Why Do Bloggers Continue to Work for Free?

by Melanie Edwards on September 8, 2010 · 88 comments

in Blogging

Bloggers Working for Free

About five months ago, I shared with you how I was offered to work for food…literally. In exchange for seven blog posts for a brand (in one week), I was offered $200 worth of their food products. Promoting a brand for free – on that scale – was not something I could agree to do.

In those five months, I’ve seen many more paid campaigns and sponsored content become available – both to me and blogging friends. We’ve seen more brand ambassador campaigns that value the work required and partner with a blogger over the course of a month or more in a variety of ways, including sponsored posts, advertising, and hosting twitter parties.

Progress. Yet, with all that progress and change towards more respect for bloggers’ work, there are some campaigns out there still being pitched to bloggers that take advantage. Just last week, I received an offer to be part of a community that will be relaunching soon and is geared for moms. Without naming names again, the site is a fairly new community backed by a high-profile TV personality and network. The idea being pitched to me was as follows:

  • We want to build a community and educate moms on money matters.
  • We’re looking for a group of 15 moms who will be highlighted on the site.
  • Requirement from each of the 15 moms: write 3-4 articles per month (250-300 words each) on micro-site and moderate comments on each post
  • Benefits for each of the 15 moms:
    • profile with bio
    • 2 sentence by-line on each article
    • site will be promoted on TV show of said personality and on sponsor’s site

As soon as the person pitching me asked, “So, what do you think? Are you interested?” I answered with “So, it’s not a compensated project?” I could not wrap my head around the fact that they wanted me to create content for their site on a weekly basis, with no compensation. What’s more, these 15 moms were really being brought on to build a community that thus far had not succeeded with the TV personality alone. They needed the help of these 15 moms to bring a community to the site. The allure of my bio being on this high-profile TV personality’s site and the promise of the site being promoted on the TV show was somehow supposed to be enough compensation.

What surprised me even more was that I was told they already had the majority of the 15 moms on board and were in the process of finalizing the team, so they need my answer ASAP. Really? There was already a set of 10+ moms out there that had agreed to this? Why?

Ladies, why are you agreeing to work for free? Writing 3-4 articles per month takes time. It may only take you an hour per article, but that’s still time taken away from your already-busy lives. Plus, you are contributing to the success of the overall site, which has sponsors and advertisements – all money that you’re never going to see, but instead is going into the pocket of an already high-profile TV personality. Does that seem fair?

Why is it that they could not budget out a specific amount to pay the 15 moms that will be building the community for them? And if the budget did not allow for fair pay for 15 moms, then perhaps the amount of moms brought onto the team could have been less in order to meet the budget constraints. I know of blogs/communities owned by fellow moms and bloggers that pay their contributors. How is it that a site backed by a TV personality and network could not afford to do so?

On the other hand, perhaps the community owners were ill-advised. Maybe it was never suggested to them that they should pay for such work and were going along with what the social media consultant was proposing. It could very well be that this particular consultant was advising them to gather a group of moms to write free content for them in exchange for the exposure. And why wouldn’t they think it to be fine? After all, there is a group of 15 moms out there that did agree to do just that!

And, so the cycle continues. If bloggers continue to work for free, then consultants, brands, and companies, will continue to think that it’s the way to conduct business.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. How would you have handled such a pitch had it been offered to you? Why do you think that bloggers continue to accept non-compensated projects and work for free?

Liked this? Share the love!

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous September 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Wow Melanie! I can’t believe all these non-paid offers. To me 3-4 times a week is sooo much! I don’t even write everyday for my own blog! I would definitely said no + like you mention, it’s a TV network and TV personality, I’m sure they are receiving money for that!!
Thanks for talking about this and making everybody else aware.

Reply

2 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Dariela, just to clarify, they were asking for 3-4 times per month, not week. But, still, it’s a consistent gig (not a 1 time post).

Reply

3 Rachel White September 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I think its pretty humorous that they expected you to do this work for nothing. Its sad that they already found the other 10+ moms to do it for free. I have come to the conclusion that some may work for free in exchange for exposure but at the same time we as bloggers should know our worth.

Great article Melanie.

Reply

4 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Yes, I really hope it works out for the 15 who agreed to do it .

Reply

5 Surina September 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Great article! I only wish that my blog was up to par to even consider offers!

Reply

6 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

One day! :)

Reply

7 Rachel Mátos September 8, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I understand if you do these jobs IF you are starting out and want to get some experience under your belt. However, if you have an established readership and are being sought after because of it – then compensation is to be expected.

Reply

8 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm

It’s a cycle, isn’t it? But, you’re right.

Reply

9 Mommy Mix Up September 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Wow, well put. As a new blogger I never really thought about this issue as much. Realistically, I’ve been concerned with ways to get my blog infront of as many people as possible. Up until now, if that meant doing a few “free” jobs, then I was all for it – in theory. Now, I must admit as a working mom and blogger I could not have committed to what these people were suggesting. But I may have come up with some variation. I’d have to agree we all know time is money, especially when you have a family.

To comment on why bloggers work for free, from a new bloggers perspective, I would consider working for free if I thought it was a feasible way to get my foot in the door. By no means would it have occoured to me that my eagerness to be a recognized blogger would hinder the compensation process for other bloggers. So, my question to you would be: What would be a good alternative/option for new bloggers who are interested in taking on meaningful projects w/o doing so for free? (idea for a post perhaps :) )

Reply

10 Lucretia M Pruitt September 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Know your worth. Set an hourly rate for your work. Even if you don’t think you are worth much? How much could you make say, working for a fast food restaurant? Let’s say $8/hr – if it takes you at least an hour to do a well written, polished blog post? 3-4 per week = aroune $30/week. $135/mo. You’re supposed to moderate & build the community? Let’s add another minimum of 5 hrs a week… That’s $40/wk – or $180/mo – so you’re at $315/mo… that’s at $8/hr. You get no benefits. You have to pay your own taxes. You’re telling them that you are willing to work for less than a common office employee to be a writer and community manager. And you’re still at $315/mo.
Honestly? I charge $20-50/post if I’m working for a company. (Depends on the work involved.)

Set rates. Do the math. Reply with the math. Just saying “um, I want to get paid” doesn’t do it. Show the logic and you are far more likely to be met with “you know, that really is reasonable.”
If you aren’t? You probably shouldn’t consider working for the company.

Reply

11 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Lucretia gave you some decent advice. Even if you’re starting out and they’re asking for a longer-term commitment (which 3-4 times a month is), then you can charge for your time. Even starting out, you have something to show, otherwise they wouldn’t be approaching you, right? So, consider the work, your time, what you’ll get out of it, and that should help you make a decision.

Reply

12 Ana L. Flores September 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Excellent post, my friend!
Yes…bloggers continue to accept these offers because they are promised exposure. These offers will continue to become available as long as the blogger market continues to grow. I do understand how some newcomers might find this attractive. They might think it will help them build their profile, network and blogger “portfolio.” In some cases, it will…not always.
A more experienced blogger, like yourself, is in their own right to feel offended by an offer of this type.
I think every blogger/brand opportunity needs to be measured with it’s own stick.

I do agree with you that it’s in the brand’s best interest to offer some type of compensation…really, they can’t afford at least $20 per post?!

We are one of those blogs you mention that pay their five regular contributors per post. Even if it came out of my own pocket, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Reply

13 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

It’s just pure respect sometimes.

Reply

14 kia September 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I am by no means a high-profile blogger and this seems crazy to me too. The only campaign I have done was paid and it wasn’t even through my site. It would seem to me that doing something through my site would require some compensation because my name is tied to my site. But then again I suppose you need to go to why people blog. In this case if it is just an ego massage then I can see people saying yes because as a business model for profit or as a way of fairly using your time it is a big fail.

Reply

15 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Whether on your site and especially when on their site, if you’re doing long-term work for promoting a brand/company, then that merits compensation.

Reply

16 Marci September 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

No doubt! This angers me. There are bloggers out there who love to receive products for free and then write a review on them. I can’t justify giving these companies free advertisement. If ALL bloggers would unite and start charging it would be better for us all! Uggh, I could talk about this for hours, so I’m gonna go do something productive now!

Reply

17 Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Actually charging for reviews is considered unethical and most large companies would never agree to pay for a review. A paid review is simply an advertorial and when money is accepted it muddies the waters.

Reviews are done for the benefit of readers. However, if you use your blog to host a giveaway and manage that giveaway it would/should be compensated.

Reply

18 Texasholly September 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I think there is a definite blurring of lines between what is a review and what is an advertorial. If someone is giving you something to do a review on and expecting something to be published on a timeline…isn’t that an advertorial instead???

Reply

19 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

If you have a “timeline”, then there should be a contract involved and pay – usually this happens when the review is part of a bigger campaign. If a product is just provided for you to review, there should be no obligation for you to write about it.

Reply

20 Jackie Tithof Steere September 11, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Sounds like we need a union! :)

Reply

21 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Like Alli said, strictly doing a product review for pay is not the norm in the blogging community. However, if it’s part of a bigger campaign, then a review may be incorporated into the overall work done for that company/brand.

Reply

22 Angela R September 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Is this the new Suze Orman site – MoneyMindedMoms? I recently heard about it and was offered – yahoo! – a free book download for joining the site. And WOOT – she has FREE coupons available on her site! (Heavy doses of sarcasm here.) Guess what – the coupons on her site are the same ones on MY site (and affiliate links, too). And the same coupons you could find on just about any couponing site out there. I told the group that emailed me I’d do a compensated, honest review of the site, but guess what? They weren’t accepting compensated reviews at this time. Ohhh…..I see. So because I have a blog, you think I’d be excited to share this “exciting new” site for free? UGH. Honestly, this insults my worth as a blogger.

Think Suze’s working for free? She knows too much about money to work for free, but it’s too bad she thinks other people can work under her for free. Sort of an ironic idea for a site, no?

I don’t know that this is the site you’re referencing, but it just goes to show you’re not the only one who’s been asked to work/promote/blog for free.

Reply

23 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

You’re right – I’m not the only one. I know of plenty of similar cases. Good for you for replying with your rates.

Reply

24 Tiffany September 8, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I’m tired of these kinds of pitches too. Recently, I got a pitch from a very large food company, which is part of a mega-large company. They wanted me to write 3-4 times per week for 11 weeks on my own blog about their product, with original recipes and photos. They wanted me to encourage my readers to visit their site. The compensation offered? Coupons and free product samples of a product I can buy for about $2. No thanks.

Reply

25 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Wow! 3-4 times per week for 11 weeks??? That is dominating your blog and should actually be a sponsorship of your site.

Reply

26 Carrie September 8, 2010 at 6:57 pm

It’s just all kinds of sad. I miss the days when I got a really nice paycheck for my brains and experience. Even as a freelancer, I am tired of folks wanting to get it for nothing…and as a blogger, I am way over pitches to work for free or coupons. No gracias…

Thanks for sharing the story, Melanie…

Reply

27 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

It does get tiring…as you said.

Reply

28 Monica September 8, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Yes, yes. There was a stage years ago when I first began blogging, when I would have considered this a good opportunity. But they should certainly have more respect for established bloggers who have already worked their tails off to create their own niche and following. It is a freebie. They want your readers without having to work for them. Tsk, tsk…

Reply

29 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Exactly. They want my community on their site.

Reply

30 Anonymous September 8, 2010 at 8:29 pm

As time goes on more and more companies are discovering that you really do get what you pay for. The school of thought is based on old media techniques where there is an organization structure within a company. Digital publishers and bloggers do not have an editor who pays them for their time. Joining a campaign in an earned media (word of mouth = unpaid) is a smart way to get a foot in the door when working with companies as a new blogger.

When traffic is built and the blog/person’s influence is greater it is a perfect time to say, “I (Fill in the blank- Create Content, Videos, Integrated Campaigns. These are my rates for (fill in tactics). Here are case studies that show what I have done in the past.” Because of a history of professionalism and results it is a smart business decision to hire the person and/or person’s blog.

Just like we all know “driving traffic back to your blog” is code for no compensation and never really drives more than a few clicks, we also know bloggers must be willing to say no. Saying yes to every opportunity simply dilutes someone’s individual brand. Why would companies invest in someone who uses their site content and social media outlets as a billboard for multiple brands? When I create campaigns I always research the individual bloggers. Has that person recently promoted a competitor of my client? Does the person dilute their brand by constantly RTing spammy tweets, or fill up blog content with poorly done sponsored posts? These are issues that must be considered before choosing and hiring (for actual money) anyone for a campaign.

Now this is obviously an outrageous case of stepping over the line, Melanie. When any company suggests creating content (articles, videos, photos) for their site without compensation that is simply bad business. Often it is not the brand who does this, but the PR agency (or worse a shoestring blogger/marketer who deals in ‘blogger outreach’). When an agency suggests this type of activity it reflects poorly on the brand.

It will come down to the bottom line. What results are produced by bloggers who agree to work uncompensated. Disappointing results hurt everyone involved. Why would large brands continue to sign off on campaigns run by a third party that deliver lackluster results.

It comes down to educating both bloggers and PR agencies on best practices in the ever changing digital space. Smart planning with an ear to the digital space can make PR agencies rockstars in the eyes of the brands who hire them and can eliminate the backlash of bad press that follows a bad pitch and/or campaign.

Thanks for getting an important conversation started!

xo.

Reply

31 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for your thorough input and adding to the dialogue! Like you said, sometimes it’s not the brand itself, but more that they are receiving incorrect advice on how to run their campaign from an agency, or fellow bloggers.

Reply

32 www.FormeofCury.com September 9, 2010 at 12:22 am

When I asked what they paid, The kitchn emailed me that “Our standard post rate is $12/post.” I said that is not a living wage. They said “Of course we do not pay a living wage.”

They don’t pay their bloggers a living wage. But they give 12 full-time staffers paychecks.

Here are the gory details: http://www.formeofcury.com/?p=120.

Good luck. To all of us.

Reply

33 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for sharing this story with us – I was not familiar with it. $12 per post is a very low payment.

Reply

34 Fiddledeedee September 9, 2010 at 12:26 am

I would absolutely not do it. I’m still astounded by companies that contact me through my site, without even using my name within the message (so you know they have simply sent out a mass e-mail), offering me coupons in exchange for a review/giveaway.

Every so often I get a message from a start-up company that has done its research, knows my name, and is familiar with my readership. That’s a very different ballgame.

As far as writing content in exchange for a link like you mentioned? You were absolutely right to say “no thank you.”

Reply

35 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Yes, there are those who do the research, and get it right when contacting bloggers. Kudos to them!

Reply

36 Andrea Deckard September 9, 2010 at 12:28 am

Sorry, dupe comment!

Reply

37 Andrea Deckard September 9, 2010 at 12:29 am

Girl, it’s true, everything you said is dead one.

Just like in a traditional work setting, I do believe we as professionals need to show these PR folks our worth; give them our resume and our media kit. All of that will show them we’re worth it. We, as women in this industry, know we are. Until “they” get it, we will continue to be challenged by it.

Reply

38 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I see a trend towards getting better, so there is definitely hope!

Reply

39 Marcela Beatty September 9, 2010 at 12:36 am

Great, great article. I learn so much from your posts! I can not believe all this hard work for nothing. Not only do we work for free! All this “free” time is time away from our beautiful families and life!!!

Reply

40 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Exactly. Thanks for the kind feedback – I’m glad my posts are useful for you!

Reply

41 Cindi @ Moomettes Magnificents September 9, 2010 at 2:24 am

Excellent question. The sheer amount of creative pitches received every day are increasing, and essentially everybody wants free publicity, promotions, or bandwith for nothing – not to mention our time. There’s always “no budget.” If there’s no budget, I have no “bandwith.”

I would liken this to the fact that more and more companies are also doing away with paid interns, and going the route of unpaid internships for college students. They’re looking to cut costs, and offer the “opportunity” for experience for the unpaid intern/college student. Of course the college student falls for it – they need to put something on their resume.

Sad.

Reply

42 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Yes, the “no budget” line gets a bit tiring after a while. There was budget to pay the PR agency, though, so perhaps next time they should revise the budget to include the bloggers that the PR agency is reaching out to.

Reply

43 jenniferjames September 9, 2010 at 3:41 am

Thank you for raising the alarm about this site and this faux opportunity. I really hate to see mom bloggers being used by big media sites that clearly can pay for content and for building a community from the ground up.

And the celebrity should know that not compensating moms for their expertise is just bad business.

Reply

44 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

It’s a bit ironic actually…the fact that they are reaching out to you to help build their community with the promise of exposure. If you have exposure to promise, then wouldn’t you already have the community you need?

Reply

45 marybabysteps September 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thank you for writing this, Melanie. As you probably know, large brands, corporations and networks will try to lowball writers of all kinds. I found out recently that a series of articles I was writing was destined for a TV network’s website. No byline and not the pay I know they could afford. Very disheartening. I’m working to avoid writing for less than my worth.

Reply

46 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong. But if there is no byline, then isn’t that a bit like ghostwriting? And if so, doesn’t ghostwriting traditionally cost a lot more than writing with your name? Sorry this happened to you.

Reply

47 Denisse September 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm

When will these people stop taking advantage of bloggers? They’ll stop when bloggers stop accepting their offers.
It is true that this might help a blogger that is just starting out, so they should have sent this to those bloggers.
I can only laugh at some of the pitches I’ve got recently. Hosting a whole giveaway for a coloring book and some headbands? or for a couple of coupons? heck no!
I know we are not going to become rich by writing sponsored posts or paig campaigns, but at least give us what our time is worth.

Reply

48 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

You said it – when we respond with no thanks as the norm, then perhaps the norm will become to not offer uncompensated opportunities.

Reply

49 Allison September 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

As a blogger by night and PR person all the time, I have worked with certain companies on my blog because I honestly wanted to and didn’t expect payment. With that said, I’m also not as heavily targeted as you are (and other bloggers are) in this space. For every 5 pitches I receive, you easily could get 50.

This site was asking for a ton of work in exchange for a basic add and click through back to your site. Just think of how different your reaction would’ve been if you were offered $200 or $300 for each post?

Reply

50 modernmami September 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Allison, You know that I’ve worked on unpaid campaigns on my blog too. It
just depends on what the value to readers/me is and overall circumstances.
But, writing on someone else’s site to build THEIR community, should be a
paid opportunity. As you said, it was a fair amount of work – posting weekly
- and should be compensated. Even a less amount than what you mentioned
would have at least been an effort to value the bloggers’ time.

Reply

51 Kelly Whalen September 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I would have handled it the same way you did. No way I’m posting 3-4 times a week (!) on someone else’s site. That leaves me little to no time to blog on my own site, or you know pursue paid work.

That said I’m not surprised some bloggers are taking the gig, as we all start somewhere and to many to attach yourself to someone who has eyes and viewers is appealing BUT it should be noted that those who do take this job (because that’s what it is a job) are being fleeced. They aren’t getting value out of this gig, and it frankly makes me smack my head on the table.

If it is in fact Suze’s site I would be deeply sad. As a personal finance blogger, she is one of the most relatable personalities in personal finance, and I admire her. And whatever this person said, there is a ton of money in her pockets, in the studio’s pockets, and there should be plenty for the moms as well.

Still-it’s such a tough thing for some bloggers to understand. where do you draw the line? The more we talk about it, the better off we all are.

Thanks for sharing this.

Reply

52 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Just to clarify, it was 3-4 times per month, not week. But, that’s still a weekly commitment and time away from your own blog and business, as you said.

Reply

53 Lucretia M Pruitt September 9, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Great response. I wish I could say I was surprised – but I’m not.
I usually just link the requester to the half-dozen or so well written blog posts (like this one) that explain why I don’t work for free.

Reply

54 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm

That seems like entirely too much effort. But, perhaps it’s a needed effort so they can learn.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: