This post is for my fellow bloggers. It’s all about blogging nitty gritty, like setting rates, and getting paid for your work. If you don’t blog you may want to skip this one. On the other hand, if you’re intrigued about the back-end business of blogging then by all means, read on.
I was invited to speak on a panel during the upcoming She’s Connected conference on the topic of Rate Cards, Guidelines, & Disclosure:What is the average price for ads, reviews, giveaways and posts? I was going to refuse, because honestly… I don’t have a clue.
When it comes to setting rates, I feel like it is a case of the blind leading the blind, in some sort of giant game of pin-the tail on the donkey. There are no clear rules to this game. We are writing the rules as we go along. Other folk have gone ahead of us, taking a stab in the dark, but for the most part they aren’t yelling out to let us know if the hit the donkey square on or not, and there is no helpful referee on hand, to come along and help us take off the blindfold and take a peek to see how our jabs measure up. Personally, I’m not really sure what the donkey’s butt is supposed to look like, let alone where it’s located.
|image by Andy Pixel|
I am just making this up as I go along. I only recently made a media kit and set rates for myself. I have only been paid a handful of times for my work and I really don’t have a clear idea of what the going rates are, though I would certainly love to find out. What could I possibly contribute to this panel? Then it occurred to me, I think many of us are in a similar state — just making it up as we go along. I was persuaded to take part, based on the fact that no one really knows the “going rate” and that the purpose of this panel is to discuss fair compensation and try to arrive at some sort of consensus.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of bloggers start out knowing nothing about working with PR, and need to learn what is expected of them “on the job” so to speak. There is no “school of blogging”, only a really wacky system of the job training; consisting of a combination of figure it out yourself, look it up online, and help from a friendly veteran or two. On the other hand PR professionals are just that, professionals. They most likely went to school for that paid position they are emailing you from.
I am going to be honest and say that when I started out blogging in September of last year I knew wanted in on this free stuff thing. Like many others, I saw bloggers getting review products for “free” and I thought, “Hey that looks easy, I could do that!” All you veteran bloggers are laughing right now, because you know — it turned out to be not quite as easy as it looks. As every other blogger out there knows, running a blog is actually a lot of hard WORK. It can be fun, it can be rewarding (both financially, and in the sense of community building), but it is tons of work. There is actually a lot of back end stuff that goes on, that no one ever sees. Coding, HTML, SEO, photo editing, button ad creation, emails back and forth with product reps and other bloggers, etc, etc. If you stop and figure out your rate of return vs the number of hours spent working on the blog — well, I don’t know about you, but for me the numbers are depressingly low. Yet, I still do it, because it is FUN, interesting, and challenging. And yes I will admit, one of the things that drives me to continue on is the knowledge that I could potentially make it to the “bloggy big time” and actually make some money off of this thing.
When I first started out blogging I didn’t even know bloggers could get paid for writing. I think this is pretty common (correct me if I’m wrong here guys). I knew that folks were receiving free product for review, and some sites obviously were running ads – so they might have been making money from that, but actually getting paid for your posts, sponsored posts, blog tours, brand ambassadorships… I had no clue these opportunities even existed. Yes, bloggers include disclosure language but they usually say something relatively obtuse like “this is a sponsored post brought to you by x”, or perhaps the slightly more forthcoming “I received free product or a gift card to help facilitate this review”. No one comes right out and says “I received $50 cash, a salad bowl and 6 free product coupons in exchange for writing this post”. We don’t want to look like tacky money grubbing freaks. And that’s fine. But it also leaves new comers in the dark, as to what we should be charging, or even if we should be charging at all.
As my blog started to grow, and I am guessing this is a pretty common scenario, I began to receive press releases from companies big and small and I had NO CLUE how to handle them. When clothing company x sends you a blanket press release highlighting their new line of clothes and suggesting that you “might want to share this with your readers”, what are you supposed to do? What is the etiquette? Many of these PR “pitches” reeked of spam, and I was tempted to just hit delete… but I also was worried about offending someone. Am I supposed to be writing about this stuff? Is this what the “big gals” are doing? If I don’t take this (ahem) opportunity, and for some of these emails I use that term rather loosely, am I putting myself on a the black-list, never to be contacted again?
Even more confusing was when I started to notice other bloggers posting these same “free opportunities”, but including disclosure language at the bottom that they had received X in return for this post. Were the PR companies sending out tiered pitches? Offering cash and incentives to large blogs, but asking the small fry to do it for free? Or were you expected to write back and request payment??
Sometimes when I am feeling particularly cynical I envision a group of PR reps sitting around discussing the “lifecycle of the mommy blogger”. That we are the subject of a graph, where they try and plot the optimal moment between noob with no audience, and veteran blogger who actually demands pay. I picture this graph hanging on the wall along side some sort of pie-chart, showing how many bloggers burn out after x months, etc.
As some of you may know from my mentioning it previously, for over a decade I ran a small business selling retro toys on eBay. To sell vintage toys I needed to know the going rate that collectors were willing to pay. To hold a successful auction, I didn’t just start it at a penny and hope for the best. I spent time following other folks auctions, looking for trends, and searching through closed listings to see how much an item sold for in the past, and then I used that info to come up with a fair price.
What should you charge as a blogger? What are PR reps willing to pay? If you don’t know what other folk are charging, how can you ask for a fair rate? (Yes, their has to be tiers, and pay-scales. If I am just starting out, and have a lower readership reach I can’t expect to get paid as much as someone who has been doing this for three years and has five times as many followers.)
I know this has been addressed by others in the past– I think we as bloggers need to work together to take off the blindfold and figure out where the donkey is. I think we can all readily agree that we deserve to get fairly paid for the work that we do. I think we need to openly discuss rates, so that we can arrive at a consensus of what that fair compensation is.
What do you think? Willing to share your “top secret” info? I would love to go into this panel with some feel for what other folks think about rates.
In return, for those who aren’t attending the conference – I promise to report back afterwards with a recap of the panel discussion.
Feel free to chime in on the comments below. I am really eager to see what you folks have to say on this topic.