Mike Arrington at Techcrunch is on a tear again about PayPerPost. Where normally in the past I would have been more sympathetic to Arrington–after all PayPerPost folks don’t typically say a post is sponsored–I am less so nowadays because the issue isn’t so clearly understood as Mr. Arrington would have it.
The newest episode in this saga is that PayPerPost now has a disclosure generator, and actually pays PayPerPost bloggers to post links to disclosures. I’ve seen one on one weblog, where the weblogger, Lady Nova writes on the current discussion:
I haven’t read an argument YET that has made any sense, in regards to why so many people are against those of us that are getting paid to blog. Who the heck are we hurting? My readers know that half my content is paid blogging, and you know what? I haven’t any complaints from any of them.
Why is this so different from any magazine or tv channel with advertisements on them? It’s all the same! If a company or web site wants to pay me to pimp their product, hell ya I’m going to do it!
According to Mike Arrington, he dislikes the concept of the disclosure because the terminology doesn’t differentiate between inserted content and explicit advertisements:
If you are a PayPerPost blogger, or the New York Times, or anything in between, you must pick the third option. Thatâ€™s because â€œtaking advertsingâ€ and â€œpaid insertionsâ€ are defined as the same thing. And even if you have no form of advertising or other revenue on the site, you have to admit to bias based on â€œbackground, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience.â€
Blurring the lines in this way – facilitating the pollution of the blogosphere while creating an illusion of doing something good for the public, is a good business move for PayPerPost. But it is a terrible development for the blogsphere and public trust. I hope that very few bloggers are suckered into going along with this.
The PayPerPost people say that they’re not encouraging people to lie or write on things they most likely wouldn’t write about any, so what’s the harm?
Advertisers will post all sorts of Opportunities, from a simple “link back to this site” to product reviews with pictures. Each Opportunity will have different compensation based on the advertiser. It’s up to you to pick the Opportunities that best suit you and your blog. If it doesn’t feel right, if you don’t own the product, or if you can’t be honest we ask you to pass on the Opportunity. Dishonest or completely off-topic posts can ultimately hurt your blog’s credibility. We strongly encourage you to only take opportunities that relate to you.
Television and radio have programs that are funded, in part or whole, by certain sponsors, each of which can have direct impact on what is or is not included, so the concept of PayPerPost is not without precedent in the world of publication. That’s not to say it’s good or bad–just that it hasn’t originated with weblogging.
Is it good or bad, though? A few years back, I would have said it was horrid, but times change. I know what its like to be broke, really broke, scared broke, so I’m not going to tar people for making some extra bucks. Would I do it myself? No, I would not, but I’m also not going to say that I’m the moral arbiter of the weblogging world–disregarding what might be implied from my past posts.
What keeps this from being a ‘black & white’ issue, with absolute surety about whose side the angels are boogieing on, is the fact that remuneration in weblogging isn’t always a cash-related activity; attention must vie with cash when it comes to weblogging currency. If a person writes something deliberately in order to generate attention that benefits themselves, is this truly that different than when a person accepts money?
Recently Jason Calacanis pushed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about putting ads on Wikipedia in order to generate money for charity. Wales basically said, not over his dead body. Calacanis then implores him to think otherwise, with promises of hosting of Wikipedia on AOL, if Wikipedia just gave the company a little thank you note on each page. Inspired, Robert Scoble thought this wasn’t a bad idea, and questioned if he shouldn’t do the same. I don’t know if AOL has offered to host Robert or not…
In both cases, neither person stood to earn any money for their own use, but each earned something else: attention. Both posts ended up on tech.meme, Calacanis’ post ended up on Digg (which he posted a link to at the top of the post), both generated links and discussion (included these from me), which helps to keep them in the upper reaches of the weblogging environment, and most likely keeping bosses happy, as well as a lot of lucrative options open.
Now, how is this different than Lady Nova writing about online business software, which she found to be cool anyway?
When Michael Arrington had one of his recent parties, I was astounded to read he had made $50,000 for luring a bunch of people in to basically sit through what was more or less an infomercial. I now read he’s at it again, in New York, which I guess goes to show that there’s one born every minute on the east coast, as well as the west. Seriously these are a little food, a little drink, a possible chance to meet someone famous, and lots and lots of people selling something, desperately wanting to find buyers. For all of this, Michael makes a lot of money, yet I haven’t seen Michael put up a disclosure that says:
I am throwing this party because I just bought a new gas guzzling SUV–in black, I am so cool–and I have to pay for it. I don’t really want to meet you all, but I want you to want to meet me so I continue making a lot of money from desperate startups burning through their first round of funding. You can come for free, but you’re going to run a gauntlet of people wanting to sell you something, and most likely being disappointed when they find out you’re not really a somebody. And if you approach me, you better be worth my time.
update Jeneane has another take on this fooflah about the haves begrudging the have-nots a little taste of the pie.
second update I find it kind of funny that Matt Mullenweg thinks this is a rather sleazy undertaking, when it wasn’t all that long ago when he was on the other end of the thou art shit finger pointing. Hindsight does interesting things to people.
thirdsie I wonder if this will make it on to techmeme? Letsee, Michael Arrington’s roommate is the person who created techmeme…
What the heck: update four I think that Seth has one of the best explanations about why such howls are issuing forth on this issue.
Disclosure: I make money writing books for O’Reilly. Well, I make some money writing books for O’Reilly. I’d like to make more money writing books for O’Reilly, as well as articles and books for other companies and publications, but right now, it’s just O’Reilly. No one else gives me a damn dime. Bummer.