the social media mentions. If I were not paid for a review but chose to include it in a post anyway, my review would be exactly the same except for the anchor text and links. 



#FairPayForBloggers

I hope that goes some way to making things a little clearer for everyone - whether or not you agree with my policy is of course up to you, but to me my Product Gifting Policy complies with everything that Jennine mentioned and it makes it crystal clear what the brand will get should they choose to pay for a guaranteed post.

Finally - if you wish to Tweet about this post or any issues along the subject use the hashtag #fairpayforbloggers - there’s a lot to read already along the subject. Come and "join" the Fair Pay For Bloggers campaign - please spread the word!


P.S. Many people mentioned taxes and claiming blogger-related earnings. All countries will vary when it comes to claiming expenses, and at the moment the law in the UK is a little grey because "blogger" isn’t recognised as a legitimate profession as yet. In the meantime have a read of this post: http://onemanbandaccounting.co.uk/tax-for-bloggers - it may answer quite a few questions for you in the meantime…!
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42 comments

  1. Another great post, Catherine! Your initial post on this prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the way I've been handling "review" requests, and I've come to much the same conclusions you have. For the past couple of weeks now I've been responding to PR approaches by explaining that I'm not able to exchange coverage for products, and that if they'd like me to feature an item, there will be charge. Like you, when I'm sent items, I'm almost always expected to post about it within a certain time-frame, and to include certain links etc, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes it an advert, not a review. I still don't charge for ACTUAL reviews (i.e. posts where I'm road testing the product and giving an opinion), because, as some of your comments show, readers don't rend to trust 'opinions' that have been paid for, but I've now switched to a model whereby if brands want to send something for possible review, I won't guarantee coverage.

    I was actually really nervous about starting to ask for payment, and felt super-awkward about it at first, but so far I've been quite encouraged by the responses. A few people have seemed quite astonished by it, and have given me the old "we don't have a budget for that" response, but most have at least claimed to understand where I'm coming from, and a few have come back with a reasonable offer of payment: I think we're still a long way from that being the norm, but it's encouraging to know that there are brands out there who understand that if the coverage they hope to get is worth having, then it's worth paying for!

    I really like your idea of putting up a page explaining your policies on this, and hope you don't mind too much if I blatantly copy you on that, by creating one of my own? I already have an advertising page I direct people to for prices, stats etc, but I find it quite awkward trying to explain why I'm asking for money in response to a review request, so I reckon it would be really helpful to have another page I can just direct them to which explains it all!

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    1. Amber: you go ahead and copy away, no problem at all! I, too, have had the same sort of responses - some say oh we don't pay for a budget, others have asked for a quote, some have said we'll send you the products even if you don't feature them. So in a way I don't feel like I'm losing out at all. I don't *need* any more clothes (where I'm going to put them will always be a problem!!) so fingers crossed it will be win-win - and for the brands too :)

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  2. Excellent post - It's came at a good time because I've been feeling this way a lot lately. A particular brand were quite pushy at me for a relatively low value product that I was reviewing, and I realised it's just not worth it if I'm not being paid for my time. I think if a product is something I want to try anyway and would like to review, then it's fine, but as you say, there shouldn't be time scales or unreasonable lists of demands in exchange for the product alone. I'm going to have a think about this, but expect I'll come up with some kind of policy like yours!
    xxx

    http://www.maisymeow.com/

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    1. I'm really pleased, Maisy - funny how we're all getting a little jaded about freebies...! As many of us said last time we don't want to sound ungrateful, but it's the demands that get to us in the end. Glad it's helped you x

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  3. Glad you've posted this follow up. We should deffo be paid and recognised for our hard work. Brands shouldn't take advantage. I really like your Product Gifting Policy and I'll be putting my own together when/if my blog gets to the stage where it needs one :) x

    www.yazzyscorner.co.uk

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  4. Excellent post and I'll save this for when I decide to go down this road .. :-)

    Monica, www.pear-shaped-gal.com

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    1. Thanks Monica - hope it helps for future reference :)

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  5. I may not be fashion blogging any more but I am currently working on a website for our art business. We went to a designer and the price was seriously $40,000 for an all out great site. To say the least I just about fell out of the chair and set out to learn how to do it myself. But boy did it get me thinking what "good deal" all are of us for advertisers. Right on Catherine for getting every one talking! We model, we photograph, we promote brands, write and maintain a sites for so little money?

    blue hue wonderland

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    1. So true, Ann! (And who is charging you that amount for a site? Will it be made of gold?!)

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  6. Great post Catherine. I really enjoy these post to hear what other bloggers have to say.

    Alice
    www.happinessatmidlife.com

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    1. Thanks Alice - and I agree, it is good to hear everyone's views x

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  7. Kudos to you Catherine, this post is very much food for thought xxx

    http://blog.doodleheart.co.uk

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    1. Thanks Hannah... good to get the discussion going :)

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  8. Great post Catherine :) I have been catching up on both post and great reads. My blog is just a hobby so I can't charge. I spend hours on a review, that you get to keep which is lovely but am now thinking my time important. I spend hours on a review and one a few weeks back which was 2 parts to the review, one was not good enough.I was asked part of it again ( which took me another 2 hours around 6 in total ) all for free. This made me think, I never have time to do all my running and gym work and this time would have been great. think the review side will have to slow down, trouble is I don't like to say no..

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    1. Hmmm just because you're a hobby blogger doesn't mean you "can't" charge, Claire...! And yes, it does eat into your time. I couldn't possibly do all this with a full time job as well :(

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  9. I think bloggers should be paid. That being said, I do think it should be disclosed up front so anyone reading your reviews know. Thanks for tackling this "hot potato".

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    1. It has to be disclosed by law (at least in the UK it does, Kathy, and I'm pretty sure in the US too) x

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  10. Great post. I've been requesting payment for such services as featured posts/styled posts/reviews simply because as an actor and photographer that is time I take away from my two businesses and my family, and I simply can't afford to do that for free. It's as simple as that. I can't afford to work for free because being an artist already means I struggle to pay my bills.

    So far brands have been responsive and accepting. And as for the honesty in reviews, I always warn brands that I an honest with my readers, but that if I absolutely can not post a review with any favorable points I'll contact them and give them the option of it not being posted at all.

    Thanks!

    Joanna

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    1. I've had mixed reviews with regards to the payment of reviews so far, Joanna - but I'm losing anything by not accepting a free gift without payment (except another free dress)! And yes you're right - it's time taken away from your 'real' life. Time is money, as they say x

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  11. Wonderful post!! I´m so happy that you bring this topic to the point! I agree with you and all the nice comments BUT there will ALWAYS exist a huge number of bloggers who will do all this work for free.
    So the brands will ask you.. if you don´t want to do it for free.. they will find one who will!

    Dana
    http://danalovesfashionandmusic.blogspot.de/

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    1. I think bloggers will do it for free when they're first starting out, and I think as we all have to start somewhere I can't imagine charging from the outset as you have to prove your worth as a valued blogger first. That said, this discussion has brought it to the attention of so many bloggers that what they're doing takes a long, long time - and the offer of a free gift isn't always enough. The brands may find one for free, but (and I mean this with the greatest respect to all bloggers) you get what you pay for. I'm charging what I think my time and "pull" is worth to the brand... it's up to them whether they want to work with me or not. Many do I'm glad to say!

      Thank you Dana for your input x

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  12. This is always a hot topic of conversation. It's one of the ironies of becoming more successful at blogging...the more traffic you get, the more freebies you are offered. I have a similar policy to yours. I accept unsolicited products, but don't guarantee that they will appear. I have to find them interesting and helpful. I say no way more than I say yes to most of these things. For things like contests, where there is a commitment to time frame and fairness and all the rest, I expect to be paid or no love. Which is why you rarely see me doing a brand-sponsored contest. I think I've done two in the three years I've been blogging.

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    1. Thanks Kristin - it's a good policy to have right from the outset. x

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  13. Thank you for sharing your policy, Catherine. It was really interesting to read all the debate your initial post provoked!

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    1. It was nothing if not exhausting to read ll the comments, Antonia...!!!! I hope my policy helps lots of people :)

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  14. These posts were overdue. I applaud you for being so brave to touch this question. The situation is even worse. Bloggers of small blogs like mine even get approached to write a post/review without even getting a sample. There are at least 2/w of this kind in my inbox. I heard that some brands who give you a sample even sent emails complaining that you did not bother your followers on social media more than 5 times a day, i.e. that you did not promote your own post often enough.

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    1. I'm glad that this debate is getting out there Nicole, and that brands know that we're fighting back against being taken for a ride. It's not just small blogs - I get plenty of requests to write a review in exchange for high-res images: no gift, no payment. What a cheek...! Thanks for sharing your views :)

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  15. Great post, Catherine! You did your homework and I really like your button and the wording you shared. Thank you for all you are doing for the blogging community!

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    1. You're more than welcome, Pam - I just hope it reaches lots of people so that more bloggers can join in with the discussion! Thank you x

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  16. Hi Catherine, Thanks for this. My question is if you say this: "1.Send me the gift, but there is no guarantee I will include it in a post or include any links of their choice (no charge)"....and then you decide to use it an a post as well as link to it, won't that encourage a brand to gamble on you doing the same next time? Wouldn't it be be better to say send me the gift, but there is no guarantee I will include it in the post. If I do, you may get a mention, but no link. You need to sponsor (pay for) a post to get a link and social media promotion.

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    1. Fair point, Deborah, but the reason I've omitted that is so that I can add an affiliate link if I so wish so that a). I hopefully earn a commission if someone links through and buys it, and b). I prefer to give my readers the information of where to buy something easily, rather than making them try and search the web for it. I'd rather be helpful to my readers than try to discourage brands from taking advantage.

      I've also found that the only PR people/brands that have come back to me are those that I've built up a good relationship with and would be happy to work with again. The ones who want something-for-nothing tend not to return...! Thanks for your input though, I do understand what you're saying! C x

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  17. Hi Catherine, That's a tough one because I do think that most people when they accept free clothing etc. do feel that gnawing obligation to return the favour, write something and link. I find that many of the brands that approach do not have affiliate programs, so I couldn't use an affiliate link even if I wanted to. I suppose sometimes you have to just go with it, if you like the product and know your readers would too, but this policy still makes things vague for brands.
    I really appreciate your open discussion on this. Would love to know your thoughts on contests and gifting.

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    1. Hi Deborah! I use RewardStyle for affiliate links and find that 95% of the brands I feature are associated with it so I can add affiliate links each time if I choose to. It was the pressure of featuring products that had been gifted to me with requests for specific links (and, wrongly, them being do follow) and within a certain time frame that lead me to write the original post. It is because of the vagueness that I've now created my policy... so far it's worked - brands know exactly what they're getting and have a choice. I also feel I'm being compensated for the pressure of more work and the time factor.

      You ask about contests and gifting... contests (giveaways) depend on the brand. I like to support independent brands for giveaways so am happy to collaborate with them in that sense without charge, but from now on I will offer giveaways only when a (bigger) brand has bought a banner ad. And gifting: the post was all about gifting? Unless you're referring to something else - but that's all in my policy. Hope that helps...! x

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  18. Hi Catherine, yes, with bigger brands my experience is they are starting to pay for sponsored posts. I'm always up front that it is a no follow link and it's never a problem. Other times affiliate links are a possibility and like you, I use rewardstyle. However, I get a lot of requests from new, small brands that want to gift items in return for a post/social media promotion, but do not have affiliate programs. They fall into that grey zone.

    As for giveaways, I'm sorry I wasn't clear. What I meant was, what is your policy when accepting freebies for giveaways. If they provide an item for a giveaway ( and sometimes they gift you too) is that enough for you to write a post and do a giveaway in the post or do you require payment too? You've answered that above. Thanks so much for sharing. I look forward to hearing what other bloggers are doing too. Cheers!

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  19. I'm still new enough to the "personal style" blogging game to make setting up a payment policy like yours very easy, dearest Catherine...and that's exactly what I intend to do!! I hope very much to be able to blog full-time one day, and it's obvious that to make that work, I'll need to be appropriately paid!! Thank you so much for blazing the way!! XOXO

    www.StyleIsMyPudding.blogspot.com

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    1. I think this discussion is helping a lot of new bloggers, Monika, like yourself - I think it's great that you're being made aware of these problems and dilemmas before you've made the leap into full time blogging. If only I'd known all of this before I went pro...!!! I'm just glad it's keeping you informed so you know all your options as you move towards that goal (which I very much hope you do)! x

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  20. Great post, Catherine, and I’m glad that you’re having this discussion (let’s hope this time my comment gets through :D).

    I don’t have that much experience with fashion blogger, but I do have extensive experience in the food and travel blogging sectors, not just by being a blogger myself but also by being the PR and Social Media manager for my agency. Sometimes I get invited and sometimes I have to organize events with bloggers.

    But what I don’t see in the Spanish blogosphere is a discussion about this topic. Here people think that it’s ok to receive gifts from companies and even, to participate in promotional activities with them, but usually they only care about getting money (in addition to those perks), without thinking about what they are offering, how they differentiate themselves from their competition, and how they care about their credibility as bloggers (I even gave a keynote about blogger’s credibility at the biggest travel bloggers meeting in Spain, some months ago).

    I agree with you that when brands send you gifts, they shouldn’t expect you to showcase them in your blog or your social channels. For me that’s just a form of public relations. You send something that you consider it’s interesting, and hope for the best. I know that you talk about fashion brands but sometimes, technology brands send gadgets for bloggers to review, and they don’t pay you, but they are offering you valuable content for a product review (and they don’t usually ask for a link with a certain anchor text).

    It’s in those cases when I think, as you mention, that brands should pay the blogger. In fact, it’s the same, in my humble opinion, as any sponsored content. If you want something specific, you have to pay. If not, you leave everything in the hands of the blogger.

    But, and I think that UK’s law is stricter than ours, you have to disclose that. This is something I’m fighting in Spain, in my keynotes, even in advertising magazines where sometimes I write, because as I said, a lot of Spanish bloggers only think about money. It’s great if you can make your passion or hobby into a business, but you have to do things right. I work for an advertising agency, so as you might imagine, I’m not against advertising. But you have to do it right. And when a brand pays you for something, you have to tell your audience. And, regretfully, a lot of bloggers don’t do so. Because they understand quite right that sponsored content is less appealing that editorial content. But they don’t understand the harm they are doing to themselves and to the sector by doing this type of things.

    I’m really glad to see that in other countries this type of things get some publicity in top blogs 

    Thanks for reading (and sorry for the rant, I know how to start but not how to end :P)
    Best
    Luis

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  21. While I'm not a blogger, I read many and participate frequently. I've been offered some free products occasionally, along with requests for a review on a website, blog or for a mention on my FB or Twitter pages. I will do that, if it's a product I wanted and accepted. However, as I've learned, and one of your correspondents commented above "I have NEVER read a bad review on a blog. And I think that really says something” - Serene McEntyre ". While I have read bad reviews, they're rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth and usually only written if the product was paid for by the writer.

    I won't write a positive review for a product I dislike or feel is poor quality. If it's a book [my most frequent freebie], I will write an honest review in return. On one occasion, I wrote a so-so review for a book I'd "won" but didn't feel was very good. The only criteria mentioned to enter the book contest had been to please leave an honest review, which I did. Well, I got a hot message from the book's publisher asking me to either re-write the review to be more positive or take it down from the reading club site, because after all "we gave you the book". Excuse me? I hadn't promised to rave about the book or be dishonest. I had read the book, taken the time to write a thoughtful and honest review and no way was I going to spend any more time writing a dishonest review, nor was I going to delete the review, which wasn't all that negative anyway.

    This little story illustrates the dilemma of accepting freebies. Even if one is compensated for featuring the product in some way, where do you draw the honesty line?

    I believe a sponsored product placement should be identified as such on a blog and then in good conscience, one can accept payment for what is basically a paid ad or promotional activity. Hopefully, one uses some judgement and only accepts such promotions if they're appropriate and the product reflects the blogger's standards. I also believe that if one accepts freebies, that should be mentioned in the review or product placement. It's all about honesty and credibility.

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  22. I love this post,

    I agree I think bloggers should get paid because so many times I'll realize it's not worth my time!


    http://monacristo.com/

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  23. Thanks so much for bringing up the topic
    good to hear advice on these things
    I get approached by companies all the time wanting the world for product which unfortunately isn't going to pay my bills
    after reading all this it makes me feel better about standing up for what I deserve

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