Why Do Bloggers Continue to Work for Free?

by Melanie Edwards on September 8, 2010 · 85 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?

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1 Amy September 9, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I am working on a post for next week in which one tip is that your blog is worth more than free yogurt.

I think the problem is and continues to be, that no one is really willing to share what rates bloggers should be charging and what is fair to ask. I get low-balled all of the time for different jobs, but I know that I am being low-balled and ask for what I know I am worth. If you are unsure, I think it is important to have a few great friends in the blog-community who are willing to tell you how much they would request for a job so you can go into those things knowing that you are worth more than what you are being offered.

PS- Ironically, I got the same exact pitch. I will admit it, I did not respond, simply deleted.

Great post!!

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2 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I agree, Amy. It’s very important to have a community/network of bloggers you feel comfortable discussing such things with – especially rates. It has helped me to do just that.

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3 Debbie@Invisible Heartstrings September 9, 2010 at 9:34 pm

You know, I don’t have a lot of experience with paid advertisement. So until you explained it, I had no idea that so many bloggers undervalued their time. If I’m ever offered a paid campaign, I’m checking with you first.

Thanks for the great insight!

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4 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:01 pm

It seems to mostly happen in what is often considered the “mom blogging” community. You don’t see much of this on other type of blogs.

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5 Janice Croze September 10, 2010 at 12:18 am

Fabulous post Melanie! My inbox is so stuffed with these “opportunities” it is hard to wade through them to get to the REAL opportunities! Thankfully, there are more and more great compensated projects now. I am sure the trend will continue and companies will recognize they need to pay for our time and our communities!

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6 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Yes, we must give kudos to those that are offering the compensation and seeing the value. Like you said, hopefully the trend will continue in that direction.

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7 Miss Britt September 10, 2010 at 12:22 am

I think the problem is two-fold. They undervalue blogger content (which, writers have been fighting to have people see the value of their work for CENTURIES) and bloggers overvalue the exposure – which is why they agree to work in exchange for it.

A lot of bloggers have set a precedent of making exposure and recognition a currency. And it IS – I mean, that’s what a lot of bloggers are asking to be paid for, after all. But then you need to quantify that. How much exposure/recognition is being offered? Is that work X amount of hours/dollars to you?

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8 Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Excellent points, Britt!

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9 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Definitely, you have to figure out what is the true worth and what is the worth to you.

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10 Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 12:56 am

Its kinda like highschool over again…..dont give it away for free.

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11 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm

ha! That saying just keeps coming up. :)

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12 Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) September 10, 2010 at 3:43 am

As Janice said in an earlier comment, one of our related frustrations is how crowded our inbox is with such pitches and we have to pay an assistant to wade through our emails so reading each pitch and trying to evaluate the deal costs us money.

And then it is tough for us as bloggers ourselves to fairly compensate our writers and support staff… it’s a vicious cycle. Someone stop the madness. LOL

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13 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I feel like I’m getting to that point too Susan! Email is becoming such a burden these days.

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14 Laurie Wallin September 10, 2010 at 3:49 am

Go girl! I think many bloggers (including me until recently) just don’t respect our writing skill simply because our posts are not edited or scrutinized like work for someone else would be. But for those of us who put a good chunk of time in to each post, who take our writing seriously (even when our brand isn’t as big as Fox News or Parenting Magazine or some other group), we need to charge for our “freelancing.” I was approached for the first time by a group asking for a free post and I told them I charge per post. They ran off. Hope everyone else they ask tells them the same thing!

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15 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm

But, see, the thing is that you are your own editor. You’re actually filling the roles of multiple employees! Writer, editor, publisher, and many more!

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16 Stephanie September 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

Your post is spot-on.

I’ve gotten so many similar “invitations” – and I always respond with the exact same question, “What kind of compensation is involved?”

I don’t know anything about the specific example that you gave, but I would venture to say that the moms who signed are likely lacking significant influence and experience.

It would be much wiser (and more profitable) for a brand to pay 1-5 prominent mom bloggers than to get 15 bloggers with tiny audiences to work for free.

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17 Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm

You get what you pay for.

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18 Kelly McCormick September 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Great article! You raise valid points. Work out – money in. If we value our work, and see the value in it, we need to educate people who offer these seemingly irresistible FREE gigs. My response in similar situations is, “To get you the results you ‘need’ you hire a pro like me. Now let’s talk about your objectives and what I can do for you.”

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19 Madam Toussaint September 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm

To Cindi @ Moomettes Magnificents’ point I recently read an article that said interns are getting older these days as even 60 year olds have to try to get a foot in the door now. Good point about the bandwidth too.

I have worked for free to get my foot in the door and I suppose it’s good for a while. I’d say once you get the hang of it find a new job. Once I got paid for it I never went back unless I was blogging for myself, then I got paid in the joy of writing whatever I wanted (still learning the affiliate game).

I’ve found the no pay bosses are some of the most demanding and the poorest motivators for creative types, not even offering coupons, nothing as compensation.

Overall, as profession, blogging is still seen as something that requires little skill. I once saw a non paid blogger job ad that said, “You should apply to this job, what else were you going to do this week- get a real job?” I’ve heard of other jobs where you’re given 1 cent per word. A 200 word post couldn’t even get me on the bus!

Doing the math is good advice. Most people, when confronted with the numbers, wouldn’t take a below minimum wage job. Most employers need to know we know the numbers too. I agree, if more of us put our collective foot down we not only protect ourselves, but those who want to get their foot in the door and the profession as a whole. Great post!

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20 Eren Mckay September 10, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I have to agree with you Melanie. Writing all that content for free and also promoting the network is just not a good deal in the end for bloggers. It takes me much longer than an hour to write a good article. Quality content takes time and effort and bloggers need to value themselves more. Thanks for starting this discussion.
All the best,
Eren

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21 Linda Jackson September 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm

When I first started blogging I would write occasionally for less than I thought I was worth, but never for free. As you said, our time is worth something, but most important, the internet and our communities need the ethics, integrity and grace of professional writers and the authority that they bring to their topics. There is a place for free writing and I’m using that space right now. :)

Good post Melanie. I share your opinion. Perhaps those who write for free do not realize the value of their efforts or they feel they can barter for something more in the future. I will refrain from saying anything about cows and free milk, but the same principle applies here.

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22 Marcy Massura September 11, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Don’t be a blog-slut. Don’t give it away for free. If you do, then that is what your work with worth. NOTHING.

Generally I find that those ask bloggers to promote/pimp/create content for free get exactly the quality they are paying for….

And brands. The big guys? They know the difference. They pay for quality.

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23 redmestic September 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm

As a fairly new blogger, I would accept anything that came along – I was just thrilled to have anyone reading my blog. Now that I’ve been around for a little over a year, I am realizing that things shouldn’t be that way. I do struggle, however, with HOW to receive compensation. I recently received a pitch for me to review products that I couldn’t even keep and write up the reviews for no compensation besides exposure. I simply asked what the compensation would be and heard nothing back. I’m sure they found someone who would take them up on their offer.

My question is, how do we know what compensation is fair? How do we go about seeking this compensation? I see blogs which offer ad space – what do they charge? What is fair?

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24 modernmami September 17, 2010 at 2:10 pm

There have been some recent blog posts on this topic. Check out this post where I listed a few of them – http://www.modernmami.com/blogging/compensated-sponsored-professional-blogging/

Some break down what work should be compensated. As far as seeking it, you should set up a rate sheet for the various forms of work and reply with it when you’re approached. Same for the ad space.

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25 redmestic September 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Thank you! That is quite helpful.

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26 Mamaknowsitall September 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm

As I new blogger, I think it’s really important to read posts like this. When you’re just getting started, it’s exciting to be approached by a brand. You don’t always think of the long term implications that taking substandard offers are going to have on your future as a blogger or the blogging community. Keeping this topic on the table is a great way to educate each other! Thank you!

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27 R_Mattocks September 15, 2010 at 12:43 am

This is the message the dads need to hear too.

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28 Lindsay Goodwin September 19, 2010 at 12:06 am

Some of us are still blogging just because we love it. Because we believe in our message. And we’re not looking for money. We’re looking for exposure for our message. So, to us, working for exposure isn’t working for free…it’s another means toward the end that we desire: to get our message out to a bigger/wider audience.

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29 modernmami September 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for sharing your point of view, Lindsay. However, not all
opportunities, such as the one I was approached with and described in this
post, allow for you to spread your own message. It’s often about writing for
their site and to meet their vision.

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30 Julie September 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm

So true. I was recently contacted by a company as well, asking if I would “write a blog” for them (this had to do with my house & using pics of my house). I responded with an offer to write the blog at a very reasonable rate per post (my husband insisted I was still underselling myself), but they did not accept my offer, despite the immeasurable advertising benefit. As you stated, so many companies are getting free advertising, so they are not yet willing to pay for our time, effort & experience. Thanks for addressing this.

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