I've blogged about food for five years next month. And only in the last year have I sought out publicists and asked them for review copies of books published by their companies.
Prior to that, publicists found me, sent me press releases, and offered me copies of the books under their care. Some titles were not subjects I'd normally read. After stumbling through a few of those, I decided to contact publicists directly so that I could get review copies of books that I have a true interest in reading.
Mothers, especially, have no value in our society, unless they're a celebrity mom or a MILF. And at that level, children of celebrities are commodities, or used for publicity purposes. There is no national paid maternity leave, no paid childcare. Families struggle financially in order to birth and raise children.
Women become invisible once they become mothers. When I struggle to bring my daughter inside a store, or to exit one, nobody holds a door open, and I live in the "south." As an egalitarian sort, I expect men and women to help each other out in opening doors and offering to carry parcels and the like.
Many mothers blog to develop a community that they're lacking in real life. If you didn't realize it, motherhood isolates women from our friends, our families. We don't have time or energy to visit. Our attention is preoccupied by the child learning to walk, eat, drink, poop. Mothers also turn to blogging to share tidbits about their children's development with those distant friends and families; a documentary impulse. Then, another reason for blogging is so that their voices, so often drained by their sacrifices as mothers, are heard.
Arguments are made that if bloggers must disclose whether they've been compensated by a company mentions on their blog, then the same rules need to apply to big media. I agree. Many readers aren't culturally savvy enough to understand the subtleties of product placement in popular magazines. Sure, they recognize a full on advert, but they don't give a second thought to whether the Kitchen Aid mixer featured in the photo was comped.
Ron Hogan points out that we don't see congressional subcommittees formed about the "dispersement of each and every free book the New York Times Book Review receives." And what about all the freebies fashion magazines receive? All the food products that Shape receives then reviews, and promotes in their pages?
Other bloggers have made the point that we are approached by companies who want us to feature their products on our pages. So they want a mention, or they want to send us a sample of jerky, so we can write about it, get the word out. They're outsourcing their publicity work to us. Or maybe they want us to host a "contest" to generate comments about their product, then we're left with the uncompensated administrative work of contest business and mailing and shipping.
They imagine that a review copy of a book, or a sample of detergent is worth the thought, time, and effort it takes to create a blog post? Oh, there are crappy blogs out there, ones that surprisingly attract advertising dollars. The writing is poor. The reviews are laudatory, never critical. And the companies are onto that. They want bloggers to fawn. Bloggers fawn in gratitude for a freebie. And ya'll might think that free is the new black, but
This blog was always a labor of love. It began as a documentary impulse. It provides information. Sometimes I review restaurants, products, books, etc. But 99 per cent of those are paid for by myself, because I'd still do it if I wasn't paid. Wasn't compensated. For. Five. Years. And I'm still not compensated. I didn't start blogging to make money. But now, when I see how other bloggers are theoretically raking in enough dough to quit their day jobs and being compensated for the swill they produce, well I get a little Oliver Twisty. I want to hold up my empty bowl of gruel and cry:
Please Sir, I want some more.
Making bloggers disclose when they're compensated is rather ridiculous. Seriously, if you have any sense at all, you can tell that the things Heather Armstrong mentions on her blog were sent to her for publicity purposes. Maybe she only blogs about the things she actually likes or uses. I don't know. I don't read her blog. I was mostly interested in her Australian Shepherd.
Is it a problem with credentials? What authority do mothers have? Do bloggers have? There's this sense that everyone blogs because they can and because it's a route to fame and fortune. And sure, it's a platform from which to launch oneself into an industry. Part of it, I'm sure, stems from the notion that that younger generation has that they're all great. Their expectations are not based in reality.
So we know that 60 per cent of tweeters quit after a month. But what about bloggers? I read somewhere in the last few weeks, that the average blogger quits after four months (this suggests a year). They lose interest, don't develop an audience, or tribe, or don't make money. Only 5 per cent of bloggers stick with it.
Is it sour grapes? Is big media gnashing it's teeth over uncredentialed bloggers who, in their mind, brought traditional newspapers to their end? Nah. I think it's mismanagement. Failure to change and evolve as a business caused papers to fold.
The other thing that I offer on potlikker/y, when it comes to book reviews, is that I'm a professional. I'm a published book reviewer. Not once. Dozens of times. Published in authoritative, print media. My day job as an academic librarian and my interest in book reviewing and writing have developed my skills in these areas. As the book review editor of my state library association journal, I also solicit review copies from publicists, and I don't get paid for that work, either. It comes under the heading "service," for tenure and promotion purposes.
Asking for review copies of books is different from asking the Ritz to bankroll your next vacation so that you'll give a favorable review on your blog and have all the other sheep who read your blog to baaaaaah baaaaaah baaaaaaah their way to booking their own vacay at the Ritz, too. So the FTC needs to have categories of bloggers whom they'll regulate. Or they need to shut up and attend to something really important. Focusing on mommy bloggers, which, again, is my perspective, is ugly.
Motherhood is impossibly hard work. The only compensation mothers receive is the state of bliss our child's laughter give us. Or learning to see the world again through fresh eyes. Those levels of compensation change as the child grows. And so, someday parents are "compensated" by seeing the fruits of their labors embodied by a full-fledged adult.
The state, the nation, does not compensate mothers for the sacrifices they make. For the workers they produce for the machine. For the soldiers they produce to fight in our dirty little wars. My argument is that corporate American ought to compensate people who make all the purchasing decisions for a household. And they ought to compensate bloggers who shill their products, too. And they ought to fund paid maternity leave, and pay for mothers who work their asses off at home so that there will be "consumers" to buy those products someday.
Cross-posted to my much-neglected personal interests blog, bekka.