When I was forwarded the link to this story covering the latest controversy about Tumblr, I couldn’t help but be appalled. I wasn’t appalled by the fact that Tumblr was charging fashion brands for sponsored coverage by bloggers. I think that’s a fine idea, quite frankly. While many brands will get coverage anyway by virtue of the journalists and bloggers already writing about the shows, it never hurts to insure coverage with sponsored posts.
No, what I was appalled by was the fact that these monetary benefits weren’t trickling down to the bloggers. As I sat and thought about it some more, I realized that my issue with this situation was born out of familiarity. Sadly, I recognize it all too well.
This type of situation happens all of the time within the mom blogosphere. It happens so much, in fact, that unless something REALLY egregious takes place, it’s not even covered anymore. Every day, mom bloggers are asking to work for free (in return for “exposure”), work for gift cards, work for the CHANCE to POSSIBLY win a gift card, work for spa treatments, or work for a “trip” (usually to a company headquarters).
The fact that this practice has now spread to other verticals within the blogosphere is actually good news. Perhaps it means that something will change. One can only hope. Sadly, though, as long as ANY blogger continues to work for non-monetary items, I fear that the practice will continue. As I tell the bloggers I represent, as soon as you accept non-monetary compensation from a brand in return for a post, my ability to demand money from ANOTHER brand for a post decreases dramatically. Let’s look at an example. Suppose a blogger is contacted by a fabulous clothing company who offers her free clothing in return for coverage. Sounds great, right? She writes the post, she gets the clothing, everyone is happy. Not me! What I see is potential revenue going down the drain. As soon as a blogger writes a post for free clothing, my ability to turn to ANY OTHER clothing retailer and charge actual cash for content diminishes dramatically.
This is exactly what Tumblr attempted with their fashion bloggers. By offering up these amazing and talented bloggers for non-cash benefits, they diminished their value. It’s sad, it’s shortsighted, and it didn’t have to happen. Tumblr ABSOLUTELY deserved to benefit if they took on the task of selling in this product, but this benefit needs to trickle down to those actually providing the content and influence. Maybe Tumblr charges more, or maybe they take less themselves. There are numerous solutions here.
What do you guys think about this? Should the fashion bloggers of Tumblr expect to receive monetary compensation above and beyond the significant benefit of attending Fashion Week? If not, is it OK for Tumblr to benefit monetarily themselves? And where do we draw the line? How do we determine the value of 1. a blogger, and 2. a benefit. If Fashion Week tickets are OK, are gift cards OK too? Have YOU taken non-monetary compensation in return for content?