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What are Bloggers worth?

Rage Against Sponsored Posts / AKA Highway Robbery

Before folks get their panties all wadded up, I want to give a little disclaimer. This post is NOT directed at anyone specifically. I see sponsored posts like the ones I’m talking about below all. the. time. in the sewing blogging world. So if you/your friend happened to post one today or yesterday or last week, don’t take it personally. If anything, I’m saying you should be making MORE for your hard work! And no, I don’t judge anyone for making money off their blogs. After all, I make money off of mine, too. I’m simply saying that advertisers should be paying for all our hard work. That is all. :)

This post WAS partially inspired by this post on Decor8. 

I want to talk about something today that really irks me: underpaid (and often unrelated) sponsored posts.

But first, I want to take you back to 2007. In 2007, I was working as an account executive at a regional advertising agency making roughly $65K a year. I had great health insurance, a 401K, lots of paid lunches and other perks…you know, the works. I had a master’s degree in advertising management, and I was great at what I did. Of course, I worked with a team of talented people – graphic designers, developers, media planners, creative directors, research specialists and assistants who all worked to put together ad campaigns for our clients. My coworkers made anywhere from about $30K/year (as an assistant) to $150K+ (upper-level account supervisors and such).

And our clients? They were mostly medium-sized businesses that were well-known in the western U.S. – regional banks, multi-level marketing companies, medical device manufacturers, restaurant chains, etc. These were companies that were doing well but that weren’t in the Fortune 500. But they had tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on advertising every year. In fact, I was in charge of writing estimates for clients, and often just the planning portion of the process was in the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s not including money spent purchasing magazine ads, billboard space and radio airtime.

You got that? (Don’t worry; it will all make sense shortly.)

Now, let’s talk about how advertising cost is calculated. Usually, media is evaluated in terms of cost per thousand. For example, if a magazine ad costs $8,890 for a full page in four-color and reaches 83,000 people (numbers taken from Sew News Magazines 2014 Media Kit), it has a cost per thousand (or CPM) of about $107. Do the math – $8,890 divided by 83 thousands is $107.10.

Typically, television advertising has a high overall cost but a low CPM since it has the tendency to reach more people per dollar spent. Newspaper advertising, on the other hand, has both a low overall cost AND a low CPM since it’s relatively inexpensive and reaches a lot of people (well, it did in 2007…now, not so much).

Now, let’s get to the topic at hand: sponsored blog posts. I recently joined the blogger network of a media company (that shall remain unnamed since they seem like a good company and such) that hooks up bloggers with brands who are hoping to pay for reviews of their products. The idea is that the blogger pitches the company with a creative idea – a story if you will – that they will sort of create, photograph and write about on their blogs. The hope is that their loyal followers will become interested in the brand and purchase the product in the post.

In the case where a company contacts a blogger directly, the product is usually related to the blogger’s usual content – say, sewing blogger reviews fabric/iron/scissors/dress form/etc. But in the case of the media companies hooking up bloggers with brands, I usually see more general-interest products like popsicles or markers or…I dunno…air freshener spray.

For example, a granola bar company might work with the media group to find bloggers to create a mini-campaign for their product. The blogger submits her pitch to the media company, and if selected, she gets to work on the post. She is to purchase her own box of granola bars, stage the use of said granola bars in a creative way, photograph the use and then blog about it. Perhaps she writes a story about how her kids have swim practice every Thursday and are just STARVING at the end, and the granola bars save the day. Not very creative, I know, but you get my drift.

And how much does the blogger get paid for this? From what I’ve seen, it’s typically about $150-$200 per post. Using the same CPM calculation as before, if her post gets 2,000 views (and that’s REALLY conservative for most bigger bloggers), that’s a CPM of $100 at the upper end ($200 divided by 2 thousands = $100). (The brand also has to pay the media company that made the blogger/brand connection, but I’m simplifying this process a little for brevity.)

Hmmm…so that’s roughly the same CPM as a magazine ad, right? But wait…these companies are asking bloggers to be the creative director, photographer, graphic designer AND copywriter for these mini campaigns. Instead of just sending over camera-ready art (that’s the ad term for ads that are ready to be inserted into the magazine, usually in PDF format), these bloggers must create the whole campaign and execute on it.

Bloggers spend hours and hours putting together these ideas and creating the content for these posts – and that’s not even considering the YEARS of work they’ve done to build up their hundreds of thousands of pageviews per month (for the bigger bloggers). Think about all the tutorials, free patterns, linky parties, giveaways and other free content they’ve created over YEARS to build up an audience for these multi-national, Fortune 500 conglomerates to pay them a measly $150 to advertise their product. Yet bloggers doing the job of all those people in ad agencies that make respectable full-time salaries doing basically the same job. (See above.)

It’s highway robbery, y’all! And it seriously needs to change!

But you know what? If big companies can get away with it, they will. And no, I’m not blaming the media companies that hook up bloggers with brands. They are a necessary (and appreciated) part of the equation. Change starts with bloggers. 

Now, I know what some of you are going to say: “But I’d kill to make $150 or $200 every month or two off my blog!” Well, I’m guessing that if that’s your attitude, you probably aren’t a big blogger anyway, and you probably aren’t getting selected for these types of campaigns. That’s just a fact. But even if you ARE a smaller blogger and are getting picked for these campaigns, YOU SHOULD BE DEMANDING MORE. 

Sure, there are times when I/you are probably happy to write a review for free – you know, when you just love your iron and are happy to blog about how awesome it is even though you aren’t getting paid for it and even bought the iron with your own hard-earned dollar. But that’s different – that’s just you creating content. What I’m talking about is companies who actively seek out bloggers with which to “partner” and want you to deviate from your normal editorial content to write a post about them/their product. I can usually spot these posts from a mile away, and honestly, they usually seem a bit contrived (but hey, that’s just me, and that’s not the point of this post). You get my drift.

And there are other times when blogging for free makes sense in terms of building up credibility or working toward making OTHER, more lucrative partnerships. An example would be writing for a much larger blog or company that’s related to your own content (sewing machine companies, bigger sewing blogs, etc.).

Or hey, maybe you are just a hobby blogger who could care less about making money from your blog. But if that’s the case, I’m guessing you aren’t getting offers for these kinds of deals. And if you are…please, for the rest of us who ARE trying to profit from our content, PLEASE help us to set the compensation bar a little higher so everyone benefits. (And you can always use more fabric money, right?!)

But in the case of huge companies capitalizing on bloggers’ years of hard work and desire to make any money possible to help support their families, I am disgusted. (And you should be, too!)

So please, bloggers: Stop apologizing for wanting to make money off your YEARS of hard work. (I saw this over and over at SNAP Conference last year.) Stop feeling guilty for contributing to the family budget. And start asking for what you’re worth. Don’t accept a measly $150 (or even free product?!) to promote a brand that’s completely or only tangentially related to your blog. Demand that these companies pay for the services rendered, and learn to value yourself for all you have to offer. (Or just figure out a better, more authentic way to make money from your talents!)

These companies know how much you’re worth…so why don’t you? 

  • Gillian

    Oh I do so love it when you are opinionated! Keep it up. :) Such an important discussion to have! (I’ve never been approached to do sponsered posts, but I did sell handmade goods at a local boutique, ands topped because I wasn’t getting enough to make it worthwhile, and I won’t work for that much less than I’m worth!)

  • Deby Coles

    Sadly, while there are bloggers out there happy to put in the hours of work on a sponsored post for $50 (or a couple of yards of fabric), then this keeps the bar low for the rest of us and means that only those bloggers get the work, therefore reinforcing that this is the correct rate of pay for that work.
    In the commercial world there will always be people who are willing to undercut you to get the job, but as bloggers we are working against each other and ourselves by continually doing this and forcing down those rates. It’s like price-fixing in reverse.
    I totally agree with your sentiment – stop doing it, and ask for what we are all worth, and then we will get it. But while there are bloggers out there struggling to make a living or an income, then to them $50 is better than asking for much more and losing out on that income. Time are hard, and people can’t afford to turn down work. It’s as much an economic issue about women being undervalued in the workplace as it is about being paid to blog.

  • Toni Barsi

    Bless your heart Lauren! You’re the best! I don’t write sponsored posts (wouldn’t want to) and honestly don’t read them anymore either. They’ve all just become too ridiculous and fake lately. I mean I understand that bloggers what to make a little extra cash (who doesn’t?), but when I scroll through my feed and 37 different craft/sewing bloggers are trying to convince me that they LOVE xyz brand ham…Seriously? I just tune out and delete them all. Like you said – if it’s a review for a sewing machine or iron, that’s one thing, but I don’t follow bloggers because I want to hear which brand of diapers they were paid to praise this week. And if you’re posting 2 or 3 sponsored posts a week, I’m afraid I’m going to have to unfollow you no matter how much I love you. I just don’t have that kind of time to waste. Don’t even get me started on giveaways with 2dozen hosts and 50,000 ways to enter! 9_9

  • Debbie Iles

    Great post. I do agree wholeheartedly with you and with Gillian and Toni. I get the reasoning behind sponsored posts, but I’ll be honest and say that I just delete those posts before I even read them these days. I want bloggers to make the money they are worth, but I suspect advertising agencies just use bloggers to do their dirty work for them, and it’s probably irking more than selling. I don’t particularly like to be sold to in blog land, which I’ve entered in the name of support, learning and inspiration, but thankfully I have a choice whether I click through to read the posts or not. But advertising happens in blog world all the time – think ‘pattern testers’ and ‘tours’ and ‘giveaways. Again, I read the first one or two, but after a while they start to drive me nuts, clog up my blog roll and I press delete. But all of this doesn’t actually bother me too much. It’s still sewing related. I can, and will, easily delete the posts and bloggers that can’t maintain their own unique content. But what I do find offense with, is bloggers who promote products or expertise (and sometimes misinformation) in an area completely unrelated to their area of expertise/content, because an advertiser has noticed that they have followers in the demographics they want.

    • Toni Barsi

      Oh, good point Debbie! The pattern tours, testers, etc. can get a bit tedious if they drag on for too long, but I can completely understand why the blogger would want/need to promote all the hard work they’ve done. I might not read every single post, but at least it still makes sense to our niche. Promoting yourself is far more understandable than promoting dish soap. (at least to me)

  • April

    Great post! I too used to work for a small ad agency and know exactly what goes into those ads. And I remember clients constantly balking at the prices. I will admits to being turned off by sponsored posts that don’t seem to relate to blog content at all. And I’m so glad that you pointed out all the jobs a blogger is undertaking for these posts and they most definitely should be compensated at a much higher rate!

  • Shaffer Sisters

    Wow. I love this post I did PR and advertising as my minor in college so I was totally digging the CPM numbers. The unrelated stuff is harder for me to stomach than the stuff where a crafter receives supplies for real content. Then I heard about one blogger who paid for her kitchen remodel with the sponsored posts and I thought good for you. I think that sewing blogging hasn’t been as inundated with this as many of the other markets.

    • Rae Hoekstra

      there definitely seems to be more $$ in the DIY/Design/Home realms, probably because the sewing niche is a smaller audience

  • Juliette Bonnin Lanvers

    Lauren, I do also love when you get opinionated even when I don’t agree with everything! This time though I follow you completely. I am not a “big blogger” but I do get occasional work from my blog and as you know a MASSIVE BERNINA sponsorship. I was so very fortunate to have started blogging a long time ago, when less fish were in the pond. Even with such a dream product to talk about I struggle. What is there to say? “the machine was again today awesomer than anything I have ever had the misfortune to sew with before”…. terrible. Thankfully BERNINA doesn’t pressure me much in that direction, I do other work for them to pay for the privilege. HOWEVER, I get asked to contribute projects to larger sites for free/peanuts, just because it will “benefit my blog”. Let me laugh! My answer has always been NO THANK YOU. Additionally I was really put off recently when a certain magazine asked me to review and promote their publication but had to “think about it” when I told them I would at least require a subscription! Completely unprofessional if you ask me…

  • Rae Hoekstra

    I am in complete agreement that bloggers should stop apologizing for wanting to be paid for what they do. I just get stuck on the details of “you should be demanding more.” The *idea* here seems sound, but I rarely seen this principle play out effectively in real life.

    It seems to me that the advertising situation online (whether it be ad network, direct sponsorships, or sponsored posts) comes down to supply and demand — if there is a huge supply of bloggers trying to make money blogging, it drive the price of online advertising down. Short of figuring out how to get every blogger to band together so that demanding more will do more than just send advertisers to other publishers, I’m not convinced that speaking out or demanding more does a whole lot except benefit someone in the very short term. Having sponsored posts also changes the nature of a blog which can lower readership — it’s a turnoff to constantly see Swiff3r or Lys0l posts, so I hate to say it but I unfollow those folks; it’s totally hypocritical since I want them to make money, but I also just don’t LIKE reading sponsored posts. Direct sponsorships is tough because small shops can’t afford to spend lots of money on blog advertising, and ad network income is lower than ever. All of these things add up to not a whole lot of power for the blogger when it comes to income.

    Companies have definitely figured out that getting bloggers to TALK about their stuff is the best way to go — I’m just always curious to hear about bloggers who *want* that type of work, who have a quality blog that really stands out, and who actually get a good rate (it’s not my personal line of work). Seeing Juliette working with Bernina (comment above) in a win-win situation seems to be the exception rather than the rule. You go Juliette!!! :)

  • Justine

    For me sponsored posts aren’t worth it most of the time, and being a sewing blogger, it’s hard to find campaigns with those ad campaign companies that fit with my niche. But I understand those who do it and I think there can be a good balance. But many bloggers expect so little in exchange for posts that they have set the bar low for others. I’ve asked for more on occasion for tutorials and articles on other sites, and sometimes they say yes and sometimes no. Never accept the first offer is what I say.

  • Charity

    I’m one of the people whose blog is small enough that I don’t get any offers…. but if I ever do, I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to how much my time is worth, thanks to this post. And I’ve already decided that I must write at least 5 normal posts for every sponsored post, probably more, and must not write about things that don’t fit with my blog. No diaper posts for me, thanks!

  • Meghan Cooper

    Great post. We talked about this at a recent conference and it changed my thinking completely. The next month I got my biggest contract.

  • Dani Faust

    Fabulous!! I’m upping my rates TODAY! xo!

  • avengeflipper

    It seems Gather has disappeared. I haven’t been on the site in ages. I went back to it to take off some of my old writings and I can’t even log in. But, I can still find the things I wrote in a search. Frustrating to say the least.