Pay me, I’m a blogger

I got pretty excited at the thought of Cook, the Guardian’s new supplement celebrating home cooking that launched last Saturday, but I didn’t get around to buying the paper. I made do with the free online version, which in spite of my newly adopted role of blogger, I still find a less drool-inducing way to read about food.

Inside, or should I say, online, I was pleased by the selection of soup recipes, and amused by Felicity Cloake’s choice of oysters on toast as the Reader’s Recipe Swap winner. As someone who earns a living creating written and visual content for magazines, it has never crossed my mind to cook oysters for breakfast. The closest I’ve come was the time I ate an oyster off a cart in an east London spit and sawdust at 1am, and I was given free crabsticks with that.

Claire Strickett (@clairestrickett), of Gin & It and For Books Sake, has written an interesting piece about Cook on her blog Cake and Fine Wine. The focus of her article is the fact that the Guardian didn’t pay the bloggers they invited to contribute to the first Reader’s Recipe Swap. This news came as no surprise to me, but I have to agree with Strickett, who says, ‘The Guardian might well be desperate to find cheap ways to generate content (it is, after all, losing £44m a year). But that shouldn’t necessarily override the moral issue at stake here. If someone provides work, then they should be paid.’

The point at which I get lost, however, is with her choice to blame the success of food blogs for contributing to the increasingly low value placed on food writing. ‘As blogging grows, so ‘proper food journalism’ dies,’ she says, ‘in an inverse relationship that isn’t entirely unconnected.’ Strickett’s argument is that while readers expect free content, journalists won’t get paid, and bloggers are to blame, because they are the ones saturating the market with free content.

Agreed, it is problematic that readers expect to enjoy content for nothing, but it is the responsibility of editors to make a portion of their content exclusive, and for publishers to be imaginative: to explore the new forms of revenue that the web opportunes. We read magazines to learn from and be entertained by a collective brain, and this an independent blogger cannot replicate. Blogs have more akin to a diary or notebook: they form a different genre entirely.

Strickett says that the thought of bloggers expecting payment for what they write is laughable, because ‘bloggers have very rarely, as far as I know, been paid directly for what they write… the entire premise of blogging is that you can publish your writing online pretty much for free, for anyone to read – for free.’  But studies show that a significant quantity of bloggers do earn money from their endeavours. According to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere (2011) almost one third of bloggers have worked in the traditional media, most commonly a monthly magazine, and 39% of bloggers earn a living through, or partially through, doing so.

Looking at the figures, I can only assume that the rise in blogging isn’t so much a cause, but a symptom of the decline in the value of traditional food writing, and creative content-making as a whole. Badly-paid journalists and their sort are turning to blogging in order to keep active, regain control, to experiment, access new audiences, and/or revenues for their writing. Any blog written, edited and targeted, well enough to provide any tangible competition to established media such as the Guardian will not have been produced by any old hobbyist with a crochet hook and an iPad.

I started my blog for reasons both personal and professional, but a big one was the fact that after I had my daughter, I lost my job as deputy editor of a monthly magazine. I began my career as an illustrator. My disillusionment with my first choice of trade was contributed to by the fact it was so damn hard to get paid a decent wage for it, and that still goes on. In 2005 Topshop paid me £150 a day to design prints for their T-shirts. ‘Quids in,’ I thought, but for each day I was employed by Topshop freelance, I was expected to fulfil a large quota, and let go of my copyright.

I started a blog to keep busy. Should I hold back, lest I prevent any ‘proper’ school-tie-and-skinny-jeans writers from getting paid work? By utilising this medium am I really posing any more of a threat to my own kind than I was by accepting a shitty copyright deal from Peter Green? No. And now that’s settled, me and my poorly-paid self will mooch off to enjoy some more free content on the Guardian website.


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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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4 comments on “Pay me, I’m a blogger

  1. January 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Thanks for the really interesting response and sorry for the long comment, but you raised such good points I couldn’t help but respond at length.

    Firstly, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough when I talked about the premises of blogging being that it’s free to publish and to read. I didn’t mean that this necessarily precludes anyone making money from blogging, or other similar editorial activities. What I meant was, for example, WordPress and similar sites exist to facilitate the free publication of content online, content which people can consume for free. That’s the most basic underlying system on which blogging is built. What you choose to do with that system and why is up to you, and varies enormously from person to person. But at a transactional level, blogging is free self-publishing, and free at the point of use.

    Secondly, I don’t think that bloggers are entirely to blame for the reduced value placed on content. I hoped it was pretty clear from my post that I’m also very sceptical about some of the decisions made by GMG itself (and really many other traditional media empires, partly because nobody really knew what the hell to do when everything started to change) – hence the pointed remarks about Rusbridger’s approach. In that, I don’t think we disagree: I think that it’s up to editors to make their content exclusive, and to find new ways to make online content pay. I do still think that blogging and the proliferation of free online content has contributed though. If I couldn’t read any blogs or any newspaper websites online for free I reckon I would definitely buy more print media or pay for access to more sites than I currently do.

    It isn’t just about making content good enough for people to pay for, IMO. The issue is that people seem to be quite happy to read crappy content for free rather than excellent content for a small sum – be that online or in print. You only need to look at the number of people reading Metro on the train in the morning (poorly-regurgitated press releases) vs. the number of people who’ve chosen to read the Times, or Guardian etc. – where you’ll find good journalism, rigorously edited. People DO still seem to be willing to pay for top-quality journalism where they are have more specialist interests: for instance, those whose interests demand access to super-high-quality business news will pay through the nose for Bloomberg and still tend to read the FT. But I honestly feel, sadly, that most people are more likely to read something rubbishy but free and placed in their hand, than something good priced at just 50% of their cappuccino that takes 10 seconds to buy. And I feel like the evidence bears me out there.

    Really, the fact that it’s harder than ever to get people to pay to read words is due to so many different factors, some much bigger than either of those. It’s the subject of a thesis and not a blog post.

    For example, 10 years ago, if I had nothing to do, I could either watch TV (but often there was nothing on), or read a book, or read a magazine. (I was never really into watching films, but that’s the other option, I suppose.) As a result I read a lot more books (admittedly I didn’t buy them – I got full use out of my library card) and I bought a LOT of magazines.

    Now if I have any time at leisure, I sit on my laptop idly browsing the internet for hours, or I use the internet to watch almost any TV programme or film I care to watch. I almost never buy a paper or magazines. (I do read quite a lot of books but then I’m lucky enough to get almost all of those for free!) Killing time doesn’t mean turning to books or magazines any more, and they’re suffering for it.

    • January 19, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Hi Claire, thank you for your prompt and considered reply. I genuinely enjoyed your article and I think all the points you raise are valid. Although I still disagree with your emphasis, I think that through it you have highlighted an important point: that bloggers should consider the influence that their free content has on the broader market.

      It is hard not to get diverted into a debate about high and low art here. Some readers start with, and progress from, ‘trashy’ to ‘quality’ content, some never do, and some never read trash, which I think is a shame as well. I think it’s important to read as broadly as you can, which is why I agree with you that while our time and attention is limited to idly surfing the web, we’re not giving ourselves the chance to get lost among the amazing stuff that can only be found in books and at the library.

      While I agree that many free-sheets are comprised solely of ads and ‘poorly-regurgitated press releases’, I don’t think it is the fact that they are free that is the cause of their choice to push advertorials and low-grade journalism. They could take a dip in profit and support the creation of somewhat more considered content, but they don’t. It is often the same journalists writing for free-sheets like Metro and ‘quality’ papers like the Guardian. While ‘crappy’ free-sheets exist, it is publisher’s responsibility to also provide quality free papers, so that people who cannot afford to make the choice between whether to pay or not, still have access to good journalism.

      Perhaps we don’t need all content to be paid-for in the traditional sense, but for there to be more organisations working to redirect revenues gained by content providers into the hands of content creators. We also need better representation for jobbing journalists who are backed into accepting pay that doesn’t reflect the level of skill needed to do their job. It shouldn’t be legal for media employers to pay unreasonably low sums. Perhaps not-for-profit agencies like DACS (the Designers and Artists Copyright Society) and Access (the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency) could be templates for an alternative?

  2. January 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the interesting debate – I’m enjoying reading it from the sidelines. And for free.

    Would I have paid for it? Well, I do pay for writing and journalism most days and for an inordinate number of cook books and magazines. But I love that I can now also read and drool over excellent pictures for free. It seems to me that having a greater choice in the market place means just that – there is more to choose from, both good and bad. Some blogs are really well written, some less so. But that has been true of writing (not just food writing) for generations.

    Please keep writing. And let us know if we can buy it anywhere!

    • January 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting, it’s good to hear from you! Promise I’ll keep writing, promise I’ll try not to let standards slip 😉

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