Last year I invited to speak at the a blogging and digital influence summit, and the conversation turned to blogger payments.
I was asked my opinion – should people expect to pay for travel blogging, and – if yes – would that compromise the integrity of any coverage?
I come from a journalistic background, so writing has always been a my full-time career and my source of income. I have 20 years of experience under my belt, and have been published in glossy magazines all over the world, including Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Psychologies, and the Guardian’s Weekend magazine.
While transitioning into lifestyle and travel blogging seven years ago I didn’t expect – or feel that I deserved – to get paid. Blogging was very young and not yet viewed as a real media outlet (if you’ve been around for a similar length of time you’ll remember the blank looks people used to give you when you said the ‘b’ word).
Besides which, my traffic and domain authority back then was non existent, so held no real value.
Today the story is very different; I took the big leap three years ago and blogging and social media is now my full time job, which means I need to get paid. But, more than that, I deserve to get paid. I apply the same time, effort and professionalism to my blogging posts that I always did with my magazine features.
My blog is well-established and highly ranked by Google, and I have a great social media following (21,500+ on Twitter and nearly 5000 on Facebook). If a brand or company receives some kind of benefit from me writing about them, why shouldn’t they pay for that privilege as they would with any other kind of media or advertising coverage?
At the conference we were talking specifically about travel – particularly relevant now, since more and more bloggers are now being invited on traditional press trips. The attitude of many of the bloggers who don’t come from professional writing backgrounds is that getting the holiday is ‘payment’ enough.
Which may be true if it’s one family jaunt a year and is saving you money you’d otherwise have forked out, but if you’re planning to make a genuine career out of travel blogging, you can’t pay the mortgage with air miles.
When I was a magazine writer, I’d pitch a story to a travel publication and if they liked it they’d agree to a fee. I’d take the trip, write the story, and receive the payment; I was getting the ‘holiday’ (although press trips involve a LOT more than just sitting around on sun loungers), plus I was earning money – not just breaking even.
However, the face of media has changed dramatically in the past five years, the biggest shift being that I publish my own stories now, via my blog. Obviously, I can’t pay myself, so who does pay me?
Tourism boards and operations might argue that it shouldn’t be them, because they’re already covering the cost of the press trip and have never paid in the past. Yet if they want quality, professional coverage they can’t expect people to give up days – even weeks – of their time for free. And here lies the quandary.
The move amongst the country’s elite travel bloggers is to charge a daily fee. Their (very valid) argument is that they now have monthly impressions to rival most print publications, and – even more importantly – their audience is highly engaged. An established travel blogger recently told me they ran the same promotional deal as a huge news website that gets millions of impressions every day; the news website gained the client five sales, while the travel blogger got them more than 700.
Why? Because the people who are coming to their site know exactly what they write about, and are coming specifically to read it. They already trust the knowledge and information they’re about to read, and they’re ready to absorb it. By contrast, a magazine covers a wide range of topics and not all of them will appeal to the reader – some stories will get bypassed altogether – so there’s no guarantee that the message will reach their audience.
Blogs are written in first person and based on the blogger’s own experiences. They’re more readily trusted as readers feel it’s written by someone they have a personal connection with, rather than an anonymous journalist.
So, the short answer is… yes. Those travel bloggers (and all other kinds) who are putting countless hours, effort and imagination into producing and promoting quality posts should get paid. My time, my experience, and my social and digital influence all have a value, and so does yours. The sooner we collectively make this clear, the sooner the industry will stop viewing bloggers as a way to get cheap – or free – advertorial.
Who foots the bill is something the industry needs to figure out, but a blogger shouldn’t end up out of pocket for advertising another company’s business or brand.
Which brings us to the next question: if you’re being paid or recompensed by the person you’re writing about, is the client essentially buying your positive feedback? Is it then impossible to be completely honest about your experience?
No, not at all.
Traditional journalists are sent on all-expenses paid press trips but are still trusted to present their experience in a truthful, and objective way; just because you’re getting a free holiday from a company doesn’t mean they control your editorial. Unless they’ve specifically commissioned you to write advertorial, and it’s clearly marked as such, it’s important – legally and morally – that you’re always honest and upfront with your readers (if there are any major issues outline your concerns, as it might be an anomaly they deserve the chance to respond to and/or rectify).
It’s up to each individual blogger to establish clear expectations and boundaries with the client from the outset, and to maintain their own integrity.
In journalism, and now also in blogging, your professional reputation will be the cornerstone of your success. Don’t sell yourself short, ethically OR financially.
What are your thoughts?