State of the Blog: Getting Everything for Free, or Not
Nov 9, 2011
Belle – I LOVE your blog, but have been disappointed to see your product reviews without the required FTC disclaimer that you’ve been given something free to try if you blog about it. Doing so just makes you more credible!
I posted about this topic once before, but the readership has really grown since then, so let’s talk about it again.
As you know, the FTC requires bloggers to disclose when they receive products for free. Of course, the FTC doesn’t require the magazine industry to divulge when they receive freebies–even though their entire business model is based on taking free things, saying those things are wonderful and then having the makers of those things pay to advertise in their magazine–but, I digress. Despite the unfairness, bloggers, like myself, are legally required to disclose when receive products for free.
Confession: I almost never get anything for free. (A blogger who still buys things? Unheard of!)
After three years of blogging and hundreds of product reviews, suggestions and recommendations, I can count on one hand the number of products that I have received for free. Why am I still paying for things when so many bloggers live on swag alone?
First off, I can’t give companies the exposure they want. Bloggers like Anh at 9 to 5 Chic or Bee at Atlantic-Pacific get a lot of things for free because they wear the freebies in their blog photos. But I’m pseudononymous, so I’m not going to pose on a street corner wearing my new, free Kelly Wearstler coat.
Why send me an item of clothing that no one will see me wearing? It’s not a good marketing strategy.
Secondly, I have a penchant for honest critiques. I worked with the company SocialSpark for one review. I disclosed that I received the product for free, but gave it a middling review. I didn’t love the product, and I wasn’t going to say that I did just because someone tossed $75 my way. They never came calling again, shocker.
Third, getting free stuff is a lot of work. Most bloggers who make a mint reviewing things that they get for free actively solicit freebies. They post their address on their pages, they e-mail companies looking for swag, they attend events where there will be goodie bags, they build relationships with PR companies who send them all kinds of gifts, etc. Getting stuff for free is their full-time job.
I, on the other hand, have a full-time job. My blog is my hobby. The last thing I want to do after a long day of lobbying the federal government is go home and lobby a 24-year-old PR flack for a free sample of shampoo.
So where do the products I review come from?
When it comes to clothing, I post the pieces I like. If I like a cheaper one (because I know you ladies love a bargain), I’ll post a cheaper one instead. But the pieces featured on this blog are featured because I like them and want to own them, not because anyone’s giving me freebies.
However, if Rebecca Minkoff came calling, I wouldn’t send her away.
As for beauty products, I’m very picky about the contents of my medicine cabinet, so I buy 99% of the products reviewed on this site myself. Sometimes, like in the case of my beloved Clarisonic, they’re a gift from family. And other times, like in the case of the ybf eyebrow pencil, I discovered them in my Birchbox (which I also pay for, $10 every month, well worth it).
So what have I gotten for free?
Well, last week, Barbara at Brandlink PR sent me some free Voli vodka to try. I really liked it (and loved that it was low-cal), so I decided to incorporate it into the Happy Hour post. I mentioned that the vodka was sent to me by a PR company and I mentioned that it was swag, so it was pretty clear that this was something that I hadn’t paid for myself.
Occasionally, the fine people at ELLE magazine (who I’m partnered with via the Style Coalition) will send me a free beauty product from their closet. And if/when I blog about those products, I always mention that it was sent to me at no cost. But as for free stuff, that’s about the balance of it.
The FTC offers few guidelines for how bloggers disclose what they receive for free. Some have lengthy disclosure statements in their posts, most just write “c/o” and call it a day. Honestly, I’m glad that my lack of blogger swag means that I don’t have to mess with that legalese very often.
So please don’t assume that just because I am a blogger that I get things for free. I really hate asking for free stuff. I like to review products honestly, and buying my own products with my own money makes that possible. So if you see the product here, 99 times out of 100, I bought it myself.