I’ll scratch your back: why Pay Per Post isn’t that evil

October 9, 2006 — 13 Comments

Interesting debate between Jason Calacanis and one of the investors in the Pay Per Post program.

My natural inclination is to fully support what Jason is saying. Personally I wouldn’t use the program (although I did sign up for an account when they first launched so at least I could take a look), and neither as a matter of course would b5media. But something has been niggling away inside of me, indeed it has been since I first saw the Pay Per Post people launch. I know that morally there is a serious issue here, and yet I’m finding it difficult to condemn them.

Then it struck me. Well ok, to be more precise I looked at the current debate from an economical viewpoint as opposed to just a moral or ethical one.

Pay Per Post isn’t actually that evil. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but all they are doing is articulating into something more measurable what already goes on day in, day out in the blogosphere, and for that matter the rest of the world as well.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

I quite regularly get emails from people I know, friends etc.. pointing me to their latest amazing post or new blog, and I regularly, and happily post about them. There’s a direct economic benefit in the transaction: I get something to post about, the person who emailed me gets a link from me with the possibility of new readers, and at least in part a tangible number of visitors via the link.

Now we all know Engadget, and indeed all the Weblogs Inc., blogs don’t keep any product samples sent to them for review, right?

Great, but there is still a transaction in place.

Lets say a gadget company gave first review rights to Engadget for a new gizmo. The company gets publicity, and Engadget gets an exclusive, helping to maintain and/ or increase the readers to the site. Those visitors have a net return to Engadget because those readers click on ads, so there is also a direct financial benefit for Engadget.

Even leaks work the same way. What if I said that roughly 50% of all so-called “leaks” are actually controlled/ authorised releases by the actual company involved. The authorised leaks are usually for two reasons: viral/ hype building, or market testing. If you’re leaking on the next best thing you’re doing so because you want to continue building expectation/ hype: fuzzy photos, tech specs, other tidbits….sound familiar? If you’re thinking about doing a product, but you’re not sure how the market will respond, you leak the basics and see what the reaction is. It’s cheaper that running focus groups, and if the response is negative you never officially launched/ produced/ went ahead with the product anyway. But I digress some what, because here’s the catch: the art of leaking also has a direct economic relationship between the company/ person and the blog or website. So company XYZ decides to leak to Engadget. They get a direct benefit from either Engadget building the hype or providing them with free market testing. Again, Engadget gets an exclusive from which they gain more traffic, and hence get more advertising revenue.

Does this all sound unethical? I’m picking on Engadget here because it’s obviously the flagship of Weblogs Inc, and Jason is the one making such a big deal out of Pay Per Post, and yet what I’ve described here could apply to just about any blog out there, in any field.

Which takes me back to Pay Per Post. Their only crime is to be upfront and honest about deals that take place every day. Instead of hiding behind the law of undisclosed returns, they’ve actually put a dollar figure on these transactions. Ethically and morally I don’t for one minute like the fact that they don’t ask their bloggers to disclose the posts they are being paid for as being that (paid for..and indeed they should force their bloggers to disclose this when they make paid posts), however as a transactional tool between advertisers/ companies and bloggers, there’s little difference between the free flag flying promo posts Engadget and just about everyone else does (particularly when talking about products) and these posts. Indeed, one is in many ways more honest that the other, and it’s the later. At least we can measure the transaction with Pay for Post 🙂


Tags: ,