Links are the New Currency

Nov 062009
 

chain-1There’s a new idea in publishing: link, don’t pay. If a company wants your online content, they just link to it. That way, it’s argued, even though you don’t get a check for supplying editorial, you get a bump in traffic.

And isn’t that what we all want? More traffic?

Well yes. More traffic makes us feel superior when we see rising numbers of unique visitors. It leads to more income from ads, and potentially, more links. But more traffic alone doesn’t pay the mortgage.

One of my students mentioned talking to the Meredith Corporation about providing content to a new site. They want to download the entire content of her blog, and all they’ll give her is a link. She was struggling with whether to agree. Is it worth it? Why would anyone go to her blog if it’s all on Meredith’s site?

The New York Times launched a Bay Area website, and listed several excellent food blogs in its Eating & Drinking blogroll. Everybody wins, it seems, except for the freelancer who could have created original content. The paper lowered its budget, the bloggers are honored and thrilled by the bump in traffic, and the readers — well, they click through to the blogs, where the content lives, as sanctioned by the Times.

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Even the famous writers are settling for links instead of cash. Epicurious announced last week it will feature content (read: recipes) from the cookbooks of famous chefs and personalities like Jacques Pepin and Lidia Bastianich. Being a smarty-pants Communist (a former boss’s term of endearment), I emailed the p.r. person at Epicurious to find out how these big-time authors will be paid.

Surprise! They will not. Instead, Epicurious provides an Amazon link to the book in which their recipe appears. “We believe this will drive sales for the authors,” she said. I guess Random House convinced these famous authors to think of recipes as advertising tools instead of editorial content.

Well, call me nostalgic. I remember the days when writers got paid to write website content, or paid to have content reproduced elsewhere. Is that a quaint idea now?

  18 Responses to “Links are the New Currency”

  1. Thank you Dianne for calling a spade a spade! I am fed up with being offered the “opportunity” to “work with” someone for “exposure” — triple code for “we want to rip you off.” When I can pay my phone bill with “exposure” I’ll bite.

    The latest balls out “offer” was to have me post ads and embeds on my blog for their network. !! I asked them to clarify why I would give them free advertising drawing readers to competitive content when I have complementary companies that pay me for real estate. No answer yet.

    *deep breath* okay that said, here is one way I do find that links help. Pick a strategic partner – like a blogger whose content you admire and do a joint topic with links to each others content, like a theme, e.g. “Drinks and Dinner”. Then you get to highlight a friends new cookbook, write about a new cuisine for your readers, and bring a new set of eyeballs to two sites you like. Similarly, their readers get to see the new blog where their work is featured. That is a strategic use of links. And I’m not ripping someone off.

    Cheers,
    Jacqueline

    PS My blog has a semi regular feature called “Drinks and Dinner” where I feature a cocktail, a recipe and often, a friends blog or cookbook. Here’s an example: http://jacquelinechurch.com/ldg/1803-dinner-and-a-cocktail-mexican-style-

    Next up food from the Azores: and a recipe from David Leite’s new book featured on ChezUs.

  2. I don’t think your criticism of Epicurious is fair. Publishers generally allow media outlets to reprint recipes. That’s all Epicurious is doing and it’s nothing new. I doubt any cookbook author is going to get paid for a recipe they have already published. Epicurious does pay for original content, I know because I’ve written for the blog and other areas of the site.

    But it is a matter of “how much.” Giving permission to reprint an entire book or blog is ridiculous. My rule of thumb is that if I am not getting cash, will I get exposure to a new or broader audience or gain credibility from the association with the brand/publication?

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for weighing in. Maybe that’s true for online content, but in books, if you want someone else’s published recipe in your cookbook, you have to pay a fee. However, Random House already paid these big authors once for their work. I’m not feeling too sorry for them.

      Epicurious inked a special partnering deal with Random House, so it’s not the usual thing at all. But I wonder how long Epicurious will pay for original content from you and other freelancers, when they can get famous people’s content for free.

  3. Dianne, I salute you! You’re touching on a nerve.
    I had a discussion about this with a blogger friend a few weeks ago. She got a link from Saveur and was happy about it and proud. She got traffic from this too which translate to some money because she has ads on her blog. While I am happy for her, I think it’s a bad trend.
    Now all Saveur’s online home page is content from bloggers! I assume they did not pay any of them (I asked only two).
    That specific blogger said she doens’t mind giving it for free because she cares about becoming a recipe developer one day. My point exactly! What should they hire her or anyone, longterm, if they can get work for free – photos, recipes, stories.
    I believe if this continues, it’s going to be bad and sad for people who try to make a living in the food publishing industry. The only winners will be the magazines.

  4. Getting paid is less a quaint idea than what has become one choice among various benefits.

    As an entrepreneur, I have learned to look behind the evident facts because underneath, there is often more. How many bloggers satisfied with non-financial payment, I wonder, have an actual book or service to sell; a restaurant, catering service or tv show to promote; or another, revenue-producing gig.

    When chatting them up, I find those taking links for payment are often half of a two-income household. So life can get lean but they will not become homeless if they lack rent money. Others have already made a chunk elsewhere. Around NYC, it is amazing the former whatevers diving into blogging who can wait for money to come because of what they have in the bank now.

    Finally, chalk it up to the narrowing perspective in today’s world. Sergei Brin of Google recently told Ken Auletta to let Google publish his latest book digitally rather than using a publisher. Auletta asked who would pay his living expenses while writing the book since he would get no advance, how would the book be promoted without a marketing budget or sales force, and who would physically turn the manuscript into a properly formatted book. Brin’s reply: “Oh, I had not thought of that.”

    Paradigm shifts taking place in communications, how one earns a living, and the loss of professionalism sure keep life interesting, particularly for journalists and writers.

    Dana Jacobi

    • Hi Dana, welcome to my blog. You sound pretty philosophical, seeing links as a way of generating revenue, even if that is not true initially. There are always going to be the “whatevers,” as you call them, who don’t need the money. Yep, it’s an interesting time, and most of us are just trying to keep up.

      To Nurit, why not make money out of it, as long as you’re doing it?
      Re Saveur, I heard they wanted bloggers to write for free on their site, and maybe that didn’t work, so now they just aggregate blogs on the Daily Fare. Having been a former magazine editor, I can sympathize, because they’ve probably had their editorial budget slashed. Your friend gets new visibility and credibility to be sanctioned by Saveur, just like my earlier example of the New York Times.

      • Jaden was just talking about this and she made a good point. Saveur is screwing up Google ranking by doing this, and it can especially affect bloggers negatively. By using SEO tactics, they effectively compete with bloggers for Google position on keywords when they repost content – so if she had a post for “shrimp pot stickers recipe” and then Saveur takes her post, massages the SEO and then links back to her, they can bump her Google position and take over top ranking. So, they’d rank higher than her even if they didn’t actually host the recipe and just linked back to her. This increases their value and they didn’t have to pay for it at all. All under the guise of “community building.”

        So, besides getting FREE content (grrrrrrr) they’re increasing their stats at the expense of bloggers who actually work to write the stuff.

        Cheryl, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

  5. I always love these discussions, Dianne, even though they raise my blood pressure a bit. You’re fearless in tackling the tough issues.

    I do want to point out an important distinction, however. You seem to equate the NYT blogroll with Saveur’s Daily Fare, and they’re completely different, in my opinion. The blogs in the NYT Bay Area blogroll are like the blogs in any blogroll — just links. Just as I would never ask you to pay me for putting me on your blogroll, I’d never expect the NYT to pay me to be on theirs. I provide zero content for their site and deserve zero remuneration. [The people who write the actual content for the blog, I presume, are paid for their work, whether they're freelance or staff.]

    Saveur seems wholly different. A quick look at Daily Fare shows that they’re reproducing content whole hog, with photos and text. Those writers are therefore giving away their content for free (presumably), something a professional writer like myself, you, and many of us who read your blog, would be loathe to do. Permitting a link, and providing free content, are not the same.

    Interesting discussion, as always.

    • Thanks Cheryl. I loved how you defended Katie in the last post. Fearless too, like a roaring mama bear.

      Agreed that permitting a link and providing free content are not the same. My point about the NY Times was that they could have paid someone to develop original content about the Bay Area. Instead, they just have links.

      Either way, neither the NY Times or Saveur pays for content, and that is the ultimate point.

  6. Grrrrrrrr…this makes me very angry, especially the Saveur pickups. Oddly I’ve been offered a monetary “donation” to allow links to be placed randomly throughout my content. I nix all link exchanges offers like these. But I’m taken aback that prestigious names like Savour and Epicurious are doing this.
    HMPH

  7. Dianne – Thanks for your (as always) straight-forward view of “this interesting time we are all just trying to keep up with”. I hope what begins to be missing for companies who want to remunerate with links, is the targeted creative work done for appropriate fee by individuals who can make a marketing point of difference.

  8. I was interested to read your take on this as I just received an email from a local magazine’s web staff with the subject line, “food bloggers – we need your recipes.” I was initially irked at the presumption that we would just hand over recipes in exchange for a link, but I wound up participating because I figured if I didn’t, I’d be losing out to “competitors,” so to speak, who did. I’m under the assumption that they are just posting links to the recipes and not the full recipes, but I probably should’ve asked to confirm that.

    • Stephanie, excellent point from Jaden. Thanks.

      ParisBreakfasts, yes, I’ve received those emails as well about random links!

      Rosemary, you are most welcome. I hope you are right, that companies will eventually figure out they need to pay for creative work, but as long as writers agree to have their content appear on other sites for free, it might not change. And it’s hard to blame them, because just like the rest of us, they’re trying to increase their visibility and traffic.

      Colleen, it’s not too late. Please ask for confirmation that it’s only a link, not a whole recipe.

  9. Very interesting and controversial subject. I was thrilled when our local newspaper put a link to my blog ( I don’t have ads so I don’t make any money out of it) but I was increasingly disturbed and saddened when they started letting go of their newspaper staff and journalists. I love reading blogs, but I look to the old guard – Gourmet mag especially ( now look what happened to them) for guidance on culinary news and writing. Pretty soon I think we’ll be wishing for the good old days – like you said when writers actually get paid for their content.

  10. I have mixed feelings about sites like Meredith’s Recipe.com which want to partner with bloggers to get recipes for free, and in exchange give them links. On the one hand, It could help a small blogger get traffic they might not otherwise get (so it could be good for exposure which can be valuable if not bankable), but on the other hand, who wants to give things away for free?

    Bringing freelance writers and traditional journalists into the equation makes it even more complicated. With so much free content out there for these sites to choose from (because realistically for every blogger who says “no, I won’t do it”, there are many others who will and do), it is becoming like a “pink-collar” job (one in which only people who have a second income to depend on can afford to do because they aren’t paid or aren’t paid much).

    It does bring up a question of quality – is free content as good as something these companies would otherwise pay for? Overall, probably not. So the bar is lowered. Where does this put us in a few years?

    And still, as a blogger one of my goals is to build traffic, so deals like the one with Meredith can look very tempting. Still, I can’t help thinking “If he can get the milk for free, he’s not going to buy the cow”.

    • Patricia, thanks for speaking up about your potential deal with Recipe.com. Yes, it brings up the age-old problem of who can afford to give away content for free, and whether it lowers the bar.

      And you ask a good question about the quality of free material. In the old days, I would have said it’s not going to be the quality of heavy hitters. But now, heavy hitters give away content in exchange of links. of course there’s lots of “close enough” content on the Internet now, and, no doubt, more to come.

      I don’t understand the Meredith model. Their site already supplies recipes from these magazines: Better Homes and Gardens, Diabetic Living, Eating Well, Family Circle, Fine Cooking, Fitness magazine, Heart-Healthy Living, Ladies’ Home Journal, Vegetarian Times and Midwest Living. They also include recipes from Parents.com, The Food Channel, and Tyler Florence. Why would they need recipes from food bloggers in addition?

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  12. In the beginning just remember it was darked and then someone smiled! try this:

    Best viewed on my computer. :)

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