Monday, July 13, 2009

Blogging for Cash

You may have noticed (or maybe not) that there aren't any ads on this blog. I don't have any problem with bloggers deciding that they'd like to put ads on their blogs and make a little money on the side, though I know that a "little" money is all anyone's ever likely to make. But for me, the only paid blogging I do is when I'm blogging at Crunchy Cons as Rod Dreher's occasional substitute host--and then I'm being paid to write, as decisions about advertising sales and placement aren't made at the level of individual bloggers at Beliefnet.

There is, however, another way for a blogger to earn some cash--and that's raising some concern:

Ms. Padilla typically acknowledges in each review which products were sent to her by companies and which items she bought herself. Other items on her site include her own videos for brands like Healthy Choice, which she labels as sponsored posts. But unlike postings in most journalism outlets or independent review sites, most companies can be assured that there will not be a negative review: if she does not like a product, she simply does not post anything about it.

The proliferation of paid sponsorships online has not been without controversy. Some in the online world deride the actions as kickbacks. Others also question the legitimacy of bloggers’ opinions, even when the commercial relationships are clearly outlined to readers.

And the Federal Trade Commission is taking a hard look at such practices and may soon require online media to comply with disclosure rules under its truth-in-advertising guidelines.

A draft of the new rules was posted for public comments this year and the staff is to make a formal recommendation to be presented to the commissioners for a vote, perhaps by early fall.

“Consumers have a right to know when they’re being pitched a product,” said Richard Cleland, an assistant director at the Federal Trade Commission.
Read the whole thing; I have a feeling bloggers are going to have to be aware of issues like these in the future.

Why? Well, for one example, I'm a homeschooling mom, and I sometimes mention, by name, some curricula or textbook I'm using. I've never been paid to mention anyone's product, and I'm free to praise or to criticize anything I like. But if the FTC starts keeping a close eye on bloggers and products, I might have to start any such post with a disclaimer to the effect that I'm giving my unsolicited opinion for which I have not been compensated in any way, or some such thing, before I mention any book or program I use.

Bloggers who review books might have to clarify whether they received the book gratis and whether they are being paid for the review. Same for mommy-bloggers who rave about a toy or safety product for toddlers, or for gardening bloggers who push a brand of seeds, or anybody who ever mentions a product.

What concerns me about this isn't that bloggers like the one mentioned in the above article are receiving free goods or services and/or being paid to discuss those goods or services in a positive light only; frankly, anyone savvy enough to turn on a computer successfully isn't likely to be naive enough to buy such "reviews" without the proverbial grain of salt. What concerns me is that people who aren't being paid to review products might have to think twice before recommending a book, or a movie, or a truly leak-proof toddler cup just because they like it; depending on how rules about product mentions are crafted in our legislature, bloggers may lose a little of their freedom of speech.

And that would be a shame. I can understand why some would be annoyed that the "blogomercials" out there aren't required to say up front, "Hey, I got this product for free, and the company will probably send me more free stuff and/or a check if I tell you how much I like it and to go buy it for yourself." But if too-stringent rules make it impossible for a thoughtful person to review a book, recommend a movie, or rave about the online outlet sale at their favorite casual clothing catalog company without having to load the post with disclaimers and legalese intended to clarify that no money, goods, or services changed hands in the process of creating the post, some people may start to be more hesitant about offering such honest opinions.

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