Almost since the first AdSense panel was displayed on a blogger’s page the question of advertising and blogging has been a simmering issue that raises its head every once in awhile. The last time there was a great big blowup in the blogosphere over the ethics of advertising on blogs it was due to the launch of services like PayPerPost and ReviewME.
The battle lines where drawn around three separate camps on the issue. There were the purists who said that advertising of any kind had no place on blogs. We were apparently suppose to spend our time writing and eat the cost of having a site to display those thoughts. We were suppose to be professional without getting any of the benefits of that growing professionalism other than a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.
The second camp recognized that hosting bills and the such couldn’t be paid with warm and fuzzy; and felt there was nothing wrong with accepting sponsorships, sidebar ads and Google AdSense. This way bills got paid and if there was anything left over after that then it was a bonus. Which for some those bonus grew; and continue to grow, into a nice livelihood as it should for a professional.
The third camp said if it was okay to accept sidebar ads and the such then it should be just as okay to accept money to write and post reviews as long as it was plainly marked as such. After all this was no different that any of the MSM publications practices and did we not want to be considered on par with MSM products?
Well of course the first two camps came out swing with the first camp full of self-rightous indignation at the pollution of the blogging purity by these posting heathens and the second decrying the ethical corruption of the blogosphere.
This whole piece has been simmering in my head for sometime because I have always wondered where this self-righteousness comes from. It was a post by Scott Karp on Blog Hearld that helped crystallize this for me and also raised a few questions.
As far as any discussion; or at least a sensible one, on advertising and blogger ethics the first camp of blogging purist have no place because the simple fact of the matter is that you will never change their minds. Once you have been tainted by advertising you are no longer a true blogger.
So that leaves the remaining two camps to carry forward any reasonable discussion – if that is even possible. After all when you have blogging titans like TechCrunch slamming anything resembling PayPerPost or ReviewME with self-righteous indignation one has to wonder if there is any room at all for discussion.
Here’s the rub though and in my opinion the hypocrisy of some of the A-List bloggers who have make more than a nice chunk of change from their writing. Their argument being that by accepting money to post about a company corrupts the value of the blog and indirectly the value of the blogosphere in general.
TechCrunch has argued this point quite vehemently and yet they will also post on a semi regular basis their “Commercial Break for Our Sponsors” post. That’s posts, not sidebar placement but in page advertising and RSS feed advertising. TechCrunch could argue that they are not receiving any money for that thank you post but really who are you kidding. How is that any different than a blogger who get’s $20.00 to post a clearly marked post about a company or product. Mind you TechCrunch will probably get a shitload of money for this indirect advertising which is very clever.
No-one questions the integrity of a site like lifehacker.com when they do the same thing as TechCrunch and sure neither of these sites; and others like them that do the same type of thing, might be getting paid directly by the advertisers listed in posts like this but come on let’s not fool ourselves they are your advertisers and you are getting paid by them regardless of the delivery. So in effect you have a Paid For Post even if it is indirectly.
The simple fact is that it is marketing companies job to pervert any medium they can for the benefit of their company or clients. TechCrunch chooses to be perverted with lots of sidebar and in posts ads for which they make lots of money. Some-one else might decide to write a review for which they are paid and clearly mark the post as such.
Who’s being the more ethical here, who is being more honest with their readers. Ethics is a slippery slope especially when you start calling out others for not living up to your supposed version of ethics. For professional bloggers who have chosen to make a living doing what they love the method by which they get there is personal choice and you don’t have a right to demean anyone else’s work or effort because of the way they choose to get paid.
In the end it is the readers choice and one should be very careful how loud you declare your ethics because it could come back to bite you one day and your readers will be the first to tell you.
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