Prostitute Your Blog — For Free!

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

So here’s one totally out of left field : a true story about — feel free to stifle a yaw right now if you must — blogging.

I’m not in the habit of talking much about blogging itself on my blog since it seems like opening the floodgates to a near-fatal self-referential loop, but I’m wondering, since I know there are other bloggers out there who read my blathering, if anything like this has ever happened to you or, if not, what you’d do in regards to such a scenario if it were to happen. For my part, I found the answer I came up with to be a very easy one indeed, but if you disagree with me, then by all means, tell me why!

Here’s the set-up : a few days back I got an email from somebody I didn’t know who claimed to be a reader of my site. Okay, that’s cool, I get a fair number of random emails from people who want to shoot the shit about various movies or comics I’ve reviewed, or from indie filmmakers who want me to take a look at their wares in the hopes of getting me to review it. In short, getting a random email from somebody is no big deal to me at this point. This one, however, seemed a little different right from the outset.

The person writing me seemed to have very definite ideas about what she was requesting me to do — but on the other hand, maybe not so much. She suggested that I “talk about a foreign film that has an American remake and discuss the differences, with special emphasis on points that had been lost in translation directly due to language.” Given that there are plenty of Americanized versions of foreign flicks to choose from, particularly in the horror genre, I wrote her back and asked if she had any specific film in mind. She said no, I “could choose for myself” (gosh! thanks for giving me the option of what to write about on my own blog!), all she cared about was that I draw plenty of attention to the differences between the two and highlight “how language can affect the way we experience a story.” I told her I’d think about it — more to be polite than anything else — and then came the sales pitch.

Later the same day, I got a fairly lengthy email outlining precisely what this individual — who, I feel the need to point out again, I didn’t know from a hole in the ground — wanted me to do : she laid out the whole European-or-Asian original vs. American remake scenario again, then asked if I could please mention a particular software product (which I won’t name) made by her company (which, likewise, I’ll refrain from naming) that has a tangential relationship to the theme she was hoping to get me to write about, and to talk about how this product can help to “bridge communication barriers caused by language differences.”  She also said there was a deadline of next week to have the post up,  but that they “could be flexible on that if you’re not able to have it done that soon.” She then  politely implored of  me :  “please don’t disclose that you were contacted by us and asked to do this” because — get ready to laugh — “we’re only reaching out to select bloggers who we feel can adequately convey our message.”

In other words — shill for our product, but do it in a faux-casual way, and please don’t tell anyone that’s what you’re doing, or our cover is blown.

She closed by asking me to please send a link to the article once I was finished writing it and wished me a good day. All this after having the unmitigated gall to a) tell me what to write about (at least in a thematic sense); b) tell me when I need to have it done by; and c) insist that I  include a free plug for her product, which I knew nothing about, and to do so on the “down-low” without being upfront with my readers about it.

My inclination at this point was already to say “thanks, but no thanks,” but I figured, what the hell? Like anyone else, my conscience can be bought at the right price, so I asked her what this assignment — and let’s be honest, that’s exactly what it was — paid. In fact, the exact words I used were, “not to be too blunt, but what’s in it for me?”

Are you ready for the kicker? Because here it comes.

After beginning her email with a  “Dear Ryan” for the first time, my new-found “friend” said “unfortunately, there is no budget for this project, so we’re not able to offer any monetary compensation for participating, but” — get this! — “think of it as a way to start a conversation with your readers about language and film, and look at it as an opportunity to drive traffic to your blog.” She said that she “understood” if I “declined to participate since there’s no money involved,” but let me know that “we’ve had plenty of other great posts from other bloggers who have participated and they’ve all generated terrific conversations.” She also said that “at some point in the future” her company “may decide to link to your post” (where, exactly, she didn’t say, but I’m guessing on the company website) and that will “generate even more hits to your site if we decide to do so.”

So, to recap in the simplest possible terms : these folks wanted me to surreptitiously pimp their product for them in exchange for absolutely fucking nothing. Unless you consider a half-assed promise that they “may” link to the post “at some point in the future” and that said link “will generate hits to your site” some sort of payment-in-kind/trade — which I most assuredly don’t. And my “blog traffic” is just fine without their “assistance,” thanks very much — in fact, I’m betting they know it’s pretty damn good or they wouldn’t even have bothered to contact me in the first place. Nobody cares about advertising to an audience of zero, but when you get something like 400 or 500 “hits” per day, like I do, I guess companies feel like you’re talking to some folks they’d like to reach.

So — I  wrote back, saying “Dear (fill-in-the-blank), thank you for your offer, but as a simple matter of principle, I don’t believe in advertising for somebody I don’t know without some sort of compensation. Still, I’m intrigued by the idea that a campaign such as this could somehow work and that others have agreed to spend their time working for you for free. Your salesmanship skills must be extraordinary indeed.  If you could please send me some links to these other posts you mention that have gone up and generated these terrific conversations and increased blog hits for people, I’d be happy to take a look, and maybe I’ll reconsider my position”  — not that I would, mind you, I just wanted to see if anybody was dumb enough to actually do this.

Her response? None. I’m still waiting — and I’ll always be waiting, because I can guarantee you that nobody’s taken her up on her “offer.” At least I sure hope not.

Look, I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I get how the new “zero-wage” online economy works : nobody’s got any money, so almost nobody  pays  a dime. Blogging should be looked upon purely as a hobby, but if you do manage to “get noticed,” as I have, you might get offers to write for other sites — and almost none of them pay anything, either, because they’re just as broke as you are. It’s one big digital plantation. But you know what? I think there’s a hell of a difference between providing free content for a site that doesn’t pay and advertising for a major software company — or a major company of any kind, for that matter — for free. If this person who contacted me was a friend of mine who needed some help marketing  their product, that would be one thing, but for somebody who doesn’t know you to contact you out of the blue, make very specific requests about how they want you to advertise their product, and then offer you jack shit in return — well, that takes some real nerve.

It’s also pretty indicative of a total lack of respect on the part of the person making the “offer” toward the person they’re making it to, is it not? And if somebody were to agree to do it, then it’s a sign of a pretty serious lack of self-respect on their part, since they obviously agree with the corporate stooge pitching the assignment to them that their time and effort isn’t actually worth anything. But, ya know, thanks for working for us for free all the same, sucker. Even the most dead-broke filmmaker or wannabe-filmmaker who wants you to review their movie either sends you a screener copy in the mail or hooks you up with a link to watch it digitally. This software company worth millions of dollars wasn’t even willing to pony up a free copy of their product in exchange for me doing their “guerrilla marketing” for them.

So, my question to anybody reading this who blogs or does any other writing online is this : are there any circumstances under which you’d have told this person “yes”? If so,  thenit’s no wonder that there’s no way to “make a living” as a writer online these days — after all, if we think so little of what we’re doing that we’d be willing to help sell a product for free, then it stands to reason that the “suits” making these “offers” have a directly- proportionate lack of regard for our efforts. Shit, a company isn’t allowed to do that to its employees — working without pay is called slavery, and we fought a war to get rid of it about a century and a half ago. Why, then, is it legal for companies to “employ” people online without compensation when it’s totally fucking illegal to do so in the “real” world?




  1. trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens and commented:

    A little rant I thought the other bloggers here, and even some of our readers, might appreciate!

  2. I’ve gotten similar solicitations. I’m always happy to hear from indie filmmakers looking for a review but otherwise, I’m usually pretty skeptical of any sort of blog-related business proposition. The whole fun of blogging is that you can pretty much do whatever you want so it always drives me crazy to get one of those, “We need it done at this time and it’s need to be done this way” type of messages.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      I get screeners from indie filmmakers all the time, and I lay out my terms pretty clearly — if I like it, I’ll review it. if I don’t like it, then I’ll say so if it’s from a major, or even semi-major, studio/company, but if it’s from a shoestring-budget filmmaker who’s sunk all their money into a project and who is looking to get any sort of attention — in other words, if it’s somebody who could actually be negatively , not just personally but financially, from a bad review, then I just don’t review it at all. I’m not out to dash anybody;s dreams here, I’m just one guy with an opinion.

  3. Sponsored content pitches always feel unctuous — this one doubly so. The offers I’ve received at my blog have been along the lines of “tailored content” or infographics provided by an outside source. I’ve always turned them down, because they’ve been crap. Once I offered to start writing tailored content for the sponsored content guys themselves, so their stuff would stop being crap. They turned me down.

    Expecting you to do all the heavy lifting of writing the article to support their dumbass product is a new low, though. As if you’re missing some priceless opportunity … Knuckleheads!

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Yeah, the ironic thing was that she still had the nerve to act like she was doing me a favor even though she wasn’t going to pay me — I don’t need any help “driving traffic” to my blog in the least, I get plenty of hits as it is. And you know what? I’m getting paid the same — nothing — whether I get 50 or 500 visitors a day, so what do I even care? This isn’t a high school popularity contest. But hey, what do you know — her pitch to me has indeed “started a conversation,” exactly as she claimed it would! Although I’m pretty sure it;s not the conversation she wanted.

  4. Bubbawheat says:

    I think I got the same pitch, from a company that sounds like an intelligent halfling? I didn’t even bother with the first reply since I knew it wouldn’t produce anything. I have done advertorials on my site a couple times, but they resulted in cold hard cash.

    On the other hand, I am still building up my secondary site with a full writing staff but no monetary compensation. It feels odd to ask people to work for free essentially, but as long as they are doing it for fun and not as work its not too bad I guess.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Yeah, that’s a different type of matter — if you’re willing to pay them if and when you get some income rolling in, of course. I had a site that I used to write for sell out to something called “Swagger Magazine” and disappear overnight — the site owners got paid, the writers, who generated the content, didn’t get a dime, and all our posts were wiped out instantly. But I guess that’s another matter altogether.

  5. Arleigh says:

    Early on in my blog I got a lot of such “suggestions” until I just told them in a nice way that their ideas were so good why don’t they just do it themselves. I would even read them if they did. Never heard back from them.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      I don’t think you missed out on anything!

      • Yeah, I still get a lot of those, and I know damn well that I go into too many subjects to have a “successful” blog. I do it when I can, and making it “work” will just make me ignore it. Let folks rant and rave on whatever they want to whenever they want to. STOP STIFLING MY CREATIVITY! (or lack thereof.)

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        If they’re not paying you, don’t shill for them — simple as that.

  6. necromoonyeti says:

    “You have 1,842 new messages!”

    I really wouldn’t know if I receive this sort of solicitation, but I think it’s deliciously ironic that this product was meant to “bridge communication barriers caused by language differences”. This sort of reminds me of what my wife deals with at work. Her company outsources a lot of their telecommunications to India, and the turnover rate there is awful. I think they all work for some megacompany in a big warehouse and shuffle people around to different contractors like cards. Since most of them will be telemarketing garbage products, I guess, they are all trained to circumvent reasonable questions and assert authority. So my wife has to contact this team every few days to relay messages to customers, and any time she gets a new guy on the line it goes something like: “Please tell Customer 123 that their order is going to be a day late. Offer them a 10% discount if they get fussy.” “This is unacceptable ma’am! You will ship the order on time or you will receive a 10% fine!” “I just said that.”

    If I had to guess, I would say that the person who contacted you is definitely not a native English speaker and might not even work directly for the company she was trying to convince you to advertise. I bet she’ll sell you a commemorative coin set if you ask.

  7. johnrieber says:

    As you did, I will refrain from mentioning the companies I am talking about, but someone who recently worked for me talked about an online podcast – run by a well known company – who she recently worked for…I asked if she enjoyed it, and she did, but they don’t pay. All of the creative effort is done for the “hope” of being picked up somewhere or noticed by enough people to get online attention…in other words, the content is nothing more than a calling card for you…and free labor for them. You were right to challenge the person who contacted you. I get that on a weekly basis. Our posts have no value to those people except to give them a chance to use our readers for their sales effort. For free.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Well said, my friend! Your friend sounds like they’re willing to let themselves be played for a sucker — I can certainly imagine doing a podcast for free (hell, I’ve been a guest on a fair number of ’em), but not at the behest of a corporate sponsor. Sorry, if you want your product advertised, you should have to pay for it. Sooner or later this nonsense has to stop — you can’t go work for a company at an office, store, restaurant, or factor for free even if you wanted to (not that you would). Why people are willing to do it on the internet is beyond me. “Hope” don’t pay the bills. One of these days somebody should try hiring a plumber, roofer, landscaper, or remodeler and tell them “hey, I can’t pay you, but I’ll put a sign for your business in my front yard and tell all my friends what a good job you did and maybe you’ll get some paying work down the road thanks to positive word of mouth.” See how far that gets you.

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