Paid Content and Disclosure: Survey Results

I want to thank everyone who took the time to visit the survey I set up regarding paid blog content and disclosure. If you missed it, here is the post that prompted the survey.

I had hoped to get a large response because I think that would give a better idea of what is happening in the blogging world with regard to paid content and disclosure practices. In the end, I had 49 responses. Before I discuss the results, I thought it would help to explain the process and the questions in the survey:

  • This was not a random nor a scientific survey. I did not contact individuals and ask them to complete the survey, although I did post about it on my blog and on Facebook and asked that people consider participating.
  • Respondents were allowed to answer the questions anonymously, although they were given the option of also including their name and/or blog address.
  • The questions consisted mostly of multiple choice with the option of leaving longer comments or creating individual responses.
  • Several questions allowed respondents to pick more than one answer.
  • There was an opportunity at the end of the survey for respondents to leave additional comments.
  • The survey did NOT address paid advertising (either in sidebars or through affiliate links such as with Amazon or Indiebound). One reason I did not include this type of paid content was because it is “obvious” that this is paid content – clickable advertisements and affiliate book links, although potentially revenue producing, are pretty much recognized as such. That said, these kinds of paid content should also be disclosed by bloggers using them.
  • The survey did NOT address ARCs or review books sent to bloggers from publicists, publishers or authors for review on their blog. I felt this was an area which has been talked about a lot in the last year or so, especially with regard to disclosure.

The questions included:

  • How long have you been blogging?
  • Do you receive payment from publishers or authors for any content on your blog; and what is that content?
  • What activities do you offer on your blog?
  • If you do not receive payment for content on your blog, why not?
  • If you do receive payment for content on your blog, do you disclose? And how do you disclose?
  • If you do not disclose payment for content, why not?

The results of the survey are summarized as follows:

67% of those who completed the survey chose to include either their name or their blog address even though they could have remained anonymous.

59.2% of respondents have been blogging between 3 and 5 years; 20.4% have been blogging between 1 and 2 years; 16.3% have been blogging more than 5 years; and 4.1% have been blogging between 6 months and a year.

Respondents indicated that they provide the following content on their blogs:

  • Book reviews – 100%
  • Book giveaways – 73.5%
  • Literary opinion – 51.0%
  • Guest posts – 49%
  • Author interviews – 40.8%
  • Movie reviews – 30.6%
  • Other content mentioned by respondents included: Food and other interests, community events, personal photos and posts, and random life stuff.

93.9% of respondents indicated they do not receive payment for any content on their blog, although one person indicated they have applied to be included in a program to write paid reviews on their blog (and would disclose this on each paid post if accepted by the program). Another person indicated that their blog is hosted by a paid site (ie: the site is a professional site which pays its reviewers). Because of this, there are not specific disclosures on paid posts because the entire site is a paying format.

6.1% of respondents indicated they received payment for content, broken down as follows:

  • one person receives payment for book giveaways and reviews and receives payment from other sites for contracted content (not directly from publishers or authors). Paid reviews are re-posted freelance reviews (ie: they were paid on a different site and then reposted to the respondents blog). This respondent also has been a paid participant in reviews and discussion for an online book club. Disclosure is always provided through the blog’s “About page” as well as on the specific paid content.
  • one person receives payment for book reviews and discloses for some of the paid content, but not for others. The reasons given for not disclosing included: It is not anyone’s business how I make money on my blog, I am afraid I will lose subscribers or followers to my blog, and the FTC rules do not apply to me because I live outside of the United States.
  • one person has received payment for book tours which was disclosed on the specific paid content

Of the 93.9% of respondents who do not have paid content on their blog, the following reasons were given as to WHY they did not have paid content (respondents could choose more than one answer):

  • I feel it would be a conflict of interest – 66.7% (1 person clarified their answer saying: “I feel it “might” be a conflict of interest. Every situation might be different, so I’m unsure of how I feel about that.”)
  • I don’t blog to make money – 53.3%
  • If I got paid it would feel like work and I only do this for fun – 40%
  • No one has offered to pay me – 31.1%
  • It seems like too much work to set up – 20%
  • I had no idea I could get paid – 4.4%

Other answers to this question included:

  • I’d feel I couldn’t say exactly what I want to or how I want to
  • From what I can tell, the kind of blogging I like to do is not lucrative enough to be worth the trouble

Several respondents left additional comments which I thought relevant enough to share:

I think this is an important topic to revisit now and then. With new bloggers coming along all the time, a lot of them aren’t aware of the FTC requirements and the reasons for them. I’m happy for bloggers to make money doing what they love, although I have noticed that the blogs I most consistently enjoy aren’t doing much more than putting ads in their sidebar or doing affiliate links. I think, too, that the best practice for ads is to use a third-party vendor, like LitBreaker or Goodle AdWords, rather than dealing directly with advertisers. Letting the opportunity for greater revenue shape your content can have negative effects on the content (and is why in traditional print publications, the ad sales and editorial divisions are strictly separated).

The “conflict of interest” really only pops up for paid book reviews, guest posts, and author interviews. I wouldn’t mind getting paid to host giveaways, even if I haven’t read all the books in those giveaways. I’d disclose that I was getting paid for them in the post itself, too.

Frankly, I think this whole kerfuffle (or whatever it’s being called now) is a little over the top. [break] I actually thought there was always some type of compensation with Friday Reads anyway, considering the network of participants, the consistency of promotional giveaways, etc. Not to mention, the name Twitter “Tours” always made me think that it was a for-profit business situation, so none of the recent “discovery” made me at all uncomfortable, in the least bit. I’m glad they clarified things more for those who disapprove, but it hasn’t changed my opinion about the hashtag, the site, the bloggers, etc.


My thought about all of this…

I found the results of the survey interesting, but not all that surprising. Most of the respondents have been blogging for greater than three (3) years. The majority of bloggers who answered the survey are not being paid for content like book reviews, giveaways, etc… I think that is probably a good reflection of what is happening out there in book blogger world. Although, I suppose, some people could conclude that those getting paid are not likely to answer a survey like this one.

Of those bloggers not being paid for content, most felt it would be a conflict of interest and that payment was not why they blogged. This is exactly why I don’t accept payment for my content, and I have to admit, seeing that most respondents are still out there writing book reviews and talking about books because they love reading made me feel good. I do think that when we start to become paid to give our opinions about books or to promote certain books, it changes the playing field…and not necessarily for the best.

I think it is also important to note that at least two of the respondents who are reimbursed for content are not receiving payment from publishers or authors, but are being paid through third party sites. To me, this is not a conflict of interest at all. Bloggers working for third party sites have no obligation to the publisher or author of a book, and thus are functioning more like media employees to newspapers or magazines, and therefore able to maintain their journalistic integrity and honesty. Even still, those bloggers are disclosing that they are receiving payment for their work when the work appears on their personal blog.

I found one answer re: disclosure to be worthy of further discussion…specifically the response which indicated that disclosure was not necessary because the blogger was located outside of the United States and thus was not bound by the FTC regulations. This is probably technically true, and yet the answer bothered me because although the blogger lives outside of the United States, my bet is that there are US readers reading their blog. My feeling on this is that although they may not be required to disclose (legally), wouldn’t disclosure be a good practice anyway? There is a great blog post written by author Libby Hellmann. She talks about transparency and makes a great analogy to lobbyists in Washington. If you haven’t read this yet, please do…I think it relates very well to this question: Don’t we have an obligation to transparency even if we are not mandated to disclose? As Hellmann writes so eloquently:

The new gatekeepers in the book industry are book bloggers, websites, and other groups that promote our books. Most bloggers are scrupulously honest, don’t take money, and disclose when they’ve received a book from a publisher or author. Most promotional websites, too, state very clearly when and how much they charge to feature an author’s books. In fact, it’s the disclosure that counts. It helps readers make a more informed choice.

What do YOU think? I would love to get your feedback about any of the results of the survey and about the specific question I asked related to disclosure for those bloggers who blog outside of the United States. Do you think the survey results are representative of what is happening in book blogging? Do any of the results surprise you?

Once again, thank you to those who completed the survey!

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    • zibilee on December 3, 2011 at 07:39

    I find some of the responses to this survey surprising, but it is very interesting to discover so many varying opinions and answers. Thanks for doing this and for sharing all the information with us. It’s rather enlightening!

    • Teresa on December 3, 2011 at 11:03

    Thanks for doing this, Wendy. Those results are indeed interesting, but not especially surprising.

    Your point about receiving payment from a third party vs a publisher or author is key, and I think it’s a point that sometimes gets lost in this conversation. I’d have a much harder time trusting a review an author or publisher paid for. Reviewing for third-party sites might raise a concern as far as content goes, because you would have to review what you’re assigned (unless there’s a right to refuse?) and would thus be letting a third party drive some of your content, but I don’t think it raises honesty issues to the same degree. If I were to participate in such a program, I’d want to be sure that I got paid whether my review was positive or negative, because only getting paid for positive reviews seems like it could bias the reviewer.

  1. The results are interesting, but I’d love to know how representative they are of book blogging as a whole. I suspect that things might be a little different in other pockets of the Internet (YA books?).

    The one statistic that jumped out at me was that 31% of people do not offer paid content because noone has approached them. Does this mean that they would be willing to do so? If that is the case you could see these numbers changing greatly over the coming years as more people realise the influence of book bloggers.

    I have been approached and chose not to take part in paid guest posts/interviews etc, but the pitches I’ve received have been very professional and in some cases quite lucrative. I’m surprised that paid posting isn’t more common than your survey suggests….or perhaps (as you suggest) those who have been paid decided not to take part in your survey.

  2. Thanks for gathering this info and sharing it, Wendy!

    • Wendy on December 4, 2011 at 18:20

    Heather: What parts surprised you?

    Teresa: Yes, I completely agree. I actually don’t have any issues with third party paid reviews as long as the reviewer is not bound by restrictions like they can only post positive reviews.

    Jackie: I wonder the same thing as well. I don’t know if there is more paid content on other types of blogs or not. I did wonder a bit about that 31% who might consider being paid – but to be honest, I just don’t see the publishers dishing out huge sums to multiple bloggers. There really is not hard data that shows that by doing so they would make a bigger profit in the long run – and they are a big business with a tight profit margin. I wonder if I did another survey and asked how many bloggers had had the opportunity to be paid but declined it, if that would give us a better picture. hmmmmm.

    Andi: You’re welcome!

    • Marg on December 4, 2011 at 19:28

    I am a non US based blogger and I choose to disclose, not because most of my readers are from the US, but because I don’t see that there is not any reason not to do so!

    • Wendy on December 4, 2011 at 19:50

    Marg: Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment – I wish more non US based bloggers would weigh in on this. I am glad you disclose. I think it is the right thing to do regardless of where you are based. I think the idea of disclosure helps the readers of our blogs.

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