A new day, another bit of news about XYZ blog getting a multimillion dollar boost from angel investors. Screaming industry headlines about a blogger designing a range of makeup for a cooler-than-cool beauty brand or putting their name on an edgy collection of accessories. Blog streams filled to choking with syndicated posts that have gotten their writers thousands of dollars as payment. Often couched as a first person product review. Or maybe we should focus on those bright and beautiful gift bags – called ‘swag’ in industry terms – that land up at desks every week.
And what about all those mammoth teams that run so many of these blogs – complete with zillions of writers, designers, brand managers, publicists, marketing guys, sales teams, SEO experts and number crunchers?
What, I often wonder, happened to the good old days (read 2 years back, give or take a few months) when a blog was as individualistic, personal, say-it-as-you-see-it form of media possible? When people ask me why I made the mammoth jump from magazines to blogs (normal people, I believe, take the opposite route) the answer was clear in my head: magazines tend to sell their soul to advertisers, have impossibly high overheads and writers get too caught up with inter-departmental logistics, chasing paper trails or helping support sales to actually do much writing. Added bonus: not having a large team (in my case, not having any team) means no office politics. Which I dread.
But good things don’t last, do they? Today, it seems you need a few million dollars and hip office spaces to run that blog. You need a huge team, loads of paid publicity, more extracurricular activities than writing time (appearances, YouTube, brand endorsements, paid posts, etc etc etc).
Which brings me to my current quandary: In the past 6 months, I’ve had two super-fabulous offers from leading digital companies that want to buy out thebeautygypsy.com. While I am thrilled that this blog, which started from less than nothing 3 years back, has now crossed a million hits every month and is attracting this kind of attention, the concept just doesn’t sit well with me. Guess I am still a little old fashioned.
To me, all of you come to a blog vis-a-vis a magazine because of its honesty and individual personality. As a reader, I would believe a blogger far more than a magazine when they recommend a product – because their world is personal, immediate and in sync with “normal” people. And this simply can’t happen when you become part of a conglomerate.
To that end, I don’t accept any free samples from brands. When you see a review, it’s a product bought with my own money. The advertising comes from syndicates, so I am not beholden to play nice with any specific company. If, on a very rare occasion, I do accept a larger advertorial from the syndicate, it’s clearly marked out as being from BlogHer and the sponsoring brand. Plus, it will never be for a product that I haven’t tested extensively and use on my own.
And despite the fact that it gets overwhelming at times, I am the only writer, editor, photo researcher and layout person on this blog. All incidentals – and trust me, those illustrations cost a pretty penny – are paid out by the advertising money and my own savings. And a one-time loan of $3,000 by my parents when everything was crashing and burning around me. At the end of the day, I often break even (touch wood!) and my life’s prime necessities – BOOKS – are paid for by the Amazon affiliate program.
More often than not, this means pissed off PR people and brand managers. And your name being left off the list for glittering champagne lunches and indulgent media trips. But is that what one blogs for anyway? A gift bag, a couple of flutes of Moet and some fawning pats on the back? I did enough of that as a magazine editor and have no further desire to trade in my voice and independence for social leverage or a free lunch.
And in doing this, I’ve taught myself HTML coding, the basics of graphic design, Photoshop, Illustrator, photography… and a whole other set of skills that have no connect with my degrees in English literature, law and journalism.
I don’t say that bloggers should not be making money. Or getting a name. Of course, we all need it. And deserve it. Often more than some others, because we are pumping so much of it back into our little blogging universe. And if one calculates the salary we would be getting for similar jobs in the print industry, the numbers may well be through the roof.
But I do think that we need some moderation. Some discretion. Otherwise we may well be headed towards a second internet implosion with gazillions of dissatisfied readers, impossibly high overheads, cookie cutter content and explosive teams. After all, when you follow the magazines in structure and methods, you will also follow them in future prospects. Over the edge of the abyss.
So, yes. After some thought, I said no to both those offers. And for that I have to thank all of you. Thank you getting The Beauty Gypsy to a place where some of the hottest names in world media want to integrate it into their empires. And thank you even more for giving me the courage to decline the temptations of big money and a boosted status quo, all in one stroke. The fact that you come back every day to this blog, with your time, comments and social media shares means the world to me. And I wouldn’t risk or sacrifice that link for everything.
So, thank you.
And. Rant. Over.
Back to you: Do you think blogs need to remain independent? Or should we grab the deals and go with the flow? What’s your advice? What would you do?