To an average reader, it seems like the big style bloggers make most of their money from traditional banner ads, obviously branded collaborations, and affiliate marketing programs. But what really goes on is a bit more tricky. By getting paid in actual money or product freebies, bloggers have evolved into sneaky promotional channels for brands who rake in the dough after certain sites talk up their wares. When bloggers get “trade”, or those product freebies, it can feel like a way to justify their pay-for-play editorial, but many end up selling their gifted goods for cash — and one industry veteran is tired of it.
A source — who spoke to us on a condition of absolute anonymity — who’s had years of experience in fashion and knows the ins and outs of the industry is over the gaggle of greedy young bloggers with zero business sense.
“The whole concept behind bloggers when [they] first started was that these are regular girls going ahead and showcasing things that they love. I understand [blogging] is [now] a business — but where do you draw that line? Bloggers are always going to get free stuff and if someone wants to pay [them], fine. But if [every] brand can pay, don’t you think that the regular person who reads these blogs is going to start saying, ‘Why is this here? Oh, because they’re getting paid for this.'”
Brands often gift bloggers with free products in the hopes of getting press coverage. In some cases, the brands flat-out pay the blogger to write about their products. Our source said the practice “doesn’t help facilitate the growth of the fashion industry, it hurts it.” In fact, s/he explained that some bloggers who aren’t getting paid in cash might still be profiting from their gifted items by selling products for money.
“Anyone who’s [among] the top 50 bloggers in the world is getting a ton of stuff. I know from myself and other agencies that send stuff. We’re sending a lot, and of course we know not everything’s going to get put on[line]. But we definitely don’t think they’re going ahead and selling them. When I send something to a blogger, I’m like, ‘If you don’t like it, send it back, or give it to a friend.’ But sell-for-profit is just wrong.”
The bloggers might see things slightly differently. Several Los Angeles-based bloggers like Aimee Song of Song of Style, Chriselle Lim of The Chriselle Factor, Julie Sariñana of Sincerely, Jules, and more recently participated in Blogger Bazaar, basically a flea market filled with unwanted items from the bloggers’ closets. Song came up with the concept, and asked her blogger friends to clean out their wardrobes, and brands to supply treats and drinks. An invite was sent out on the bloggers’ sites, and fans hoping to score a piece of fashion straight from the source each paid a one dollar entrance fee that went to charity. According to recaps on several blogs, shoppers got deals on worn and new clothing and accessories, and mingled with their favorite bloggers.
After the event, some bloggers, like Song and Lim, disclosed the fact they donated half of their profits to charity. When reached for comment about the Bazaar, Song told us that none of the clothes she sold were free gifts from brands. Emails to Lim and Sariñana went unanswered.
While Song may not have sold her freebies, we imagine many bloggers actually did use the event as a chance to offload gifted goods. The concept is no different than once in a while selling an unused product on Amazon or auctioning designer duds on eBay, but when a sale is made public and promoted so blatantly on the blogs who sourced those items as ‘samples to review’, the ethics of it all definitely come into question.
“These people aren’t thinking about what it’s doing for the business,” our source said.
“They’re thinking about what it’s doing for their pocketbooks. There’s nobody sitting there and going, ‘Hey, this is unethical.’ Nobody’s saying that, so at this point, it’s a free-for-all. And I don’t think [bloggers] really give a damn.”
Of course many, many sites and magazines get samples submitted for review — this site included — but editors are tasked with making a judgement call when deciding what to feature. We run our Beauty Beat column that singles out only those products that we have tried and loved. Pieces of clothing are expected to be returned to the designers after review (or photography), which is starkly different from how these things are handled for the style blog set. Some might argue that the whole concept of sample-gifting is shady and we should all just write haul blogs straight off of shopping stints. Some readers click through sites just to look at pretty styling and don’t care who paid to put the pictures there.
What do you think? Should the bloggers be held to higher ethical standards, or the PR people who send out these “gifts” in the first place?
Photo via Flickr