Notes From a Hired Pen

The Ethical Freelancer: Charging fees for a product review?

I got an email yesterday that startled me. It included the following line:

“I would like to do a review of this. My fee for the review is $75 + product.”

After scrolling through the email chain, I realized that I’d been cced by accident on an email between a PR company and a blogger. The PR company pitched their product to the blogger, and the blogger’s response was what you see above.

Let’s back up for a moment.

A lot of people have asked me why I don’t write a running blog. One reason is time. I just don’t have the energy to dedicate to another blogging project. Also, I write about running for people who pay me in return, and I don’t think there’s enough material left over to make an interesting blog, especially when I’m not running much, like right now.

Many blogs are popular because they are full time enterprises by someone who makes money through ads. As a running journalist, I wouldn’t want to deal with the possible ethical implications of that kind of venture. When I wrote a blog about the Jersey Shore, I didn’t accept advertisements from Jersey Shore companies because it created too big of a quandary: Do I take advertising from a company that I could then potentially cover in my journalism work? If I sell ads to a casino company, could I then critique the casino industry? If I’m asked to review at Cape May hotel for X newspaper, would I be able to do so when I’m also accepting payments from them for a banner ad?

I’m not saying that you can’t be a journalist and blog at the same time – because many do! I did, for years. But be careful if you try. I’m sometimes baffled by practices that are considered acceptable in the blogging world – like demanding payment to review a product. I’m going to go out in a limb here, but writing “OMG THESE RUNNING SHOES ARE THE BESTEST!” without mentioning that you were paid to call them the bestest is dishonest. If your readers find out, you’ll lose their trust. Also, as a reader, be wary whenever the same product is getting the exact same praise on the same kinds of blogs at the same time. Last year, I saw a bunch of running bloggers talk about the great the new color combos of a particular running shoe, and they all did it at the same time while posting pictures of them running in said shoes. It was pretty obvious to me what was going on.

Anyway: The PR company said no to the fee request. I’m usually at odds with big PR firms, but this time, I’m in their corner.

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3 Responses to “The Ethical Freelancer: Charging fees for a product review?”

  1. Danielle says:

    I completely agree with this. As someone who very rarely gets things to review on my blog, I see the product as my payment. However, I know that A LOT of people require product and money in order to do a review. I think a lot of times it depends on what the company asks of you. Just a simple review? Product should be enough… add in multiple posts, sharing, etc., it gets a little dicey. I think for full-time bloggers, they see it as payment for their work – which I get – but like you said, writing about how they’re the bestest shoes ever with no real insight doesn’t mean a job well done and an extra paycheck (in my opinion). Especially when it’s a blog that seems to review anything and everything, and it’s all “awesome.”

    • says:

      Thanks for weighing in!

      I wouldn’t have a problem if they labeled the blog post as sponsored content. Lots of websites do that – it’s the digital iteration of what you sometimes see in magazines, which are spreads that look editorial-ish but are clearly marked as sponsored or advertising. There are very strict guidelines about those advertisements:

      Labeling something as advertising or sponsored is the way to go. But by not disclosing? Shaaaaaaaaaady.

      • Danielle says:

        Ah yes – agreed! I know the majority of sponsored content I created comes with explicit “YOU MUST STATE XYZ” because the brands want to cover their asses as well. But I’m sure a lot assume as a blogger you already know that, and don’t include it… so some bloggers don’t. And it is super shady. And aside from that, I don’t trust someone that writes about Mizuno and how great they are one week, Saucony another, etc. It reeks of “I’ll take anything you offer me! Yay free stuff!” and not “I’m genuinely interested in this product and would like to try it and share my thoughts for readers.”

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