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.
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…!