The feedback begins to come in about the Marqui blogger campaign. Just a thought, following on my comments about the abrupt interview with a Globe and Mail journo last week: About 20 years ago, when I started trying to earn a living writing (it took eight years to reach a level where the bartending job could go by the wayside), there were writers making $2 and $3 a word, or more, and then there was me, making three cents to five cents a word. I got to the “elite” level, at which I made $2 or $3 a word, not for the money, but because I want to write and explain and think for a living.
Today, I’m back to probably less than five cents a word as a blogger, on average between what I pull down here and over at Red Herring, but there’s really no one making any more from their blogging (I still make a lot more when I write for pay, believe me). So, if there is nowhere to go but up for the entire market, it’s a pretty solid bet to start getting paid at current “standard” levels for bloggers. Maybe when I am 64, I’ll be making what I do today solely through blogging, which would be a great way to spend my “retirement,” because when I stop writing I expect the very first thing I’ll do is die.
MORE: Well, well, now we’re “shills” because there are ads on the blog and those of Marc, the Head Lemur and Richard, among others. This from Stowe Boyd, who has ads on his Corante blog and makes precisely the point I have about saying “thanks” to Marqui for the $800 bucks, that it doesn’t affect what he has to say about companies whose ads surround his prose.
I am not a purist who turns away from ads. On the contrary. But I think there needs to be a clear separation from content and commerce. I don’t say good things about Silkroad just because they are sponsoring my blog and the True Voice seminar series. Their ad occupies the upper right rectangle on the blog, and by all means, click through sometime and see what they have to offer. And if they don’t get enough traffic, I am sure that they will put their ad dollars elsewhere. But I am not being paid to write about Silkblogs once per week. And that distinction, although nuanced, is important.
Stowe admits what Marc, Lemur and I are doing is “not evil,” just a form of affiliate marketing, which really underscores how little effort to be honest about this goes into criticisms of the program. Stowe talks about how Corante created a disclosure for its relationship with Zero Degrees. Two years ago, I put a disclosure page on my blog that explains past and present business relationships. It smacks of the pot calling the kettle black, and awfully late.
He also focuses on the fact that Corante has “no incentives based on click throughs or sales” in contrast to Marqui’s program, which offers $50 per qualified lead to bloggers, which is still undefined and, frankly, not of interest to me. I’m not trying to sell Marqui’s product, but for some reason Stowe insists that judging this blog is different than judging the objectivity of his. It’s just not clear what that difference is, because he hasn’t made a case clearly as to what exactly that difference might be, though he insists there is some substantial nuance involved.
Of course Corante has incentives to increase click throughs, because most ad programs are priced based on click performance. Sorry, but the condescension here is just annoying, since the substance of the Marqui agreement seems to be identical to the ads placed on Stowe’s site, from the simple click through on the SilkRoad ad to the “free” seminar offer (Corante presumably gets some kind of compensation for promoting the conference, even if it is sponsorship placement at the event) that are clearly compensated placements or else they would not be on the page. I’ve been a publisher and editor and trade show producer, so let’s step back from the ledge (or “Get Real,” as Stowe’s blog is called) right here and now: Admit that publishers, especially early-stage publishing companies, exist on in-kind trades. If these are not “not evil,” how are they qualitatively different than what I am doing in relation to Marqui? I put a sponsorship graphic on my site and say thanks once a week, creating a kind of periodicity in the appearance of the company’s name in the blog, just as Corante creates a special section sponsored by Zero Degrees that features fresh links.
I suppose the Amazon links, for which I am compensated when someone buys a book I point them to makes me a two-dollar hooker? Does the fact that I write about issues involving companies I work with (always disclosing that fact) make me a $2,500-a-day prostitute? Stowe managed to mention his advertisers repeatedly in the posting, so what does that make him other than a writer writing about an issue he cares about? I care about my work, which is why I write about the stuff I do, too.
As a veteran of the tech trades, too, I can tell you that the ads placed in MacWEEK never influenced my coverage of companies there. My columns on ZD Net were written with total disinterest in what ads were appearing on the site. I’ve offended plenty of people and, basically, that’s what I get paid to do as often as not, because the function of a good reporter to put the truth out there, like it or not. As a commentator, I excel at pissing people off and if I start telling you Marqui is the only choice for communications management, you should recognize that I’ve gone stark raving mad with greed. I’m going to thank them once a week. I may even ask you to be nice enough to visit their site so that they keep delivering the checks, but I’m going to tell you when I think they make bad design and development decisions.
At every publication and at the ON24 Network, we’ve had a rigorous system for keeping ad people out of editorial (it only occasionally involved cattle prods) and as an editor at other publications I had to wrestle and still wrestle with the business side over the supposed influence of a dollar coming in the door. In the newsletter business, for instance, the battle is whether or not subscribers will get your honest opinion or simply get you to tell them what they want to hear so they can use it in their business presentations.
There are bloggers who rave about the free hardware they use, but don’t tell you it was free. There are bloggers who go on junkets and don’t disclose that their way was paid by a company they are suddenly in love with. There are reviewers who use and keep products, but never mention that they especially like to keep certain products for which they have become cheerleaders. We’re all human, but until Stowe actually explains a substantive difference between a flat $800-a-month sponsorship agreement and the various advertising and marketing programs his company offers, I’m going to reiterate that his accusation we Marqui-sponsored bloggers have become second-class citizens is not well-founded.
The proof will lie with the people on both sides of the argument, though I am not going to spend a lot of time and effort—probably none—policing the other guys, like Corante, since my focus is on what I want to write about. That’s where I’ll be judged and I’m perfectly content with that….