Is Free Content in Exchange for "Exposure" Over?

Jun 052012
 

I have a theory I need you to confirm. I’m thinking that the days of giving away free content are waning.

I’m talking about when a website or media person wants to repurpose a blog post or asks you for free content in exchange for “exposure” rather than cash. As a result, you’re supposed to get more traffic and prestige.

If you’re not sure what I mean, here’s a website that asks for free recipes, and here’s a website that gets bloggers to post content for free.

I’m not saying it’s wrong. It seems to make sense to provide free content when:

  • You already published the blog post and a website wants to recirculate it
  • You want to be published outside your blog to grow your platform
  • You perceive the site to be prestigious.

(Where it’s not so cool, however, is when someone takes advantage. A blogger I met in one of my classes said an editor from big daily newspaper contacted her and asked for a recipe. They never discussed money. Now she has the prestige of being published there, but every other writer for that section gets paid.)

Now, I may be smoking something, but it seems as the blogging world matures, people are tired of the idea of increased “exposure” in exchange for free content. In conversations and in comments on this blog, many food bloggers say that the dramatic changes in traffic did not occur, the advantages were overstated, or providing free content was more work than it was worth. And many would like some cold, hard cash.

So tell me, do I have this right? Do you still give away content? If so, under what circumstances, and what makes it worthwhile? Or if you’ve stopped, tell me what caused you to do so.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

  107 Responses to “Is Free Content in Exchange for "Exposure" Over?”

  1. I have only been asked for free content by charities like Oxfam, which I am happy to support. I don’t share with commercial sights though. I am more often asked for use of my photos and always ask for a fee. I have never been refused payment.

    • I guess it’s harder to say no to charities, and Oxfam is a good one. Very good that you have always received payment for photos when you have asked.

  2. I might consider providing free content for not-for-profit organizations whose cause strike a chord with me, and have done so. Some companies ask if they could link to a post of my site, and use a picture to entice more clicks, and that’s fine. But other than that… I don’t think so, unless the exposure I get is going to be really spectacular. Basically, I have a full-time job and I value my free time so if I’m going to do something for someone, I always consider the benefits and the remuneration, and whether it will be worth my while.

    • You and Barbara are on the same page, as far as charities go. So you will provide free content for “spectacular” exposure? I hope that happens often.

      • It’s never happened thus far, actually. ;) By spectacular exposure, I mean that exposure so effective that the free content will repay itself many times over with the subsequent job offers that come rolling in. Obviously that sort of opportunity is rare, perhaps even non-existent, but I’m just saying I would be open to the possibility if it came knocking at my door.

        Seriously, I really value my free time, so any decision to take up extra work (paid or unpaid) is a strategic one made after careful consideration. :)

  3. I’m looking for sustained growth, not a one-day boost in traffic. This takes time to cultivate and I’m not sure giving away content in exchange for backlinks is the way to do it.

    • Yeah, I’m not sure either. But for many people, it’s part of their plan, particularly with photo sharing sites.

  4. I have written a few posts for free, but always for the sites that envelop a message that’s dear to my heart. And only once, quite recently, have I succumbed to the “exposure” gimmick (a few days before your workshop:))
    I have read a blog post by a published writer who resented writing for free even on his own blog, stating that all that energy he is putting in his blog could have been channeled into something more productive for his writing.
    I really hope that “writing for exposure” is coming to its demise. Writing takes time, and even though it is hard for most non-writers to put the price on an intellectual commodity, it should not be a free-for-all, as the other professionals do not flinch when they charge hundreds per hour for their expertise.

    • There’s a theme here as expressed by other too — if the topic or message resonates, you will do it.

      It’s already enough that we blog for free, in my opinion! The rest should be paid, whenever possible.

  5. I try not to give away my content but as discussed with you, these big companies just take it. Or small companies. I work so hard to come up with original content as does everyone who blogs and when it’s taken, especially when not asked, that’s hard.

    The “it’s on the internet and you put it there so of course it’s fair game for us to take” mentality reigns.

    If they want to take my photos and then just link to my blog post, that would be great but many reprint both my photos and recipes in entirety with a 1 line sentence linking to me at the bottom. Why would anyone bother clicking over if they get everything already right there?

    Great post, as usual.

  6. Anyone has the right to ask to be paid for their work. In my circle of acquaintance Barbara’s experience is unique. Most of the bloggers I have spoken to, upon requesting payment, never hear from the “interested” party again. The (partial) reason why so many bloggers go unpaid, in my opinion, is that they either don’t know how to ask for compensation (or are afraid to, or don’t think to) or the blogger down the street will do it for free.

    In a world that equates a paycheck with success bloggers will never be taken seriously, and many won’t take themselves seriously, unless they make money at their craft. A photographer I know was insulted at the idea that a blogger would even think to ask for compensation when, “they’re probably typing away in their parents’ basement.”

    Hmm… which concept is actually more insulting?

    • Wow. I’d say that’s a tossup, Jessica! Equal insults, indeed.

      I think people who started as hobby bloggers had no idea, initially, that they could be paid to do what they love. Hence people feeling “honored” and “humbled.” But once they figure it out, they want the money. The question is whether they also want the exposure.

    • Amen to the disappearing ‘client’ whom you asked for money. Now I don’t feel alone that I’ve never heard again from the eager PR person who was so delighted to send me product. In this particular case I accepted the product because I believe in the concept they are promoting and I’d like to share with my readers. I may still link their concept in a related post, but not spend extra time developing and photographing for free. The first thing I learned about blogging is it must come from a place of generosity (which I can easily do with links) but there are limits to giving away our craft.

      Thank you, Dianne, for bringing this issue to light with such clarity. Doesn’t sound like we’re done with it yet!

      • Yes, it must have been an adjustment for you as a new blogger but an experienced recipe writer, to have someone expect you to develop a recipe and photograph it for free. A learning experience for you as well! As you say, it’s one thing to be generous with other bloggers and another to give away your work.

  7. Honestly, I was JUST having this conversation with a good friend this afternoon.
    Keep on smoking whatever it is you’ve got in that pipe, Dianne. The internet is definitely growing up and wising up along with its content providers.

  8. I think you are right on with this, Diane! I used to give away free content when I was trying to grow a platform–you know, to get that cookbook deal that would somehow lead me into “culinary professional ” territory. But, since I’ve now had one book published and another in the oven, I have stopped providing free content.

    Even if I didn’t dedicate much of my time to writing new books and solely focused on my blog, I wouldn’t give my content away for free anymore. I learned my lesson there. The food costs money, your time is worth money, if your recipe fails the first or second time (or third) THAT costs more money. And don’t even get me started on the corresponding photography. Plus, worst of all, you are spending your precious time and ability to create these posts so that someone else (who obviously cannot or will not provide their own content) can maintain a popular website, instead of creating more quality content for your own site.

    I have so much work to do on my own blog, with writing posts, keeping up with comments, fixing css and php issues here and there, writing book reviews, networking, managing social media, plus all the responsibility that comes with writing cookbooks and a few paid articles, that I can’t afford to (nor would I want to) write a recipe or post for free anymore–unless it’s for my own blog or a guest post for a blogger I adore. I actually used to give my content away to one of the sites you mention, but it only took a few times for me to see that it certainly wasn’t worth my time. There was some turning point (probably when my kickass literary agent heeded some great advice) where I realized that I was worth more than nothing. I’ve felt much more confident–and professional–about my work ever since! And guess what? I get more traffic now than I ever did from some of those sites (or brands) that promised me exposure.

    • What an excellent response, Allyson. It sounds like you’ve matured on your career path and you’ve moved past the reason to give away content. I guess the question is whether you think they did you any good at the beginning of your career.

      • Great point, Dianne (and apologies for the misspelling of your name/incorrect wording in the first response; this post just got me all fired up!)

        While I do think initially writing for free for other places, or simply just reusing some old posts on other blogs, helped grow my platform a bit, I think mainly my growth came from posting regular quality original content to my own blog and improving my craft overtime. It took a couple of years of working for free, but now I have some good numbers and a steady following to flaunt around in my proposals.

        For me, the biggest thing was giving away my own content for free (over 300 recipes with photos) to gain not only an audience, but also trust within my community that my recipes and eventually photography were worth paying for when it came time for me to try and sell a book–and then, convincing an agent of the same thing. I felt since I was a nobody– with no academic culinary training, and only a love of writing [no real degree to back it up] — I had to work hard to “prove myself”.

        I cannot deny that busting my butt with networking and indirectly connecting with other bloggers and writers–both big and small–got me to where I am today, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that giving my content away to other blogs helped too much as far as I can tell. In fact, many of the blogs that I contributed to in the beginning (mostly vegan blogs) aren’t even around anymore. Also, I must add that reading your book cover to cover and eventually your blog helped out immensely. ;) I am very grateful to be where I am today.

  9. I’m not providing content for free anymore except in a few rare situations. I’ll provide a recipe to help out a friend or family, and certainly for nonprofits I believe in. Also, if I’m being interviewed or profiled in a publication I will usually provide a recipe. Otherwise I completely agree with the notion that “exposure” just isn’t worth it.

    • Interesting. YOu have drawn the line at wholesale giving away of content, but you feel that in some instances it’s justified. I think it’s pretty typical to supply a recipe at the end of an interview. You and a few others have mentioned nonprofits.

  10. As I am working on my new blog business plan this week, this post is very timely. I agree with everything people have said in the comments. I still provide some content to Meatless Monday and to an NPR site in Indiana called Earth Eats because I believe in their cause. I am no longer going to do free posts for other people. The only thing people have failed to mention, though, besides “exposure” are the value of inbound links when you are getting started. Having inbound links from quality sites, like FoodGawker, or a nonprofit website for example, is extremely valuable to improve one’s SEO. And that helps with traffic and growing a readership. So while you might not see big referral numbers, there is value in having links from those sites to your blog. I did a lot of that, very strategically, when I was getting started.

    I also will be looking for a few very strategic guest post opportunities to help grow my audience now that I have a stronger focus. Make sense?

    • Sounds logical, Stephanie. I think the value of “inbound links” is the reason so many food bloggers have left comments on other bloggers’ sites. Re guest posts, that makes sense too if it’s strategic. And there’s no reason to assume guest posts are always unpaid.

  11. For me, the question isn’t whether I’ll give away a recipe for exposure. Of course I will. The Seattle Times, e.g. asked for a recipe to go with an interview, and that is fantastic exposure. I absolutely want their readers to know what my recipes are like, and I hope that will encourage them to buy a book.

    The question I ask myself is, how *good* is the exposure in terms of reach and audience appropriateness, and how much work is it going to be to supply it? If it is just reprinting a recipe from my book, that really isn’t a lot of work, whereas if someone wants me to create a whole new piece of content for them, well.. there aren’t many circumstances where I would do that without getting paid.

    The blogher example you gave in your links was provocative though. I answered a different one of those questions, and it never occurred to me to think that a quick paragraph like that would be potentially compensated.

    • It makes perfect sense that you would supply a recipe from your book to go with the interview. Plus, newspapers review cookbooks and reprint recipes from them all the time.

      Re Gourmet Live, I don’t think it would kill them to pay the 10 or so bloggers $50 each. But they don’t have to, as bloggers are willing to participate for the prestige of appearing on their site.

  12. Ohhh…I don’t know Dianne.

    Blogging, Facebook and Twitter eat up a lot of this bloggers time and I never see a dime from it. I have not placed any advertising on my blog (yet) so it is purely a hole surrounded by water into which I am now starting to throw money.

    With the exception of my local newsletter that I write for monthly, I have never submitted content in exchange for exposure or traffic. I have asked for, and received, payment. Cold hard cash for words and photos. We have four kids and I am a (mature) full time student married to a part-time baker. A girls gotta earn her keep!

    My time spent blogging, tweeting and facebooking did land me my weekly column with The Sunday Times and I was not even looking for a job (still have one more year to go in college!).

    Working for free is not a bad thing as long as you are getting the right exposure and it leads to paid work. There is nothing wrong with starting from the ground up and learning the trade. Yes, it is hard, but I think it makes you work harder at your craft and helps you figure out if you really want to ‘do’ more.

    A lovey thought-provoking post Dianne and as always, the comments are so insightful.
    Regards from rainy Galway x

    • How cool that your blogging and social media got you a column in the newspaper! And you get paid for it, which is only right.

      I’m not a big fan of the whole “working for free” idea. Even beginners should get paid if they’re going to create original content for a publication or website, in my view. They just don’t get paid as much as experienced writers.

  13. Hmmm’85. what a thought provoking article (as always Dianne). I have stopped writing for free unless it’s an exceptional circumstance. As many others have pointed out, I spend an inordinate amount of time on my own blog and Food Bloggers of Canada and I also have a full time teaching job so my time is precious. Saying “no” to “opportunities” doesn’t come easy to me. I don’t have a cookbook deal (not sure that’s what I want for now but still) or a weekly column (now THERE’s something that might interest me) so even with paid assigments, I always have to weigh up whether the exposure is worth the time and effort, since eventually, yes, I do think I would like to take my writing further and exposure and experience is important in building one’s portfolio.

    It’s a topic for another post and you have already covered this at length before but with many paid assignments, some of the offers I receive, even though they are “paid” the time and effort put in and the “exposure” gained are not worth the payment. I’ve taken to pretty much spelling out how long an original recipe takes me to create and post from start to finish and I honestly think folks are shocked – many people wildly underestimate the amount of time it takes. I’ve had some pretty short answers back to those emails, sadly, meaning I am sure the people think they can get someone else to do it for cheaper than the rate I am quoting. But I’m learning to stand my ground.

    For free it would either have to be a charity or a cause I believe in, as many have already responded, a guest post for a friend in need or “spectacular” exposure.

    • Well, good for you, Mardi, especially spelling out how long it takes you to develop a recipe. There is always someone who will do it for less. That is true for any experienced writer or recipe developer. It doesn’t mean you have to capitulate. It just means you have to find the people who are willing to pay you for what you offer.

  14. I wish it were so. I’m still amazed by the people who seem to — in all seriousness — think that because they are a start-up, or have a low budget, that a writer should be happy to work for free for “exposure.” They seem to think that’s the magic word to get you to start spilling content. Twice I’ve engaged in fairly lengthy phone calls with online publishers in an apparent job interview, to be told at the end that they don’t pay for content. It makes me wonder how best to broach the subject up front.

    • Arghh. That sounds frustrating. Now that you have been through it twice, you can interrupt sooner and ask, “What is your budget?”

  15. I think I have a bit of a different answer here. I don’t give content away as such but I am trying to build up my portfolio so I do sometimes write for free if it is going to be published somewhere great. I wouldn’t do this but with little experience, I can’t see how else to get some work in my portfolio. I would really welcome any advise on how to do it other than doing the odd piece for free.

  16. Thank you for posting on this topic, Dianne! I have appreciated reading the perspectives of the more seasoned bloggers in the above comments, and I hope that we, as a profession, get away from giving away free content. It’s no joke that it’s hard work to develop recipes, take photographs, and craft blog posts, and the last thing I need to do is spend extra time that I don’t have building someone else’s site/business with no compensation.

    That said, there are instances when giving away free content could be advantageous, such as when there is phenomenal exposure or, as Michael noted, there isn’t a lot of work involved. I am one of the bloggers featured on the Gourmet.com web page that you linked to in your post, and I was fortunate to be the first Seattle restaurant review listed there. I wrote the content specifically to be posted on that site and indeed received no compensation, yet it seemed like a good deal for me. It wasn’t a lot of work, and my hope is that it will at least expose my name to other bloggers. I quickly visited the sites of the other reviewers on that page, so I imagine others may do the same, and maybe they’ll stick around my blog if they like what they see.

    Concerning more involved posts and recipe development, however, I would be much less inclined to provide content without compensation.

    Up to this point, I have been submitting my photos to a couple aggregate sites for the exposure benefit, but I am considering bringing this to an end, though it is more for artistic reasons that anything else. The moderators of these sites don’t have the final say in determining what photography is good and what isn’t, and for me personally, I find it stifles my creativity when I am concerned about whether or not my photo will be accepted. I want to focus on developing a distinct brand in my images, and that may or may not jive with what these sites are looking for.

  17. While I’ve drawn a line in other nonfiction writing, I will still write about certain food topics for free. I don’t know if doing so is helping me build the traction I need to get paid gigs on these topics, but it is so hard to land those paid gigs.

    While I keep querying and querying, I have some stories to tell. So I tell them at free venues, much as I still read my short fiction to live audiences when requested, without ever expecting the reading to be remunerated. As an editor at Bust magazine once said, Writing, like crime, doesn’t pay.

    I know that isn’t quite true, and I’m trying to make more things pay than not. But the line in the sand wiggles, rather than goes straight from yes to no.

  18. I think this is a point-in-time discussion, and whether it makes sense to give content away for free depends both on 1) where the writer is in building their platform and 2) where the subject they are writing about is in terms of coverage. I still give some content away for free, but considerably less than I did a year ago.

  19. I have never charged anyone for content but so far I have provided free content regularly (and still doing it on a mostly monthly basis) to only one website, local NPR station’s food blogs. I do it because I support NPR anyway and donate. And it is my way of donating extra. Free content do take time, especially with full time job and I am creating new content for them, not just reusing my old posts. However, I am happy to do that for the local NPR station.
    I was approached by another big site to provide free content with the promise of traffic because their regular guest bloggers were taking a break due to holidays. I assume all these regular “guest” bloggers were getting paid but I did not ask for payment. I did not know how to or how much. Created new content for them too but did not see a big traffic in return. They did not even contact me when it was posted and this site posts many articles back to back in a day so mine got lost in that. I was very dissappointed. So I re-used the post on my blog later on when I had a time crunch. One site approached and said they would pay maybe $25 for each post, but they would own the recipe etc, I just did not feel that $25 was worth for my 6 – 8 hr work of shopping, cooking, writing and photographing. So I said No.

    I agree that free time is valuable and we should be able to say No to free loaders.

    • Hmmm. The national NPR blog pays for freelance work. The local public television station in my town pays for blog posts.
      I suggest telling the local NPR station that you’d like to continue but you can’t afford to keep doing it for nothing, and ask them for pay. Even $25 or $50 per post is at last an acknowledgement that your writing has some value.

      Re substituting for guest bloggers, you could have asked what their budget was to pay you. But it’s water under the bridge at this point. And it sounds like it was not worthwhile. Everyone has to have experiences like this to learn whether to do it again.

      Re the site that wanted to own your recipes — what a joke for $25.

  20. Dear Diane, like you, I really hope the blogsphere matures and no one writes for free any longer. I did it in the past, and I regret it. What is great exposure after all? After I went on the Today show, I felt what “great exposure” could possibly mean, and even that, these days, is also questionable. I recently heard Molly O’Neil say a something that I really liked: “When you work for free, it’s as if you are writing your own death sentence. “

    • The Today Show is great exposure, absolutely! And they know that, which is why there is no pay to appear. Not too many people get that kind of opportunity.

      Re having regrets about writing for free in the past, don’t be so hard on yourself. People who are starting out or think of food writing as a hobby often think it’s “fun” to write for free. But they wise up eventually, if they want to get serious about it.

  21. Since I started getting paid for website content, I don’t write for free anymore, even if the pay is low. I like to think my time and talent has value. I am currently looking for ways to earn more $, and my hunch is that it won’t be on the web.

    • Yes! Your time and talent has value. I wouldn’t rule out the web for more ways to earn money. You just have to find the good opportunities. They’re out there somewhere.

  22. Hmm, worthwhile, that is the golden word, measured differently for different people. Difficult to measure, but important to determine. Unfortunately, it can only be determined on the back end rather than on the front end of the “exposure” proposition, where as the cold hard cash is clear from the get go. The carrot is that the exposure will lead to the cash at some point, which leads us full circle back to the worthwhile question.

    Writing 100 words for free for Gourmet.com = a small square of “bling”, but 0 cash, 0 referral hits. Probably wasn’t worth the time in research, writing, or the 6 emails back and forth for editing.

    Writing 9 posts to review Emeril’s new cookbook last fall for the publisher = a few perks, a small trickle of traffic at the time, but the real bonus came later when he made one of the dishes I had posted about on a Rachel Ray show which produced a lot more traffic (exposure). I also perceived my exposure with the publisher as worthwhile, which has led to more opportunities for reviews. — That could be a future topic — how publishers “use” bloggers for free/cheap marketing.

    Posting recipes in our local paper (citizen journalism section) for free is again unpaid, but goes to name recognition, which is unmeasurable directly, but I believe to be a long-term investment in building a platform. A handful of people have recognized my name, can’t remember why, but then tie it back to the newspaper articles (one even “lit up” when she realized she made my salmon … actually, we both lit up at that point.) No cash, but IMO worthwhile.

    Create a recipe in 50 words (no easy task) for Fine Cooking print magazine for free, which included a thumbnail photo. However, I was recommended to the print mag by the on-line editor, so I see that as worthwhile to build contacts and who doesn’t want to see their name and recipe in print?

    There is more, but this comment is already long.

    My own experience has been all over the board, however, I place value on experience alone if I learn something from it that will help me build toward my goal. For someone else, any one of the things I mentioned could be all they ever dreamed of, totally satisfying and worthwhile. For me, it has all been stepping stones, worthwhile on different levels.

    I do feel the bottom line is that is is important to see my work as valuable and make sure there is value placed on it in return, whether that is monetarily, or in the value of building relationships or platform. Hopefully this short novel helped answer your question in some way.

    • Your short novel was quite fascinating to me, Judy. Thank you. As you say, everyone has a different idea of what is worthwhile.

      Re 9 posts for Emeril’s cookbook, I think it’s shameful of publishers to ask that of bloggers; and to be honest, shameful of bloggers to think that 9 posts from 1 cookbook is what their readers want. I guess in this instance it sort of paid off for you, although I’m not sure how many of those who found that recipe will be back to read your blog.

      I once wrote a piece and sent it to the daily newspaper, which offered to print it in the citizen journalism section. Since I am a paid journalist, I said no. I persevered with several more pitches to other media, and eventually, salon.com published it. That made me immensely happy, as I deem salon.com to be prestigious.

      Re writing a free recipe for Fine Cooking — they can afford to pay something, IMHO. On the other hand, it’s nice to see your photo and name in Fine Cooking, and no one has to know you weren’t paid, and maybe that was your only shot, since they almost always published very experienced writers. So it’s complicated.

      • The 9 posts were not all recipes from the cookbook, it was a mix of product giveaways and recipe features over a number of weeks. Based on the response of readers it was a well received series, certainly not feeling any shame here.

        You make good points to consider and it is complicated. If I’m hearing you right, you make the argument for expecting to be compensated in some way and to not settle simply for “exposure”. All the comments here are insightful, thought provoking, and clearly the experiences widely varied.

        • Okay, thanks for the clarification. That makes more sense. Yes, I think you should expect to get something out of providing original content, preferably cash. If that’s not possible then evaluate the benefits. You’re not going to get cash for promoting books as a favor to publishers, of course.

  23. I have learned – the hard way, since that seems to be the only way I learn lately – that when it comes to working for free, it matters who is doing the asking and what the possibilities are. I have also learned that, except in rare circumstances, “exposure” is a dirty, manipulative word.

    Generally, I do not do any work for free for anyone other than myself. But if the person asking has a plausible reason for asking – and a really good reason for not being able to pay me at the moment – I’d consider it. But if it’s a big corporation, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ And I won’t work for a big corporation for a token fee, either. It’s got to be good money, and even then I’d have to think long and hard about whether or not to accept since I value my independence these days most of all.

    I trust my gut. Any real regrets I have in my life came about when I didn’t trust my gut. When I let myself be swayed by some smooth talker, against my better judgment, it hasn’t turned out well for me. Even if you’re just starting out and your gut is still developing, trust what’s there – or borrow another veteran’s gut until yours is better developed.

    Important topic, Dianne. One that needs lots of open discussion, for sure.

    Nicole

    • “Exposure” is a manipulative word, I agree. Probably the best places to get it never even mention it.

      Trusting your gut is a skill. It took me a long time to learn it. And I too have had regrets when I didn’t listen. But that’s how we learn, eh?

  24. You are right. It’s going away. Why? Because it doesn’t work. I did free content for a small business site for a while in hopes of getting more writing business. I did not get so much as a query.

    I still publish my personal blog (in addition to WordPress) for free on a site focused on Baby Boomers for the exposure, but I’m beginning to wonder what that’s getting me. The site just recently began to offer commenting capabilities, so I’m going to see if that gives any indication of its readership.

  25. Great topic, Dianne, and a difficult one. A number of years ago, I was writing a regular monthly column for an informational site–you know, where you can can articles on almost any topic–and was getting paid a nominal fee. Then they restructured and decided to stop paying their writers. I quit. It was a lot of work researching my articles, writing, revising, and coming up with recipes and I didn’t feel like working for free. I also wrote an article for a food website for free several years ago to help build my platform. I never wrote another one for them again because 1) It hasn’t done much for me in the way of platform and 2) they’ve been around for over 10 years and I feel that it’s time that they start paying their writers.

    But, if the New York Times asked me to contribute something for free, I’d be torn about it. On the one hand, I’d feel that the NYT can afford to pay; on the other hand, it would be a feather in my cap.

    For some, it’s a cut-and-dry decision; for others, it’s not.

    • Good for you for quitting. You were perfectly within your rights. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone replaced you, though.

      Re the second instance, it certainly makes sense why you quit.

      And re the NY Times, I would hope that they would not ask you to work for free. But I could be wrong. The chutzpah that some media outlets show amazes me.

  26. Producing content for a blog is hard work. Doing it for someone else just increases the workload. I am new at this but have been asked to quest post several times already. Because I believe in writting a quality article, it takes time. The anticipated traffic bump never appeared. Their traffic increased becuase my readers wanted to see my article and illustrations. But I saw little to no increase or benefit.

    All my traffic growth has been as a direct result of my own marketing efforts and I have concluded that there is where I should spend my time.

    I don’t believe to day of free content is necessarily over. What I do believe is that many will much more selective when choosing to give away there talents.

    • Well, perhaps that’s the best we can hope for then, Susan. I’m wondering if you have now stopped doing guest posts.

      • Regarding guest posting; I did not mean to imply that was not going to be a possibility in the future. I believe it is my responsibility to be more judicious with my time as well as who and when I will guest post. Sometimes I guest post because I want to support the blogger, where other times it is for good exposure.

        PS: I am dyslectic, so writing for me can be much more of a challenge then others. So I need to be mindful of what I am committing to. :)

  27. At the start, I would give away content for exposure – and now that I am bigger, I take the time to evaluate if the site is targeted enough and large enough to get me a big traffic hit. Yesterday, Glamour.com used my photo and linked back to my recipe – FREE, yes – but did I get a bunch of pageviews – yes. If it is a media organization, I try it once to see what happens – if it is a product – no way. I don’t give away any content to food manufacturers.
    I did give a recipe to a supermarket and got a huge boost in traffic because of it. Most of the time, though, it is a waste of time. A work in progress.

    • Hey there, Lisa. Somehow, a big site that uses a photo from your blog post and then links back to your recipe doesn’t bother me. The content is already on your site, so they’re not taking it all for their own use. You just have to hope that people click.

      Agreed that it’s a work in progress. You try things; you re-evaluate.

  28. I have only given away recipes once-to an online magazine that I’d written for, in print, and gotten paid, in the past. I’d asked for pay, but the publisher said, “Sorry, not this time.” I gave her two recipes and chalked it off as a Christmas gift, (it was in December.) I don’t make it my policy, although a few years ago, I’d wanted to-for exposure, I’d told myself. I share on FB and Twitter, I suppose that’s giving it away, right?

    An interesting side to this-I received an email today, from frugaldad [dot] com, stating they’d like to write on my site, for free. In essence guaranteeing 100+ visitors to my site with an ad campaign. I’m not interested. I don’t advertise on my site and have been resisting it, but I know I’m not the norm.

    Here’s a recent dilemma, I’m struggling with accepting a writing gig for a magazine for ten cents per word & ten dollars per picture. This was a recent offer to a query I’d submitted. It’s a travel/food destination magazine, so there is more involved (traveling) than what I could do in my home.

    I hope as the Internet and blogging evolve, bloggers stop giving away content for free.
    Thanks as always Dianne.

    • Maureen, I was contacted by Frugal Dad today as well with the same promise. How funny! I deleted it and I was thinking if it was spam or are they really now trying to get to someone elses blog instead of using free content. This is more like free rent! :)

    • How strange that the publication paid you in the past but then said not this time. I guess they expected that it would be the last time you contributed. Dumb.

      $.10 per word and $10 per photo – wow, that is pretty pathetic. Although if you are prone to writing 5,000-word pieces that can’t be published elsewhere, it could be lucrative. I bet they have word counts, though. It was a nice fantasy while it lasted.

      Re bloggers who stop giving away content, those of you who read my blog are getting there. I suspect there are thousands more to replace you.

  29. Hi Dianne,
    I live in Paris and was asked to contribute (for free bien sur) to an online journal that has been in business 18 years + . 6 pieces (and 3 editors) later I can easily see what THAT has done for my ‘exposure’. Meanwhile, the pressure to produce articles and reviews 2 or 3 times a month with deadlines (!!) etc just left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. I no longer contribute. It’s just not worth it.

    I will, however, do guest posts for blogger friends on holiday who need content…. and the ‘bump’ from those friends is ongoing and noticeable.

    • Glad you finally wized up. The guest posts for friends sounds like a much better deal if they bring sustained traffic to your blog.

  30. Thanks for another interesting topic that’s been “burning” in us, Dianne. From the thread I’ve read here, and from listening to other bloggers, here’s the bottom line. The lesser known, newbies in the blogosphere are eager to get build more traffic so yes, they will “invest” in giving away free content. This in exchange for what they hope, will give them a significant return in some form. On the other side, the more well-known bloggers, will not give away free content. They already have a regular stream of traffic, a published book, and the like. It’s the reality, I guess. And life is a cycle. In time, the lesser-known newbies will become “famous” and stop giving away for free. Sorry to sound cynical. But it’s what I see.

    • I don’t think you’re cynical, Elizabeth. I agree completely! Or maybe I’m a cynic too. :-0

  31. Hi Diane

    I absolutely agree that the days of free content are dwindling. I think what keeps it alive are the new bloggers that haven’t learned enough yet to realize that for the most part, they’re being taken advantage of. I do remember the feeling my first year when anyone wanted to reprint anything I said, or give me anything for free, I jumped on it. Now quite frankly it’s not worth the time or effort. but until everyone starts realizing that their work has value and asks for compensation, businesses will continue to think that you don’t need to pay bloggers.
    Now if you can get something of value out of the deal, then it’s a good thing, but for the most part the only people making anything off of our hard work, are the ad groups that use us, and the companies they represent
    Thanks for another great topic!
    Dennis

    • You’re welcome, Dennis. You’ve matured, it sounds like — just like many other bloggers who have answered my post. Isn’t it nice to realize that your work has value? Now, on to the next part: finding people who want to pay (decently) for it.

  32. Hi Dianne,

    Like many others who commented, I was happy to share content early days when my blog was just getting started. But I too have found the exposure is more limited that you might expect. My best results in terms of building traffic is when I connect with a fellow blogger who I respect and has a similar audience. I often will share something of theirs — say a nutrition piece–that is relevant to my topic of food and family in exchange for something of mine–say a recipe. It feels mutually agreeable, fair, and community minded. I often end up on their blogroll, which is a way for folks to find me on an ongoing basis rather than a single day or two. I’ve also made a few “virtual” friends this way, which is lovely when you are working at home alone!

    Thanks for the post.

    Katie

  33. Dianne, I did it. I asked a company, “What is your budget?”, just as you suggested. I had been approached with an “opportunity” to develop a recipe, post it on my site and GIVE it to the company. They said, “No budget to pay for recipes.” Yet I know they paid a blogger’s $350 tuition to attend a blogging conference and set out samples of their products. I only asked for $50. I feel OK and think I have turned a corner. Thanks, Liz

  34. We have been approached to do reviews for ‘Best of’ and ‘Top 100′ type publications put out by major book publishers to review restaurants. Pay was limited and you had to buy your meal as well. I jumped at it as a chance to get established, get some credibility, we were just lowly bloggers after all. It resulted in very low pay for hours spent writing and fact checking.

    Lesson learnt here was about giving away your time for cheap as well as free. There is often a veiled promise of ‘experience’ or ‘exposure’ for you in return for doing the job (you can put a logo on your blog to say you were included as a reviewer) but little in monetary return. Needless to say we won’t be doing that job again, unless fairly compensated for our time and expenses. At the back of our minds we always wondered why they just didn’t get a staff writer to do it all and we realised why – it would be too expensive.

    • Exactly! Why even pay fairly when people who want to get established are willing to do it for limited pay, or even for nothing (not you but in many cases). I like what you said about “veiled promises.” It’s just what new writers want to hear, but the whole experience doesn’t add up to much.

  35. I would also include in this debate giving any of your time away for free when there is a promotional element. Food bloggers are increasingly targeted to attend events created ‘for food bloggers’ usually by restaurants by PR companies and the reward is usually just free food. The bloggers are encouraged to share their expertise to others in a forum or enter some debate – but the publicity ends up looking like endorsement of the restaurant in my opinion. I’ve become increasingly wary of inivitations recently, whereas in the past I would just go if I thought the topic/ food/ cooking interested me. I refused an invitation to a restaurant event with speakers giving food blogging tips when I realised that they expected the advice to come from me (and mentioning that the media would be there as an incentive). Needless to say they stopped badgering me when I mentioned payment. It’s very easy to get sucked into this ‘free for exposure’ lark when you are trying to gain a bigger audience but, in my opinion, it lessens the ultimate rewards available to all as those seeking content assume that they can obtain everything free of charge.

    • Interesting, Sally, how restaurant pr firms are attracting bloggers. Definitely if you go you will appear to be endorsing the restaurant. And if you Tweet about it or put it on Facebook here in the US you are supposed to disclose that you had a free meal.

      While this example is not about writing for free, it is about promoting for free. Getting paid for that would be okay if it was spokesperson work, I suppose, but otherwise it’s questionable as to why you would want to do it. Oh, I forgot. For “exposure.”

  36. I have been asked for free content twice. The first time it was for an online magazine, and I did it, but taking nice pictures of my recipes for them to be accepted in foodgawker and tastespotting got me FAR more exposure than that. The second time they requested me TEN new, original recipes for a French website. I asked whether there was a payment, they replied it was “exposure”, but my blog is in English and Spanish, so I didn’t see the advantage in publishing in a French website. I am fluent in French and could have done but I just didn’t see how that was going to increase my own readership, so I declined. I just don’t have the time to develop 10 new recipes (with all the testing it includes), photograph them, all the whole losing the right to publish those recipes in my own blog/write an ebook, or whatever…and honestly I don’t want to work for free other than for myself.

    • I suppose if they were going to translate the recipes, that would help, but even so, why would you want to create 10 recipes for free?

      • They did offer to translate (which I don’ t need, I could have written them directly in French), but 10 original recipes, with photos for each (10 photo shoots to prepare) is a lot of work to do for free. I think they were just pitching very new blogs (my blog was 5 months at the time) in the hope that they would accept what anyone else would consider unacceptable. I said no, but I’m sure they must have contacted 10 other persons at the same time, and that maybe one said yes…

  37. Agreed Dianne,
    The days are over or certainly very limited. I did some free work due to the brilliant exposure but from the outset I gave that work a time and monetary value ( in terms of ingredients, styling props etc). Ie I would only do the content for free up to X amount of dollars. I am now paid and have a weekly column for the work but it helps, even if the exposure is great, to set yourself a limit, be it monetary or otherwise before commencing anything for free. Otherwise you are completely taken advantage of.

    • That is a good strategy, Katrina, to decide how much time and money you’re going to put into it and whether it’s worth it. It sounds like it was.

  38. Hi Dianne, I have just started to give free content to one of our national online news sites. I only give them recipes and photos that I have already posted about so they are free to everyone already. Of course I do It for exposure and also to see the response from a wider audience where I have no control of the comment feedback. If what I Post is popular I may have the chance to get paid work in future. I am putting together a business proposal to feature as a dedicated blog on their site offering them dedicate content, paid of course. The worse that can happen is they say no,I may be hurt but I keep plugging away.

    • That makes sense, Alli, but I am wondering now if they would be willing to pay you for original content, if they can get your blog content for free. As you say, the worst that can happen is that they say no. It’s great that you’re asking.

  39. As someone who is still trying to build a platform, and still looking for exposure, I will occasionally write for free. But it really does depend. I won’t write a long-form piece of do a big huge blog post with pictures, and I won’t let someone re-publish a post I’ve already written for my own site, but I’ve written little blurbs for free. If the site is one I respect and feel excited just to be published in (Gourmet!), sure, you can have my 100 words for free. I’m a new writer who’s not yet able to do it full time, and I’ll take the exposure, and the pure joy of seeing my headshot and words on Gourmet.

    • I guess it might be worthwhile to write a little blurb, if the topic was relevant to your blog (ex. where to eat in Seattle if your blog is not about Seattle restaurants), and contained a link.

  40. I just checked my google reader and this post came up. I am actually in the process of writing my own post about this question as a result of seeing my blog content appear on recipe aggregating website Feastie without my permission and I only found out about it because I set a google alert on my blog. It made me question whether if recipe aggregating websites were just free riding on the work on bloggers to build a popular website.

  41. Generally, I don’t give content away because it can undermine one’s credibility and compromise fees for other writers. Even after having published many cookbooks I’ve been asked to give recipes away for free, do extensive consulting work for large companies in exchange for the mention of my name, consult with restaurants in foreign cities in exchange for nothing more than the promise of a book signing (that one always kills me), or teach a 3-hour cooking class for free at a very famous and highly profitable food emporium (the idea being that I should be grateful for having been asked)–no expenses paid. When I first started out I did a lot of this for “exposure” but learned eventually that it didn’t pay off (I can’t think of an instance when it did).

    • Incredible that someone with your experience is still asked for these freebies, Julia! I guess it just means that people are brazen enough to ask, because someone’s always going to take them up on it.

      • Yes, there will always be someone who will accept. That’s why writers (in all genres) have been trying to spread the word that writers who accept small or no fees for work are bringing down the industry as a whole. It is giving the impression that writing is cheap and, in turn, the business is losing respect. Ultimately, It impacts writers’ livelihoods. I don’t know what the solution is or if there is one.

        • This was Amy’s ultimate message, Roberta. I think it is a valid one. The solution is education, and the gradual realization by newer writers that they have value.

  42. I still contribute to Huffington Post for free and will for a while as long as I have the time and energy. It allows me to pick and choose my topics (which is fun), create discussion and get lots of exposure. Lots. After 2 years I feel like it is on the same level as my blog for me now – meaning, I have two platforms for which I can create the content I enjoy creating and they both keep my brain working – the content I produce for the two is completely different as is the readership, both which are good for me. Other than that, I have also spoken at a conference for no fee and no expenses paid. I have in the past created content for smallish websites for free hoping for exposure.

    That said, I’m pretty well done with that. After the first time I got paid for writing and paid for speaking I realized what I was worth. I’ve been approached to create content for a large on-line newspaper in the UK but for neither fee nor cost (of creating recipes) and to tell the truth I just don’t have the time anymore to do it for nothing. My time is better spent creating content to submit to platforms that pay and that is what I do now. I love to speak and teach but, again, I now know my worth and will not do it for free anymore unless it really is for a great cause.

    I think that the whole question does depend on where the person is in their “career” and if there is a career at all. If a blogger has no desire to be a professional writer, photographer or recipe developer and does it for fun, then why not. And if someone desires to develop a professional career then doing stuff for free may be necessary (exposure and resume/portfolio). But, as many say, if a platform does pay some contributers than it should pay all. But on the other hand, I submitted pieces to a magazine than contains mostly content sent in by readers (for free); but they do pay some professional contributers so I assume my pieces will be paid for. If not, then it is a no go for me now.

    • I guess you feel you are getting something of value from the HuffPo, Jamie. But after two years, it is THEY who are getting the value and they should pay you! Unfortunately, since I do not rule the world, nothing will change. Sorry about that.

      I also speak at conferences for food bloggers for free, and in exchange they cover my expenses. One conference was kind enough to give me a $100 honorarium that covered my misc. expenses not covered by their contract. Speaking engagements are terrific marketing for me. They’re prestigious, and I love getting out and meeting other food writers. I sometimes get work from these conferences as well, where someone hires me as a writing coach. Now, I’m not sure what the benefit is to a food writer like yourself, other than prestige and the excuse to get out and meet people as well, with most expenses covered. On the other hand, it’s a time suck and if you feel the time could be better spent getting paying work, more power to you!

      Most food bloggers start out doing work for free. If it continues, eventually they realize that they could get paid, or they decide it’s too much work to keep doing it for nothing. I think that is a healthy, positive conclusion. And it helps the other professional food writers when bloggers decide they want to get paid what they’re worth.

      • Okay, I correct myself… expenses paid for speaking at a conference is indeed enough for me, especially since I love doing it. As far as what a food writer gets out of that other than exposure and I, for me, I just love sharing my knowledge, experience, point of view if it can help others move ahead. That is really payment in itself.

        And, Dianne, I know how you feel about Huff Po and sadly I wish I could get paid and maybe one day they’ll offer me something. But at this point in my career, the kind of exposure they give me is still important.

  43. I would think that if the credit has been given to the author and was consensual then and links that bring more traffic to your blogs would be worthwhile. Depends on what you deem as the “value” of your content I guess…

    • Do you mean if the content was already published on your blog? Yes, in that case, I think you’ve got little to lose, assuming they don’t post the entire thing.

  44. I receive at least 5 emails weekly asking to republish a photo or a recipe. For the most part, I ignore them. It’s not worth my time or effort (I also have a toddler)! I will admit, however, I’ve given away such content in the past. I think it was listening to you at a conference recently that affected my outlook on this. I don’t do it any longer because the payoff is never worth it. I think I might generate more hits than most of those newer recipe sites anyway! Thanks for this blog. It always keeps me thinking :)

    • Wow, that’s a lot of emails asking for free stuff. I don’t think there’s a blanket rule that you should never do anything for free, but it’s good to evaluate the opportunities first and see if any of them are worth your time. Thanks for saying that the blog keeps you thinking. That’s my goal.

  45. Catching up on my reader and a little late to the party on this one, but thought I’d chime in anyway. I recently contacted an editor at an AOL-owned web publication I had done some articles for in the past, to see about renewing the relationship (they had gone through some personnel changes so I had to reconnect once the dust settled). The new editor told me that she “didn’t have a budget for freelancers” but chirpily informed me that I was “welcome to contribute as a blogger!”

    Based on this, I sadly have to say that I’m not sure if the trend is dying out. Obviously, they’re finding these “bloggers” to provide free content easily enough that they expect me to provide for free what they were paying for previously. I should mention too, the pay was pretty pathetic to begin with and I only gave them recipes and photos that were re-purposed from my site, or covered events/ restaurants I’d planned to check out anyway.

    As for “exposure”? I’m lucky if I get a few random clicks through to my site from any online articles, paid or not. I’m curious how much traffic Jamie gets via HuffPo (another site that offered to take me on as a blogger– code for unpaid, of course) that she feels it is worthwhile. I have a hard time believing that the time invested would be compensated by a correlating traffic/ readership increase, but maybe I’m wrong.

    • I want to clarify here that I do not write for Huff Post in order to draw traffic to my blog. Yes it does (and I do love it, I kid you not) and the amount depends upon how often and what I post but I also get decent traffic (believe it or not) from my ranting comments on political articles. For me, Huffington Post is access to a different audience and I treat it as a second platform with a different readership, one who may not particularly read blogs. For example, when I attended the IACP conference I was astonished at how many professional writers, cookbook authors, etc recognized me from HP and told me they read my stuff there. This would most likely never happen nor would I have achieved this kind of visibility with just my blog and, as I said before, as a writer just starting a professional career this kind of visibity among other professionals is priceless.

      Besides offering me visibility to a non-food blog reading audience, HP also gave me great experience writing for a different platform, writing about different kinds of topics from different angles than I do on/for my blog. This helped me immensely to learn how and “train” myself for writing articles for submitting to magazines, etc.

      So, yes, I do believe that the time and energy I have spent (which is as much or as little as I choose) has been well worth it. Of course I would be lying if I said that I would not rather be paid for it, but it was definitely the right choice and path for me. For someone already published or famous or whatever, maybe the choice wouldn’t make sense, but for me it was really a great and successful stepping stone for me. But I wouldn’t do this just anywhere; the choice to write for HP for free was definitely made based on the size of their readership and their fame.

  46. I have a 10-month-old food blog and feel that, at this point, it is still worth it to me to do guest posts on blogs and sites with greater readerships than my own. I only guest post for sites in my niche (kosher cooking), and not so frequently that it really takes a toll.

    Aside from the exposure, guest posting helps me build relationships with big-name people in my niche who are valuable contacts. But yes, I do put a lot of time into it, and am careful to say “no” when necessary.

    • It sounds rational to me, Tali. You pinpoint your target audience by writing these guest posts. Perhaps they will become your readers as well.

  47. Interesting discussion. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in a position where I’ve started to charge for nutrition-based cooking demos; first, because I’ve gained enough experience to claim some expertise; second, I do have a related degree and formal knowledge. It’s remarkably encouraging and satisfying, and encourages me to take them seriously. (I do still do free ones for my local public libraries. Go libraries!) It’s not great $$, but even a $30 check is satisfying. (Yeah, you could argue with a state-initiated grant-funded proposal for more money…)

    However, my blogging and photography are purely amatuer and I’ve never charged a dime to anyone wanting to use a posted recipe or reblog an article. Freelance articles for publication, definitely. On the other hand, very few people have requested anything off my blog!

    My cookbook, on the other hand, is much more rigorously written, edited, recipe tested, and I paid photo people to do the photography. That I charge for, both because it was a lot of my time and effort as well as because people value what they pay for more.

    • This is an interesting argument, Stephanie, to charge for work from your cookbook but not from the blog. In fact, I’m intrigued that you can get paid for pre-existing content in your book at all. How does that work? I’m sure others would like to know.

      Good for you to get paid for demos. Why shouldn’t you? You’re an expert in the subject.

  48. You ask a valid question. If we are to be paid for our services (or pay others for providing guest content), What is a decent amount?

    • A decent amount is whatever you think it is, based on how many hours you put in and what you charge hourly.

  49. I agree with almost everybody here that the answer is “it depends”. Food photography has turned into my main source of income and I value my time and investment, I almost never say yes to publications that ask for free content (I still do on occasions, if there is a friend involved).

    Writing doesn’t come as easy to me, there is less investment but more effort, so it works the same, I have been doing this for too long to just be elated to see my name in print with no remuneration. They make money out of it, sometimes get some exposure as we post/tweet/whatever about us being published, so the least they can do is pay us for our services.

    By the way, it’s my first time in your blog (found out about it in your book). I love it and it’s all dogeared by now.

    • Maybe that’s it. In the beginning, people are thrilled to see their names in print. Once the excitement wears off, they want to be paid. I agree that these companies can afford to pay SOMETHING. Otherwise it seems like exploitation.

      And I should also say…welcome, first time blog reader. I hope you will have lots of impetus to comment on future posts.

  50. Pretty much every job I’ve had has been down to writing. I have an advanced degree, as well as a lot of experience, so I have no qualms about asking to be paid. However, I love writing, and I’ve done my share of free stuff, like columns in the early days of ezines, but I’ve also done paid freelance stuff, online and off.

    These folks who want content for free get away with it because so many writers/bloggers either don’t have the moxie/confidence to request payment, or are too embarrassed at the idea of seeming greedy. It’s a lot easier to take the initiative and query an publication, print or online, which has established fee scales, but sometimes you just have to gather your courage, ask for that fee, and tell them thanks, but no thanks if they don’t want to pay it.

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if anyone has mentioned kill fees. Only twice have I had to ask for one, once for a newspaper where the editor didn’t clear the job with her boss before I turned in my copy, and once online where I had written several scheduled articles to specs when “my” editor went on maternity leave. Her replacement thought her ideas were stupid and that he could just not pay me. Sorry, a contract is a contract, so do get that contract.

    So, if bloggers (or anyone else) are approached about paid writing jobs, put in the work and then are blown off, they should be aware that they are most likely entitled to a kill fee. You almost always have to ask for it, but you did the work and your time has value.

    As for your initial question, I surely hope the bad old days of free content for exposure are on the wane. A recipe with an interview just makes sense — it’s a selling tool for the blogger, but otherwise it’s seldom the tangible boost for your blog that you were led to expect.

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