Should SFF bloggers get paid???

Gabe Chuinard wrote an interesting piece on the subject yesterday. Although I agree with him to a certain extent, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of getting paid per se. At least not in the sense of having an employer, as this could shatter what credibility I've built over the years. In addition, I wonder how much liberty one would have if someone else who pays the bills would be calling the shots. Still, a lot of what Gabe says has merit, and it deserves to be explored and discussed a bit further. To all you kids out there, see how Gabe and I can agree on occasions!:p

It goes without saying that maintaining an oft-updated SFF book-reviewing blog is a time-consuming affair. Alas, the vagaries of life dictate that we all need to have jobs and/or go to school. Society demands that we spend time with friends and family, that we take care of our significant other, or spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy looking for one (only to realize how good we had it when we were single, though being single gets old after a while, and the whole viscious circle begins anew). Someone has to take the kids to the babysitter, do the groceries, go to the gym, have a social life, yada yada yada -- all in all, the components of a "normal" person's existence. Hence, as an ever-growing number of hours are consumed by what is essentially a hobby, this means that blogging either gets in the way of other, more important stuff, or that some of your nights are getting shorter. It doesn't matter from what angle you decide to look at it, it soon becomes obvious that blogging takes a lot of your time.

So are publishers using some -- perhaps all -- SFF blogs as cheap labor? The answer is yes. The Blogosphere is a resource for them, and like all resources publishers will exploit it to its fullest, even though they still don't fully understand the phenomenon. Let's face it: Were our roles reversed, we'd do the exact same thing. It's a business, after all. The main problem, as I see it, is that way too many bloggers make it too easy for publishers to exploit the Blogosphere in such a way. As Gabe pointed out, too many people feel beholden to the publishers sending them review copies. Read what you feel like it, period! I received well over 200 books a year nowadays. And if memory serves me right, my most "prolific" year in terms of reviewing saw me read 45 or 46 novels. How do I select what I'll read? By simply choosing what strikes my fancy at any given time. I must wholeheartedly agree with Gabe that the credibility of such reviewers can be put in question at some point.

Naturally, I can't speak for everyone involved, but I never had any intention of using the Hotlist as a springboard to become a professional literary critic. Heck, this whole blogging experience was not supposed to last more than a few weeks for me, and now look at me! Going in, I was pretty much convinced that this was going to be a vulgar hobby, that it would never get me anywhere. When, absurdly, it did, I realized that to maintain the content of the Hotlist would turn out to be a labor of love, so to speak. I was acutely aware that I would never get paid what I "deserved" for everything I did, and that was all right. For a time, at least.

The last year saw the Hotlist's traffic increase even more, meaning that I was now spending more and more time making sure that the blog was up to the standard I had established over the years. As you know, I elected to put a number of ads on the blog to get a little something back for the time I spent bringing you Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Blogging was now getting in the way of a lot of things in my life, and I needed to get something in return. It's still too early to assess whether or not those ads will be worthwhile, for me and for those who post them.

As I mentioned, though I wanted to find ways to monetize the blog to a degree, I remain uncomfortable with the idea of getting paid "directly" for the blogging I do. Mainly because I've been doing this for the fun of it, and as soon as it becomes akin to a job and becomes tedious, then I'm out. I've always said that, if I had been in this for the money, I would have gone into porn. And I'm serious! This has been an extremely cool gig for nearly 4 years, but I never for a second believed that it would earn me good money at any point in time. Moreover, if we got paid by anyone for our reviews, rumors of bribes would come out of the woodwork, casting the entire Blogosphere into a negative light.

Having said that, I'm all for getting paid "indirectly." I said it before and I'll say it again, it's not the readers who should be pick up the tab. Publishers have money, they have marketing budgets, etc, so they should be the ones spending the money. After all, readers fork out their hard-earned dough to buy novels based on my recommendations, so it would be hypocritical to demand that they possibly do more. Also, the online community has been, historically, a non-paying market. Personally, I created Pat's Fantasy Hotlist because I wasn't getting what I wanted out of reviews, in newspaper and SFF magazines that I needed to pay for. I think that most of the appeal in the Hotlist lies in the fact that fans can just get news and reviews free of charge in a single click of their mouse. Hence, I get the feeling that the online community -- or at least the bulk of it -- has no interest in paying for any services bloggers provide. Which is why I decided to go for the ads on the blog. And ads that generated funds through renting space for a period of time, not per click. Still, the fact that Gabe clicks on the ads on websites of interest speaks very well of him, and more people should be doing it (since many of our favorite sites and message boards depend on the revenues generated by such clicks).

One of the main problems, I feel, is that most publishers don't really know what to make of the Blogosphere taken as a whole. As Gabe mentions, there has been a proliferation of SFF blogs in recent years. So much so that even I, one of the players, can't make sense of all that's going on. There are simply too many blogs out there, and editors and publicists don't have the time or mental energy to wade through the crap to discover the jewels. The fact that I'm still telling editors to send ARCs to this and that blogger in 2008 goes to prove that the Blogosphere has grown to such an extent that it's simply beyond them to evaluate the quality and content of all the SFF book-reviewing blogs out there.

Before anyone calls me out on this, yes I'm aware that I'm partially to blame for this sad state of affairs. As an editor reminded me not so long ago when we were bitching about this very problem, Pat's Fantasy Hotlist was -- shall we say the inspiration -- behind the creation of quite a few blogs which saw the light in the last few months. I fought for so long to get publishers to recognize that content was more important than the medium used (back then, a blog was perceived as a virtual turd. They only sent out ARCs and review copies if you had a website). I wanted publisher to recognize that some bloggers deserved the kudos and some respect. To my consternation, they went for the medium instead of the content. And now, anyone who took 5 minutes to create a blog can get his or her hands on review copies. Makes you kind of wonder what it was all for, in the end, eh???

Anyway, being too busy to monitor blogs on a regular basis, publicists find it easier to send out review copies to just about everyone who has made it to their mailing list. As Gabe pointed out, it's a business expense for them and they have a budget for that. So it's nothing for publishers to do that, what with it being part of the deal. And I don't see this changing any time soon. To make matters worse, the "we're all a happy-go-lucky family" attitude among certain bloggers undermines the credibility of the entire SFF Blogosphere. Truth to tell, all this political correctness sometimes makes me want to puke. I mean, to be all it can be to fans and SFF readers, the Blogosphere needs to be a dysfunctional family, the way it was a few years back. With so many bloggers so afraid to make a faux pas, scared to say anything that will halt the flow of free books, is it any wonder that many blogs bring absolutely nothing to the dance. Say what you will of guys like Gabe Chouinard, Jay Tomio and William Lexner, they stand up for what they believe in, come hell or high water. This is what makes them such interesting bloggers. I want the Blogosphere to be the kind of family that's going to end up on Jerry Springer!

From what I gather, it appears that publishers feel that only a small number of SFF bloggers have "something worthwhile" to say, and hence deserves to get more than just review copies. The thing is, in my opinion there are several blogs worthy of recognition out there. And somehow, due to all the crap that dilutes the quality products, they are overlooked. I've always made it a point to attempt to raise awareness in them, but it doesn't always work. . .

But everything comes to those who can wait. If there's one thing I've learned in the last three and a half year, it's that the wheels of the publishing world machine move extremely slowly. The internet, and blogs in particular, are perceived as a resource, but most publishers constantly appear at a loss as to how to utilize these tools to their fullest potential.

You must also consider the hierarchy of these big companies. Take me for example. When I finally decided to go with the ads for the Hotlist, something that took months of reflection, I contacted every single person I know in the business -- agents, authors, editors, publicists, directors of marketing, even one president! Everyone who got back to me felt that it was a terrific idea. Editors-in-chief and senior editors wasted no time forwarding this information to their online marketing people, so that things can follow their course. If you've been paying attention, you likely know that publishers have not been duking it out to bid on the ad space found on the Hotlist. Keep in mind that the people occupying the highest echelons of that hierarchy are really interested in those ads. But I figure that the online marketing departments have their own hierarchy, and the committees are studying the merits of the idea, etc. As is the case with everything, it's going to take time. In all likelihood, it's going to take a couple of months.

At some point, publishers will determine which blogs are worth their while, and SFF ads will probably become as common place as book giveaways. Don't forget that I had to fight with publicists for about a year before anyone deigned to give me the opportunity to host a giveaway. Gabe's idea for a genre ad network is wonderful, but I doubt that we'll see it happen any time soon. Unless, as Ran pointed out on Westeros, someone creates it, for I doubt that publishers would be willing to work together to put such a network together. Still, it would speed things up and help monetize a lot of blogs and websites without putting the reviewers' credibility in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, as far as truly getting paid is concerned, unless you write for a paying market, I don't see that happening anywhere in the future. Just the possibility that bribes could be exchanged would probably undermine the whole thing. . .
Don't know if I'm making a whole lot of sense here. . . Which is why I shouldn't be writing such long posts before going to bed. . .

So the idea of getting paid in legit fashion doesn't sit well with me. Oh, I'm no fool (though many would dispute that claim); I'm well aware that the Hotlist's popularity helps move some books. Indeed, the amount of traffic the site generates never ceases to astonish me. I know that, in terms of monetary value, I give a lot more than I receive. But in the end, the SFF genres have given me a lot. Authors have provided me with countless hours of reading pleasure for over two decades now. Call me stupid (I've always been a bit of a romantic), but it does feel good to be giving something back to both fantasy and science fiction.

Running the Hotlist allowed me to get in contact with some of my favorite authors. It permitted me to discover a slew of new and promising genre writers. It has put me in touch with pros and fans alike, made me a part of the SFF community, which has made everything quite rewarding.

Hence, as much as I encourage publishers to buy more ad space on the blog, and as much as I urge everyone to click on those Amazon links, I'm nevertheless getting a lot more out of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist than I ever bargained for. And money can't buy that. . .

Perhaps it's easy for me to say this since I never had any aspirations to be more than a vulgar fan reviewer. I don't know. Hang in there, Gabe. Opportunities will arise in the future, and as one of the preeminent bloggers out there you'll have the chance to take advantage of them, whatever they turn out to be. As I sais, things need to follow their course, and in the publishing universe that can take a while. . .

Now, can someone tell MJH to say something I won't like! Gabe and I can't be seen agreeing on stuff like this. After all, we both have reputations to uphold. . .;-)

15 commentaires:

Darkstar said...

As a blogger and reviewer myself I have to admit:
I think bloggers should NOT get paid - it's not why I do such stuff. If I wanted, I'd applicate at a professional magazine or something.
That's just my humble opinion.

Dark Wolf said...

Very nice article , Pat. A bit long ;) (kidding), but very nice. And it was an opinion that I expected, because you are one of the oldest bloggers on the blogosphere.
Keep up the good work :)

Mike Toot said...

Ah, the classic battle between creativity and business. I've seen the battle fought elsewhere and it's a stalemate with no clear winners or "right answer."

Anyone who reviews products on one side of the house, and takes money from people who produce products in that market, is prima facie biased, even if the business side and the review side are supposedly kept separate.

I think your choices are to refuse all funding (a la Consumer Reports), disclose who provides funds or like-kind compensation, or get someone to handle the funding side and not disclose to you who and how much in an attempt to prevent inadvertent or subconscious bias.

You should go with what your heart and spirit tell you. If they tell you to refuse Mammon, then so be it. You will be rewarded in other ways.

Mike said...

Nice article, Pat. I think the problem with getting paid to review (directly) would/will destroy the very essence of blogging reviews. At what point does the underground become the main form of travel? When our reviewers get 'professional' people will start relying more on the very people our reviewers used to be.
That's not to say that the minute someone accepts cash they become part of the machine, but half the credence many reviewers have with their audience comes from being readers first, reviewers second.
When it doesn't look like a hobby anymore, who really wants your opinion?

Shawn C. Speakman said...

I now get paid to blog reviews, interviews, videos, etc. on Suvudu.com.

Where I am unique is I am paid to blog my thoughts outside of Random House, the company that is paying me.

Random House is actively having their editors speak about their projects or divisions, while I have been given the opportunity to write about anything outside of Random House titles -- that includes movies, books from other publishers, comic books, gaming, etc.

So I think it can be done, but it has to be done with delicate intention... and with a lot of balance.

Larry said...

Damn Pat, that post in the middle got so treacly sweet I wanted to piss all over it in order to get rid of the sap! Although of course I blogged about all this, I am commenting more to start a fight, as we both know we need to put the "fun" back into dysfunctional.

All joking aside, I agree to a point and only to a point. Plus, I'll just note that there's a whole other side to the SF/F blogosphere where people have been paid by e-zines to reviews, I being one of them. So there are other options, ya know ;)

Jeff C said...

There are some pretty interesting blog posts and comments coming from the original blog post made last week that Gabe referenced.

While I have been more vocal recently wishing i received more ARCS, I never once had the thought that i should be getting paid for it. And I really dont think we should. If you want to get paid, you can review for one of the online paying review sites.

I agree at times it feels like work to maintain a blog, especially for those of us who dont get free stuff from publishers (as we dont have the interview and giveaways posts to throw up on the blog every couple of days). But, getting comments from readers who say that my review led them to pick up a book is a good feeling, and that is one of the biggest rewards I could get. Especially when I recommend a book that isnt heavily reviewed (like the review a couple weeks back for Heroics for Beginners by John Moore), and i get comments that that a reader was intrigued enough with the review to check out the book themselves. That makes me feel pretty good, especially at the end of a long day.

I guess what I am saying is that feedback from readers (good or bad) is really worth more than whatever a publisher would pay...at least for me.

Gabe said...

I have the Beatles' "Come Together" playing through my head right now...

Nice post, Pat.

Leslie Fox said...

I'm not really involved in the blogging community so I don't know the full connotations of the term "blogger." To me its always meant "someone who works for the internet but isn't paid." That being said I really don't see anything wrong with people getting paid for their work. I just don't see a way for bloggers to get paid. At best blogging might work as a platform for people who aspire to write outside of blogs.

Gabe said...

Leslie, outside of the SFF blogosphere, lots of bloggers make good incomes from their blogs.

If anyone is interested, I recommend checking out Problogger.

RobB said...

I was going to respond here, but after reading Larry's post and some of the other posts, I'll be posting something on my blog. This has been simmering in all of us for a while, I think.

It looks like I responded here anyway, doesn't it?

Jeff said...

It depends on by whom one would be paid? If you're being paid by a publisher, then you're not doing a review - you're doing PR. If you're doing reviews for a SFF e-zine, newspaper, magazine, or what have you, then sure, why not? I don't expect most publications of that sort make enough money to really pay people much though. (And where do they get their revenue? Ads or subscriptions, I would hope.)

As an aside, based on the small sample (2) of newspaper movie critics I know, they pretty much don't accept anything from studios or theaters. They (or their newspaper employers) pay for their tickets, and they don't get comp'ed any refreshments or anything. I think you'd have to be careful with things like ARCs and free books from publishers.

ninebelow said...

They (or their newspaper employers) pay for their tickets, and they don't get comp'ed any refreshments or anything.

Is that a joke?

I think you'd have to be careful with things like ARCs and free books from publishers.

Oh yeah, it must be.

Patrick said...

Jeff: «As an aside, based on the small sample (2) of newspaper movie critics I know, they pretty much don't accept anything from studios or theaters. They (or their newspaper employers) pay for their tickets, and they don't get comp'ed any refreshments or anything.»

One of my oldest friend is a movie critic (one of the most popular online critics in the world), so I know what I'm talking about here. And the movie industry is probably the most rampant with bribes of all sorts! They fly him across the world to visit the studios and the locations where the movies are being shot, booking him in 4-star hotels with the VIP treatment. He gets invitations to Playboy parties and other such events. In fact, you guys probably wouldn't believe me if I told you half of what my friend receives from the industry. . .

As for paying for tickets, nothing could be further from the truth. Critics get special media screenings, with booze and catering and all.

I'll tell you something: Hollywood and the rest of the film industry learned a long time ago how to get critics to eat out of their hands. Which is why even the worst flick always gets its share of "two thumbs up."

Credibility and the movie industry don't go hand in hand. . .

Gabe said...

Hell, I might compromise my integrity as a reviewer for Playboy parties and jets to set locations.

Not so much for movie tickets.