The Death of the Blogger

Goodbye, lifestyle/fashion/beauty bloggers. Hello, glorified digital ad units.

The tides are changing and it may not be for the better. Increasingly, I’m noticing a trend towards paid/sponsored content and away from the organic, experience- and opinion-based posts of the past. With money hanging in the balance, more bloggers are choosing to hop over the fine line to overtly-branded, light-on-the-real-opinions content. What does this mean for the blogosphere and for the authenticity of our experiences there?

make money from advertising on blog

As someone who both pitches and is pitched, I’m always intrigued by the ways we interact in this strange little world we’ve created for ourselves. While many of the old crop of bloggers started their blogs as a sort of virtual soapbox, a way to share their opinions (whether anybody listened or not), a change in the ecosystem has meant new bloggers are coming in with dollar bills as their end game and a solid plan of how to get there. At the same time, the old guard of bloggers seems to be growing weary and lazy, choosing to participate in paid, brain-dead content in return for a steady-ish pay check. Now, that’s not to say that everybody falls into one of these two categories – there is a sweet spot between opportunity for revenue and pure, organic content, but lots of bloggers are floundering in their attempt to find it.

Should bloggers get paid

Mo’ money, mo’ problems

Let’s be clear: I’m not against sponsored posts, advertising banners, affiliate links or compensation programs. Not only do I participate in these types of programs – both from a work and a personal blogging perspective – but I see their value in reaching goals, driving sales and helping bloggers to monetize. However, I do think there’s a fine line between participating in and seeking out these opportunities to supplement or enhance your blog content and having this type of content become your bread and butter.

I’ll be honest – I’m always a little disheartened when I pitch a blogger an organic program only to have their reply be a rate card. What happened to trying out a product/service/event and writing about it should you enjoy it? If every post you write contains a paid element, are you still serving your audience or are you instead abusing their trust in you to bring in a steady-ish pay check? In my opinion, if you’re unwilling to do a post without compensation or if the lion’s share of your content includes a paid element, you should hang up your blog hat and put out your digital advertising aggregator shingle instead.

make money online

For those of you who are shaking your heads and pounding your keyboards in protest right now, riddle me this: is a review really a review if you’re getting paid to write it? Is your blog really trustworthy if you’re getting paid for the majority of the words you write? In the same way that you wouldn’t and or shouldn’t bash your employer and/or clients online, it follows that you probably wouldn’t be 100% honest if a product you were getting paid to review really sucked. Considering some sponsored posts end up getting client approval before posting, it’s unlikely that your not-so-rave-review would pass muster anyway.

So, what’s a monetizing-hungry blogger to do? In the words of one of my favourite gals who literally makes her living through her blog, “It’s possible to earn a decent living blogging without ever having to sell your opinion”. That’s right – this blogger makes nearly 100% of her income from reviewing product, writing honestly and sprinkling in sponsored posts, affiliate links and advertising while participating in paid campaigns and sponsorships. It can be done. To me, it’s shocking that it usually isn’t.

Bloggers, once your readers find out that every word is a shill – thinly-veiled or not – the value of your words will drop. Even if a brand is willing to pay, consider if they should for what you’re going to be offering. If you do decide to participate in compensation:

  • Don’t sell out: make sure that whatever you’re agreeing to is a real fit. Don’t get blinded by the light (err…dollar signs). If the product/service/event isn’t one you could support, don’t say yes. If you’re being asked to share information about a product, at least ask to try it out first. Make sure you’re not giving up your authenticity and credibility to make a quick buck.
  • disclose, disclose, disclose. I can’t say this enough. Be honest about when money is exchanging hands. Even if you think you’re being completely unbiased, there’s a good chance your readers could feel differently about your opinion if they know you’re being paid.
  • Find the sweet spot: decide, as a reader, how many paid-for posts you’d be willing to read before you determine a blogger is being paid for their words and then participate in way less than that. This ladders up to the point made above: if you throw up too many sponsored/paid posts, your readers’ feelings towards your content may change.
  • Look for alternative methods of compensation: consider a longer-term opportunity with a brand, like an ambassadorship, and be open about it with your readers. Everybody wins as long as it’s a good fit.

With all that said….are you a blogger or a billboard?

  • TheJmoney

    I used to read more blogs than I can count up to even earlier this year. Nowadays I can count on one hand the amount of blogs that get my immediate attention and it’s because of this EXACT situation. I am beyond sick and tired of reading glorified shill jobs from folks I used to respect for having a balanced opinion. Everything is THE BEST time after time. 
    My biggest gripe though is that the blogger pushing product has ZERO accountability for the material they’re pushing. What if its complete crap? Are they reimbursing the end user? Some products can be upwards of hundreds of dollars. With ads, I know what I’m getting into. With bloggers the understanding is they’ll give an honest opinion. With that element lost, there’s simply no draw. I fast forward through commercials on my PVR, I don’t need to read an extended commercial in my RSS feed.

    • TheJmoney I was in a bit of a fury a few weeks ago because of something similar to what you’re describing. I spent $140 on eyelash extensions from a place that came highly recommended from a bunch of other bloggers and they lasted approx. 3 days. COME ON. Might be free for them, but it was $140 hard-earned dollars for me.

      • ettuandyou

        stephaniefusco TheJmoney exactly. ANNOYING.

        • casiestewart

          stephaniefusco did you go to the same lashes as me? I pay to get mine done w/ JJ and I’m very impressed w/ quality and how they last. If you haven’t been yet, honest reco.

        • casiestewart stephaniefusco I went elsewhere (mistake). JJ has already offered up her services & I totally checked yours out at the CM1 conference to see how they were. We’re planning an appointment soon!

      • TOBeautyReviews

        stephaniefusco TheJmoney If I don’t like the product or service I won’t post about it. I tell PR companies and any place that offers me a service up front. That sucks about the lashes Steph. The two places I had them done were great but I don’t think they’re for me as can’t take care of them.

  • Steph,
    I can’t agree more. I’ve already scheduled this blog on all my channels for sharing because I believe in the message.
    I used to blog more. Now, I’m moving to more of a portfolio approach, just working on things because I like them. My Facebook timeline has become flooded with product shots, event stills and lots of things that show people living … manufactured lives, so to speak. I feel like there’s a lot of product name being dropped in the hope of getting more free product rather than anyone actually trying to live actual lives.
    For me, who knows. Will I keep blogging? Maybe, but I think it’ll become more of a side thing about stuff I’m working on rather than a focus of my site. I’ve always wanted to go back to drawing webcomics, so maybe I’ll do that.
    In the end, I’ve always said that once it starts feeling like a job, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing.
    I’m just not hopeful that a ton of the bloggers out there are going to do it. They’re just going to burn out from trying to do everything and be everywhere, and that’s when I think the problem will simply solve itself.
    Doomz out.

  • TOBeautyReviews

    Interesting post! I’m going to go ahead and say I’m a blogger b/c well…I hardly do sponsored content 😉 Not to say I wouldn’t want to make more money off of my blog but I usually try to build a relationship with a brand or person first before seeing if some form of paid collaboration is a possibility. In saying that I would only want to make sure I can offer something to the brand as well. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to chat about 😉

  • ettuandyou

    OMG thank you times infinity for writing this….although I think you are way too kind. I can not STAND when I see a blogger ONLY write about things they are getting for free or being compensated for.  I have zero respect for people like that and it’s an insult to their readers/subscribers.  ACT LIKE A REAL PERSON….after all, your subscribers may be paying for whatever you’re peddling.  Also readers/subscribers please be aware of the content you’re reading and make note of whether the blogger discloses (and you may have to look for that 2pt font) or if every post has a ‘these products were sent for’ piece at the bottom or cleverly disguised withing the post (as Canada doesn’t have the same restrictions as the US-yet).  
    I, like JMoney have unsubscribed from many blogs (as recently as this morning) because they are only writing ‘sponsored’ content.  No thanks, I like my bloggers to be human. 
    Again, thank you for writing this-it may be an eye opener for some

    • ettuandyou You know me – I’m just a little obsessed with disclosure. I think it’s cool to review stuff that you’re sent –  that’s how things work for all media – but I do think that you should still be hungry for being THE FIRST. If you’re not actively trying to find new things to share without waiting for someone to send you product, you’re doing it wrong.

      • TOBeautyReviews

        stephaniefusco ettuandyou That’s an interesting take too Steph – when bloggers and media are sent products a lot of the time we ARE the first to check out the product. So for me personally I can research all I want on my own but it’s essentially the PR companies or brands themselves that have the inside scoop to share with me.

      • ettuandyou

        stephaniefusco ettuandyou no doubt.  I just hate that people ‘hide; these things (disclosure).  I should know from the start that what I’m about to read was given to you for f-r-e-e.  
        It also really bothers me when I look at a blogger’s disclaimer policy and they say something like ” I am in a simliar industry and I know how hard it is for companies to market products so if I do receive a product for review, I won’t say anything bad about it.’  THAT IS CRAP anyway you slice it. 

        Off topic, but slightly related……companies, brands, PR need to look for the proper ‘fit’ for some of their products. Time after time I see the same bloggers “getting” when
        a. a product has nothing to do with their blog or their ‘brand’
        b. even a complete stranger knows they will never use the product
        There are soooo many blogs ‘out there’ and I know no company has the time to troll the internet looking for the ‘appropriate’ but for the love of Pete, switch things up once in awhile.

  • I think blog writers have a moral responsibility to clearly identify when they are being “financially compensated” for the content they publish.  “Transparency”  The reader/consumer can then determine how much personal value they feel the content is worth to them.  If you want to maintain your integrity then you need to be honest with your readers.

    • Digital_DRK I agree with you 100%. The birthplace of blogs was the need for transparency, honesty and authenticity. It’s terrible to see so many bloggers eschew those beginnings for less moral ground.

  • happyorhungry

    I love this Steph! Especially the cat gifs. 🙂 
    I have noticed this shift as well, and it’s made me stop reading a lot of the blogs that I used to love. I like to read people who are relatable, so when people quit their jobs to blog, or are constantly traveling all over the world having these amazing experiences paid for because of their blog, well, it’s not relatable anymore. At the same time I accept free stuff and I do go to fun events and I write about them… so I don’t know if I am being hypocritical.
    It is just a fine line. I have never made any money from my blog, which maybe is silly, but at least I know that I am blogging because I like it, not just for money.

    • happyorhungry I think it’s cool to accept free stuff and go to fun events – that’s part of being media. The other part is being honest about the stuff you are getting for free and being truthful about your experiences (which I think you are, for the record). 
      Once I know that compensation is a huge part of someone’s strategy, I start to feel a lot differently about whether what I’m reading is a real opinion or just glorified advertising.

  • Blogger. I’m not opposed to selling my space, but I’d rather be a better writer than sell some half-baked content that reads terribly (yes, there’s a lot of that out there) and isn’t very compelling.

  • Oh, Steph! You and I are kindred spirits! But we knew that already 🙂 

    Now.. a question (feel free to chime in, Leopard is a Neutral readers) – would it be rude if I straight up asked some bloggers if they got paid for some content? There are those who don’t disclose AT ALL and it makes me think that every post is sponsored. Are they doing it on purpose? Hmm. 

    Also, blogging is more fun when you blog for fun!

    • MariaAguilar Haha I always want to point blank ask people when something is sponsored when it looks a little too suspicious. I have a theory that if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck it probably is one.

    • TOBeautyReviews

      MariaAguilar haha Maria! I think if you asked publicly it would be rude and even privately some might take offense if you weren’t friends with them 😛 I try to be as open about everything as I can – there are time I forget to write that I received product to test but I’ll just go back and add that if I remember. 

      Blogging is definitely more fun when it’s for fun – I totally agree! I sometimes feel overwhelmed and pressured to write when PR people emailing me all the time asking me if I’m going to post something and when.

      • When you’re trying to explain to a client when coverage is coming, I can definitely relate to having to “pressure” bloggers a bit. But you shouldn’t feel obliged to write unless you’ve already said you were going to.

  • TheVaultFiles

    I think it’s a match made in heaven when one as a blogger has the opportunity to work with the brands we love and support. To me, as long as the brand and/or product really reflect my point of view and taste, then I’m in for a partnership, but selling myself to products, reviews, brands that don’t appeal to me just because of the money is completely out of the question, not an option at all. I’ve been told by some people that I shouldn’t think that way, and accept whatever money is thrown at me, but I like to believe I have some integrity and I’m representing myself out there, so I like to stick to that.
    Great post, there’s such a fine line between keeping your integrity and selling yourself out and we all have to be careful not to fall into the ladder 😉