Not a day goes by when I don’t think about how much the Internet has changed our lives. I think it’s the most amazing development I’ll see in my lifetime.
It’s why I left the newspaper business, and it’s why you’re reading me here instead of in the pages of the Star Tribune. The Internet has changed how we communicate, how we recreate, how we travel, how we learn — in short, it’s changed everything.
For marketers, the Internet is an exciting tool that’s still largely unexplored. Sure, everyone knows how to put up a Web site, but tapping the Internet’s vast potential is still very much an experiment in progress.
One of the key questions is monetization. That’s why the traditional media — newspapers, magazines, local TV — are hurting so badly. The Web brings in paltry sums compared to what print and broadcast used to (and still do) generate.
People are accustomed to getting information for free on the Internet, and they’re reluctant to pay for anything but the most premium content. The traditional media have learned this, and now some Web operators are getting the lesson.
A former newspaper colleague of mine, Jim Hopkins, runs a very successful new blog. Hopkins spent 20 years as a reporter and editor for the Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper chain. He took a buyout from USA Today last year and launched the Gannett Blog, devoted to news and commentary affecting Gannett’s more than 45,000 employees.
His blog has broken significant news; it offers frequently updated information, commentary and a lively community forum to a large audience that’s keenly interested in the topic. As its first year nears an end, the Gannett Blog is attracting more than 25,000 readers and 100,000 visits per month.
But Hopkins isn’t making a living off it. He recently began accepting advertising for the first time and launched a fund-raising drive among his readers. He’s been very open about his finances, saying he only needs to make $24,000 a year from the blog — $6,000 a quarter — in order to support himself.
So far, his first quarterly fund drive has netted a little more than $1,100: $265 in ad sales and $884 in reader pledges. If readers don’t pony up for the content, the blog might die.
Other bloggers have taken a different approach to the money question. We recently contacted a blogger with whom we’d had dealings in the past.
He replied to us with an e-mail explaining that he’s getting too many PR pitches, and henceforth he’ll be working exclusively with “paid opportunities.” In other words, if you pay him, he’ll blog about your client. He enclosed a rate card listing rates of $25 to $100 for “sponsored posts.”
We’re not talking about buying an ad. We’re talking about paying him to write about a product. And the blog doesn’t say which posts are sponsored. There are a number of product reviews on the site, but no indication of whether they were paid for or whether they represent the blogger’s freely given opinion.
So why not just pay the $25 and get a product plug? Hell, that’s dirt-cheap! It will look like the unbiased word of an expert, and the readers will be none the wiser.
But we didn’t go that route. We really didn’t even think about it or discuss it much — just looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Nahhh.” It simply didn’t feel right. There are other bloggers who we believe will write about our client’s product on the merits.
But that was us. Other marketers might look on that $25 as a very cost-effective investment. So you should be aware as you surf the Web that the blogger praising a product might be getting paid to do it — and not sharing that information with you.