Thursday, 22 January 2015

Discussion: The Role of Bloggers in Publicity

Yesterday, the fab ladies of Cuddlebuggery raised the question of bloggers getting paid to host content (guest posts, interviews, blog tours, etc.) by publishers. This lead to a number of discussions about publicity and payment and what's going on in other blogging-spheres and other parts of the publishing media industry.

There were some really good points made for bloggers getting paid - it does happen fairly often in other blogging circles. And some bloggers put a lot of money into their blogs - hosting their website, shipping for giveaways, going to conferences, travel, etc. - but don't see much back from just ad revenue. Bloggers and reviewers are compensated in some channels, so why not the average book blogger?

As much as I love the idea of getting compensated for this in more than just books (and trust me, my bank account would be SO HAPPY), I just don't think it's a viable option.

For one thing, it is possible to blog pretty cheaply. Lanna and I have been at this blog for about 6 years and we don't pay for hosting, our stat trackers or follower methods. We don't do many self hosted giveaways. I only go to BEA and NYCC because I live in NYC and therefore don't pay for accommodations, just the actual badge. I only went to ALAMW because bus fare was cheap an so was registration and then I was able to crash in a hotel with some friends - meaning it was split 5 ways. I probably paid $100 for the whole thing (which is actually less than I pay to go to BEA).

Putting money into your blog for anything besides the actual books is a choice you don't have to make to have a successful or long term blog. And even as far as the books go - my publishing connections, the friends I've made, and the conferences I go to provide me with PLENTY of books, so I don't need to buy as many. I can save my money for authors and books that I love and decrease my chances at being disappointed in a book I bought (which, as mentioned, I can't really afford to do much).

There's also just too many book bloggers at this point. Book bloggers are still valuable for creating buzz in the blogging community and in our own communities, but it can also become a bit of an echo chamber here. And there are so many bloggers, you can't get a consensus. If a large group of bloggers started saying they wanted compensation, there would still be dozens of other bloggers who would be happy to do it for free. 

But for everything else, I'm going to have to take off my blogger cap and put on the cap of someone who's worked in publishing and has many friends to gossip about publishing with.

Why do other industries offer up paid/sponsored content? Because they can afford to. Book publishing is a tricksy beast and the publicists are just the people bloggers interact with most. When a book is acquired, the marketing and publicity teams figure out what they can give to that book as far as plans and budgets go. You can see the basic plan, and get an idea of what budget might exist, if you look at the back of most ARCs. Publicists don't see that money. If it's paid for, it's a marketing thing, not publicity. This is why a lot of publicists can create bookmarks and offer up blog tours and review copies, but that's about it. 

So if book bloggers started charging, it would cut back greatly on what books publicists can promote. As I mentioned above, the word of mouth promo bloggers provide is still highly valuable and publicists want to use it. But they don't have any money to offer.  The focus would stay on the big outlets like Hypable, EW, Fangirlish, Bustle etc. that don't charge. Yes, their writers are paid to feature the books that they feature, but not by publicists. And they have SO many books to cover and so little space, it means even more books lose exposure.

I know it can feel sometimes like blogs have become this free labor for publishers, and in a way, I understand. Years of terrible pitches or really random ones and unsolicited books we'd never touch do make it seem like we're not really appreciated by publicists - but again, we can't fault publicists. I've worked in two different houses and have heard plenty about other houses and it's totally fair to say that a lot of publishing houses have understaffed publicity departments  - especially in the YA community. YA has grown so quickly that publishers just can't keep enough publicists on staff to cover everything fairly. This means that publicists can't always personalize everything, they can't reply to all of our emails, and they're not going to get every pitch or book mailing right on for everyone. It doesn't mean publicists hate you or bloggers or don't care about books - nobody gets into publishing for the money, you have to love it - but they're kind of swamped. Bloggers aren't the only thing most publicists are balancing to promote their titles and sometimes, they come last. Publicists are just trying to stick to the plan laid out for the book or they're trying to get a book as wide an audience as possible because they love it. I also know from experience that if a blogger asks for compensation, the offer will be rescinded or an offer of review/giveaway copies will be made again. It's nothing against you, it's just policy and lack of money to offer.

So, yes, bloggers put a lot in to what we do. And yes, sometimes it does seem like publishers don't appreciate what bloggers can do and don't respect bloggers. But if bloggers are charging and all of the online focus turns to a few titles, bloggers go back to a problem many of us are even more concerned about - the books we never hear about. Entire publishing houses seem not to exist, all of their books foreign, because they don't have any blogger outreach. Other titles are swallowed up by the sheer number coming out from certain imprints or houses. And sometimes, titles just get lost because publicists can only do so much. This is something we've discussed quite a bit recently, the trend of bloggers not knowing about books, and therefore being unable to read and discuss them. This would become even more common if bloggers start charging for promo on a larger scale.

I'm not saying that what bloggers do isn't valuable and that no compensation is needed - it would be amazing, like I mentioned. I just don't think it's feasible if we, as a community, want to continue to promote books that need it most. The only way that would change would be if publishers restructured how their publicity departments function, but as YA book sales continue to rise, I don't see that happening any time soon for YA. Publishers won't change a system that's working. Maybe in other categories and genres they can - I'm not as well versed in their success - but it doesn't look promising.

At the end of the day, as bloggers, we have to decide what's best for us and our individual blogs. For Lanna and I, it means not putting much money into it and reviewing what we want to review. Any guest posts, cover reveals, or interviews are things we agreed to for our own reasons, but we probably turn down 2 or 3 times as many as we accept or invite. You can decide to completely cut off ties with publishers or publicity companies, or cut off ties with certain ones, you can be selective, or you can invite in whoever. Your blogging space is your blogging space and you have to decide what role you want your blog to play in this community. I just wouldn't expect to see any sponsored or paid content coming to blogs any time soon.

--Julie

Lanna:
Julie said it all pretty well, so I'll try not to repeat what she's already said.

What it comes down to for me mostly is that I don't trust paid reviews. One of the reasons I love book blogging and trust book bloggers opinions more is because we do this because of our love of books...money generally isn't the motivating factor.

I don't trust reviews from people whose job it is to review books, because I don't trust money not to influence what they write. To me, they're like the book review equivalent of presenters on shopping channels -- they're talking up a product, but it's because it's their job and they're paid to do it (while if a friend said to me, "You should try this thing, it's awesome!" I know it's genuine). If I personally don't like to read paid reviews, then it would be totally hypocritical of me to take money to publicize books.

Plus, on a personal level, I think money would ruin book blogging for me. Back when publishers were sending out floods of unsolicited ARC's (instead of their new method of letting bloggers tell them the books they're interested in), it sucked so much fun out of blogging. It made reading feel more like a chore than something I was doing because I wanted to. I always felt so much pressure. And if I hated a book? I'd feel so guilty about writing a review of it.

I imagine being paid to do this would feel like that too, only much worse.

And Julie is right...blogging doesn't have to be an expensive thing. Hell, you don't even need to spend a load of money on books either if you don't have it (used books are really cheap, there's libraries, and then there's sites like Edelweiss and Netgalley, and there's always cheap/free e-books on offer).

Blogging is something we choose to do, no one is forcing us and no one is forcing anyone to spend money on their blogs if they don't want to. No one is forcing us to be on the mailing lists of publishers, we put ourselves there.

Being a part of this community, getting to see a side to publishing a lot of the general public don't get to, getting sent books to review...all of that is more than enough for me. I only started blogging to talk about books I love with some like-minded online friends, everything since then has just been a bonus.

I've seen quite a few tweets talking about how other types of bloggers (beauty bloggers, for example) have made businesses out of what they do so why shouldn't book bloggers? But then, plenty of book bloggers have. Some have started freelance work (Julie is currently at school pursuing a career in publishing and is also a freelance editor), some sell bookmarks and book-related things on Etsy, some have started up their own e-magazines...there's even some who have become authors themselves. No one is saying you can't find a way to make money off of your hobby, it's just about finding the right way to do it.

If any bloggers are charging for their services* then that's fair enough. I'm not going to judge them harshly for it, they're just not the kind of blogs I'd personally like to read and it's not the kind of blogger I want to be which is a decision we all have to make for ourselves. And on that note...



Later.

*Please note, I'm just talking about talking money from authors/publishers, it's not talking about the blogs that have ads (although we don't do that either, it's different).

2 comments:

  1. I think these are all really great points. I would love to get paid for my work but there's something a little sketchy about the idea. There's something so amazing about pushing a book you love just for the pure pleasure of wanting to share it with the world. But if you got paid for it? Would you still love it or would all your thoughts be clouded by the money. There are certain things I can imagine getting paid for…interviews, maybe? Ads? Some features? Just not reviews and recommendations.

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  2. I love this post Julie. I think you said everything brilliantly.

    The big question I have is: why should bloggers get paid? People complain about spending money on hosting, giveaways, conventions, etc. but they are CHOOSING to do that. Nobody is making them. They don't have to go to conventions, they don't have to host giveaways, and they don't have to use self-hosted WP.

    I think it's silly for people to do something that they WANT to do and then complain about how they're not getting paid for it. It's like taking a vacation and then trying to find some way to get that money back. It was a VACATION. You took it because you wanted to.

    I think book blogging as a hobby is no different. It's not something you have to do, it's not something you have to spend money doing, but people WANT to because they enjoy it and want to do it a certain way. But they certainly don't have to.

    I think the same can be said for ARCs, publicity, etc. Book bloggers complain about publicists treating them like employees or having expectations, etc. But book bloggers don't HAVE to do anything. They don't have to be in that scene if they don't want to be. But many book bloggers CHOOSE to accept ARCs and CHOOSE to go on blog tours. That's what makes them a voluntary part of a marketing campaign. But they don't have to do any of that. If a blogger feels like he/she is being taken advantage of, they can stop requesting ARCs, stop doing blog tours, and stop doing promo posts.

    Sure it would be nice to be paid doing what you love, but I think bloggers should drop the thinking that they SHOULD be paid. It would be NICE to be paid, but that's all. It would be NICE to be paid doing any hobby that you love, but that doesn't mean you will be or should be.

    Heck, it would be nice to be paid to go on vacations all the time, but that's not going to happen.

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