Professional Blogging: Should Brands Pay Bloggers For Product Reviews?

Professional Blogging: Should Brands Pay Bloggers For Review Posts?

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 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.


The work involved in “reviewing” a product

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 th at 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?

Blogging as a profession

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.

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.

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 makeup 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 discussions which I’m really pleased about!

Catherine

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94 Comments

  1. August 31, 2017 / 8:55 pm

    I just came across this post, found it on Pinterest. PREACH GIRL! I'm so tired of companies thinking free product is adequate payment. It's just plain rude and disrespectful to us bloggers.

  2. April 12, 2017 / 11:34 pm

    I found this very interesting, I myself am a blogger I've always blogged for free for myself, however I was contacted about a product review for a company that can offer something for clear skin, it was the first time I had been contacted and I personally jumped at the thought of clear skin.. however I have now been contacted by another brand to do a blog post and socal media posts for them in return of paying £10 for the product, my own discount code and a way to make money through them. My thoughts are now turning to "should I be asking for money for me doing this?" However my problem is knowing when to turn around and ask for money in return? I want to blog full time and incorporate brands I love and personally use to benefit me and my readers.. however I don't want to be too pushy so doing the two posts for free felt reasonable, but I need advice on how or when to ask for money in return? (If you want a look the first free post was called "Is this the secret to clear skin?!" Thanks Amy http://www.thatbridgegirl.come

  3. November 12, 2016 / 11:04 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this post. I own a brand an pay bloggers (3 today for example) as i think it is rude not to and they can sample my service.

    Question though – From a brand's perspective, I keep getting requests, probably derived from the blogs I have used to try and sell me sponsored posts, had three emails yesterday alone. I have always advertised with bloggers that i have approaching them, should i avoid these guys as I don't really know if they belong to that site or not?

    Luke

    • November 18, 2016 / 10:56 am

      Hi Luke – I'm not sure what you mean by whether they belong that site (what site?), but it's totally at your discretion as to whether you work with bloggers that approach you (rather than the other way around). I don't think you should dismiss them just because they got in touch with you first – they may be the perfect fit for your brand so in which case it'd be silly not to work with them… You might not have found them otherwise!

      C x

  4. February 24, 2016 / 11:18 pm

    TOTALLY AGREE with this post. Thank you!

    I find it so frustrating when brands / PR ask for coverage with zero compensation. They ARE asking you to not only work for free, but provide free advertising. They pay everyone else they work with, so it's insulting that they would think that they shouldn't pay bloggers…

    I really think that the bloggers who write articles about brands for free, or just for product, do a disservice to themselves (that brand will never pay you in the future) and to all bloggers, since it devalues the service and makes it harder for bloggers (in general, as an industry) to make a living. If bloggers can't make money because others will work for free, then the quality of blogs overall will decrease, since most will have to give it up in favor of a better paying job.

    IMHO – A sponsored article on a professional-looking blog should cost an absolute minimum of $10k+, and a sponsored social media post should cost $15 to $30+ CPM (per thousand followers), depending on what the brand wants and what is involved. For perspective, many social media stars make $50k to $100k per Instagram post alone. And an ad in a print magazine can easily cost a few hundred thousand dollars. These brands are paying for ads elsewhere, so why not in your blog? Don’t you give them value too?

  5. April 1, 2015 / 9:20 pm

    Catherine, you're so on point. Early on we would love to review anything. Now, the luster of reviews for free has faded. It takes time, lots of time and effort. We now charge for reviews, on top of the product to review. The only exception is a product or brand that we really, really, really love; and that's on a case by case point.
    There's street-talk that many PR companies just feel they can, dare I say, abuse bloggers. They are getting paid, and they want bloggers to do posts and promotions for free (we'll send you hi-res images, or product exchange).

    If any blogger reading this is OK with not getting paid for their effort, that's their choice. But 3 or 6 months down the road, they may be tired and pessimistic about why they're not making any money blogging.

    We bloggers really need to form our own Union to help educate and protect us. We seriously need a "by Us for Us" organization.

    Great post and love your blog.

    Rossana Vanoni
    XoRV

    RossanaVanoni.com

    • April 7, 2015 / 12:07 pm

      Rossana I couldn't agree more with everything you've said!! I do worry that brands/PRs are abusing bloggers… some of the offers I get aren't "offers" at all, it's just all take and zero give. How they think that they're actually offering anything of any benefit to us is beyond me. Even if I wasn't a f/t blogger and wasn't bothered about making money from it, I'd still question why I'd work with them when they're the only ones who get anything out of it.

      A union would be a fabulous thing. It'll take the right person to get one started, but if they did I'd back it all the way. I'm sure in a few years it will happen – it just needs to be sooner!!

      Thanks so much for your kind words my lovely! x

  6. January 19, 2015 / 10:09 pm

    I understand completely – I've been a freelancer myself. What's the best way to approach a blogger? Do I offer money right away? Ask their fee? I don't want to insult anyone! We're a start-up so I'm trying to spend my limited budget wisely. I'm also trying to avoid the blog networks – eliminate the middle man and have the fee go directly to the blogger. Do you have any suggestions for me?

    Thanks!

    Shari

    • January 20, 2015 / 8:44 pm

      Hi Shari, thanks so much for asking! First of all – I personally don't charge start-ups a fee for a product review. Any indie labels, or bloggers setting up an Etsy shop, etc. come under my bracket of "exempt" brands because I want to help them out. I think it's great to approach a blogger direct, but to get a good response and to make it worthwhile will take a fair bit more work (hence why PRs charge you to do it for you).

      – First of all identify which bloggers you think would be a good fit for your brand. Use your own criteria for this – it could be their writing, photography, style… you choose.

      – Secondly, have a look for their PR/sponsor/media kit details and have a thorough read… there's nothing worse than an offer of something that you've clearly said in your media kit that you don't do!

      – Thirdly, send a personal, friendly email that addresses them by name, explains a little bit about your brand and why you think they'd be a good fit (i.e. what you like about their blog). Don't make it too long – no more than a couple of paragraphs or they'll switch off. Be very clear about what you're offering and how you'd like to work with them, include links and "value up to" if they're able to choose a product to review.

      Basically anything that doesn't look like a blanket email, that proves you've read their blog (and media kit) and that is really nice and clear about how you'd like to work with them will win them over (well it does me). And when it comes to it, retweeting their Tweets when they tag you in and your own Instagram posts/FB posts/Tweets linking to or featuring them is always appreciated.

      Don't feel that you have to have a big budget to pay bloggers – if you approach them nicely enough and explain that although you're a start-up business you'd like to get a great relationship going I'm sure you'll get a great response. As long as it's the opposite of "something for nothing" you should be okay!

      Forgot to mention: don't be afraid to say you're new to this and you've only just started approaching bloggers… sometimes it's nice to know you're the first blogger they've asked 🙂

      If you like you can email me, should you need any more questions answered… I'll see if I can help!

      Good luck and let me know how you get on!
      Catherine x

  7. November 25, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    I completely agree with this. Writing a post alone for me takes at least two hours because I am so detailed. But doing a sponsored post would take so much more work and time. I definitely think they should pay to get post.

    -Ang
    lifeandang.blogspot.com

    • November 25, 2014 / 8:58 pm

      I'm glad it got you thinking, Ang… I'm also glad we're starting to admit to ourselves that it DOES take so much time! Thanks for your comment :))