The other day I see a tweet from this chick blog with a spunky name saying they’re looking for writers “to join [their] editorial team.” Sounded serious. I checked it out.
The blog looks professional (but there’s no guarantee it is, given the plethora of polished prefab blog themes out there). It wants to be edgy and aims to cover a wide variety of topics from high tech to high art to high fashion. So far, so good. The writing is fair in terms of style and personality. I get the impression that the owner has been seduced by the quantity-over-quality siren, which is not uncommon among group blogs (a response to the world’s shrinking attention span and voracious appetite for bread and circuses). In the end, I conclude that this blog is neither an unscented pantyliner of a blog, nor a communal blogorrhea receptacle, so I send a message indicating interest. A few days later, I get a response asking me to fill out an online application form and a “by the way, our writers are volunteers.”
I love to volunteer! It does wonders for the soul. Whenever my single friends are moaning and groaning about how they can’t meet anybody decent, I tell them to volunteer, that they’re sure to meet generous people who care about the same things they do. I was a volunteer “buddy” to PWAs for AIDS Services of Austin in 1990, shortly after I lost my best friend to AIDS. I did some graphic design and other work as a volunteer for an educational nonprofit in Paris when I first got here. I’ve done pro bono translation for Kiva to help get micro-loans to people in francophone Africa. And so on.
But somehow, dear blog owners who keep expecting to use my work for free, I am not inspired to volunteer to help you build a business! Do you see the difference between your blog and the examples above? And the fame and fortune blogs great and small dangle before people like me (“exposure” and maybe a few pennies of shared ad revenues here and there) just don’t cut the mustard.
The very least you can do is give me a piece of the pie.
What blog owners can learn from startups
I’ve spent the last few years immersed in and blogging about the Internet startup scene, and there is one thing everybody in that world knows: you may have an idea for a startup, but without a developer your idea is worth jack shit. And if you can’t pay your developer, you damn well better offer him equity.
So you have an idea for a group blog! Good for you. Who’s going to fill its pages? Writers. It’s the writers who are going to furnish the erudition and gravitas, or humor and hipness, or sexiness, or snarkiness, or whatever magic ingredients you need. And if you’re serious and have a clear vision for your blog, you’ll choose your writers carefully. (A startup founder doesn’t want just any hack building his/her platform.)
But if you let anyone who’ll work for free fill your blog with his blather, you’re screwing yourself right off the bat. You’ll get crap writing and a crap audience and crap advertisers (if any). Eventually, your dream of creating something special will die because your blog won’t be in the least bit exceptional because your content isn’t because your writers aren’t.
You don’t (usually*) get something for nothing.
I’m pretty sure Michael Arrington was the first person who decided to call his group blog, TechCrunch, a startup. He certainly got what you, dear blog owner, are likely hoping for when AOL recently bought TechCrunch for millions. But though he considered TechCrunch a startup, something tells me he wasn’t doling out chunks of it to his bloggers. Based on my experience, I venture most of them weren’t even getting paid.
I know what it’s like to try to launch an online company without a lot of cash. You can’t afford to hire anybody, even part time. So if you can’t pay me to write for your young group blog with a strong vision and lots of potential, then offer me a piece of it.
I know, I know, you aren’t even a real company yet because then you’d have taxes and fees and all manner of hassles to deal with. That’s OK. An agreement in writing will do.
If you offer me equity, I’ll look at what you’re all about to see if what you’re doing turns me on. I’ll check out the competition. I’ll scrutinize the other members of the team to see if they’re strong or weak links. And then I’ll decide if your blog is worth the investment of my time and effort. If I go for it, I’ll be excited and motivated, and it’ll show in my work. I’ll be dedicated and I’ll evangelize for you. You’ll be able to count on me to get you that post when I’m sick.
Good and evil
As for the rest: shame on you.
*The Huffington Post doesn’t pay its bloggers and the content sucks (for the most part), but that didn’t stop it from recently surpassing the NYT in page views or being bought by AOL for over $300M. The latter prompted the legion of HuffPo bloggers to start raising Cain about getting nothing out of the deal, to which HuffPo essentially said “bloggers don’t do that much for our traffic anyway” and “let them go on strike, there are plenty of people who’d be happy to replace them.”
The HuffPo bloggers’ class action suit probably won’t get them anywhere, in part because there was no contract and in part because there’s no solidarity: half the bloggers are OK with working for free for a multi-million dollar company.