In God we trust… All others, pay cash
Perhaps one should not be surprised that issues of bloggers’ copyrights and marketing have begun to surface. Until now bloggers have been mostly on the other side of the stick – accused of infringing copyright rather than having to defend original content. I guess part of it has to do with the fact that most bloggers swear by Creative Commons – a somewhat elusive and (at least in Slovenia) legally non-existent content.
The other part of course has to do with the fact that blogs bring little or no money.
Let’s deal with the latter issue first – it first surfaced with several bloggers being invited do test-drive the new Renault Twingo and then exploded with full force when Kolosej (a cinema operator) offered free tickets to see Transofrmers – The Movie (insert transforming sound fx here) to bloggers who would have linked to Kolosej’s Transformers page.
The “problem” as I see it is of course the trade-off or lack thereof. Namely: What can a blogger and blog offer? Two things, basically. Content and links. The two are heavily interconnected, as content without links is non-existant and (in terms of this post) worthless, the links, however, cannot be effective without good content.
Now, let’s look at it from the other side: What does Kolosej have to offer. Again, basically two things: Movies and tickets to see them. The trick of course is, that tickets to blockbusters are usually not freely availble because why give them away, when you can sell them at € 4.95 each? So, which tickets do they usually give away en masse? Why, those which they wouldn’t be able to sell in the first place, of course!
So Kolosej was giving away worthless tickets and in return it got the most valuable thing a blogger can provide. I’d call that a ripoff, not a tradeoff.
But let us for a moment presume that bloggers who participated actually wanted to see the movie. Had they not taken up Kolosej’s offer, they’d have to pay for the tickets, naturally. But since they exchanged a link for two tickets, they put a price tag on a link. Since last week the price of a link is 9.9 euros. At least with bloggers who have participated. The problem is that now a precedence has been set. Next time an offer will be made to the blogging community, the price will already have been known.
Thirdly (for those keeping count), there is in my view also a question of ethics. A twofold question, actually.
One: linking as such. If memory serves, that’s called Googlebombing and is not allowed under Google guidelines. BMW even got banned from Google for a while for doing it. Some of us did it to help Michael M.’s solve his problems with a hosting provider, but that was done for a different reason.
Two: Linking without content. That’s even worse than just Googlebombing. Why? Because that’s sort of hidden advertisment. It’s like blogging about vodka and using Absolut font (or something in that manner). If a blogger got freebies on account of his blogging then I think it would be fair and square to publish his judgment of the freebie (a movie in this case). Furthermore, he should make every effort to it as objectively as possible (naturally, a movie review is almost entirely subjective, but still) – meaning that he should not be biased in favour of the movie or the company just because he got the freebie.
I’m not saying that individual bloggers who took the offer are or were in any way biased in favour of the movie or Kolosej, I’m just saying that every effort should be made to show that they are or were not. Otherwise, there can indeed be an impression of a sellout.
And lastly: I’ve no problem with making money out of blogging. I myself sport some google ads on this blog. But whether you like it or not, blogs are media. They are public, even though they more often than not feature personal accounts of events, people, etc.. And in media full disclosure must be made whenever there is even a hint of a conflict of interest. This way the integrity of the author and the media is preserved.
Marketing is of course heavily connected to content. And had raises an extremely valid point when he says that blog-aggregators which display ads or otherwise market their webspace basically make money (if they make money, that is) by re-using contents of numerous individual blogs. To put is in Technicolor: aggregators who will display interesting and/or controvesial blogs and their entries (even just clips) will get more visitors and – by extention – more advertising money. Which is all fine and dandy – except for the fact that aggregators use other people’s work to make money. Which basically does violate bloggers’ copyright.
Of course, if you look at it from the other side, one could very well argue that blogs get more visitors by being featured in blog aggregators. Which is true to a certain point. However, as we all know, aggregators’ admins usually ask bloggers to publish links to
aggregators, which bloggers for the most part do. Call it a barter-deal. A link-exchange. No money involved. Besides. Aggregators need blogs to work – whereas blogs can technically exist without aggregators.
It is all very much like the current debate between Slovene media and this country’s clipping companies. The latter namely process almost all content produced by Slovene media on a daily basis, redistribute this content to their users – and charge them. At least one company (the largest among them) has started to recognise that this does contitute a possible infringement of copyright – precisely because media content is processed and distributed under a different brandname. So rather than wait for an expensive law suit, this company is (half-heartedly) trying to come to an agreement with most of Slovene media (the fact that this company is a part of the largest Slovene PR and marketing group does improve its negotiating positions a bit ;))
So the questions at hand are: what to do when (if) blog aggregators which also use blog’s content (and not just URLs) start making serious euros? Should blog owners be compensated? And if, what approach should be used? Would this concept hurt blog aggregators too much? What (for example) happens to Technorati if they have to compensate each and every blogger? What if aggregators start charging “membership”?
To put it in a nutshell: when money starts flowing around, do we all make a run for it, carving up the pie until there are only crumbs left or do we leave things as they are, each minding our own business?
So, that’s my two eurocents…. Personally, I think that eventually some sort of mechanism will have to be developed – perhaps a combination of the “clipping agreement” and Google’s AdSense. However, this mechanism should unite, rather then divide bloggers and aggregators – meaning that it should promote both good content and unbiased editoral process by agreggators’ admins. I’m not saying that they are biased now, just that noone really cares if they are or not – because there is no money involved. As for the marketing part… The moment readers will feel that a certain blog is favouring marketing against content, its ratings will drop and with it advertising revenue.