A while ago, I declared blog an ad-free zone. I'm content with the decision, and haven't regretted it. I also turned down a few product review opportunities, just because I was still trying to find my comfort zone with the whole viral marketing thing. I wanted to make sure that I was being completely transparent. For example, I accepted the free phone (a phone I'm not hugely thrilled with, to tell you the truth, but free is free!) for blogging about it, but I think I was honest about the whole process of how I came to have the phone and why I was blogging about it. Same with the books I've reviewed - I've made an effort to tell you when I've received a review copy from a publisher, and when I'm doing a review just because the book inspired me to do one. (Feel free to call me on it if you disagree - I always like to think the best of myself, despite evidence to the contrary!)
I'm thinking about all this after reading about services like PayPerPost. Have you read about this? Advertisers pay to post details of their 'opportunity' to a forum, and bloggers snatch up what seems to be a finite number of opportunities, then write a post about the product or service - and get paid to do so. I followed one set of links back to a low-traffic, low-ecosystem blog who posted about a Harry Potter audio book and is bragging in her sidebar - but not in the post itself - to have made more than $800 in a few months through PayPerPost.
Since its launch this summer, PayPerPost has been roundly criticised by many in the blogosphere for its lack of a disclosure policy. In other words, you aren't required to mention anywhere in your post that you were getting compensated to flog a product on your blog. In response to that criticism, PayPerPost launched a new website called DisclosurePolicy.org , which TechCrunch compared to big tobacco companies funding addiction research: "they are creating a distraction, designed to keep the buzz about PayPerPost going strong, as well as to move people’s attention away from the core issue of blogger disclosure of product shilling."
In a related story, Jason Calacanis, former General Manager of Netscape and CEO of Weblogs, Inc., is following rumours that users are being paid to 'digg' stories. (Digg is a way to rank news stories and web pages by allowing users to 'digg' or 'bury' an item.)
Every day, it seems like there are more ways that marketers are finding ways to influence (I thought about using the world 'infiltrate' instead of 'influence') the blogosphere. Personally, I find initiatives like this extremely distasteful. Call me a purist, but when I read a blog post, or see something has been conferred a certain status by a group of users, I'd still like to believe it's on the basis of merit and not remuneration from a faceless marketer. On the flip side, it gives me faith in the power of the blogosphere to see that these services are being exposed by the very network they are trying to manipulate.
I'm still struggling with my own comfort level on accepting products or reviewing services. I suppose a blog with my readership numbers and links is considered moderately influential, and I get a couple of requests for pitches every month. I consider each one carefully, even the simple "link to my site" ones, but haven't taken up anyone recently simply because I'm not sure where to draw my line in the sand. I wish there was a handbook for this somewhere!
Bear with me and we'll muddle through it together. I can promise you this, though: if I'm getting any benefit from a product or service or link I promote here, I promise I'll tell you about it. Hey, it's not much, but it's a start.