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My Response to Paul Scrivens on Network Blogger Allegiance
This post started as a comment at a post where 9rules blog network co-founder Paul Scrivens used blogger Colbert Low as a hypothetical example of tension involving blog network blogger allegianceI'm curious to learn more about this subject, and I offer my thoughts here in hopes that others will share theirs.

Scrivs, I like that you've put a lot of thought into the question of whether it's better for a paid blogger to stick with just one employer.  I agree that it's undesirable to "spread yourself thin" by taking on a workload that demands too many posts, which may tend to lower in quality.  However, you make a few assumptions that I think might not really apply to all or even most professional bloggers.

For example, you seem to say that the primary competition for a blog network is other blog networks.  True, each network is trying to entice eyeballs to its sites, but the real competition is much broader than other blog networks.  We're really competing with all other related websites out there - most of which, as of today, are not blogs that are part of blog networks.  I don't see 9rules or b5media or any other blog network as a straight-up competitor to Know More Media (the blog network I work for), because readers - and, I think, even bloggers - aren't typically choosing  to read or add to one network's content at the exclusion of others.

Also, I don't think it's the network's responsibility to tell the blogger not to blog for anyone else.  I think it's wisest to say, "We love having you blog for us; we have a bar set at a certain level for posting frequency and quality; and we expect you to meet that level consistently" - and then let the blogger be responsible for meeting or not meeting that standard.  Colbert Low - who blogs for several blog networks, including Know More Media - is free to work for as many networks or have as many blogs as he wants.  And of course he is thus responsible for his blogging behavior as it pertains to all contracts he has signed.  But I personally think it's great that he's blogging for several blog networks at the moment.  If Colbert works hard and strives to post useful content that really helps people, I think his future is bright no matter what he does or who he works for.

I'm really interested to hear more from you, Scrivs, or anyone else on this issue.  I admit that my perspective is not only biased by virtue of my blogging for a network, but also limited by of my lack of business experience.  But a central part of my job is working with bloggers to help them improve and succeed, and I am eager to learn how I could improve my perspective here.

So a few questions to continue the discussion might be:

Should blog networks insist that their bloggers blog only for them?  What rules should they set in this regard?  Is it beneficial for a network blogger to blog for just one network or several?  What factors might influence the answer to these questions?

What do y'all think?

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    22 Comments/Trackbacks

    Colbert also writes two blogs for Syntagma Media, and we're very happy with his work, despite his other commitments. Even if we were paying him a full salary (which we aren't) I wouldn't insist on him writing exclusively for us. What people do in their spare time is no concern of ours.

    I've been a freelance writer all my life and I know you have to have many income streams to make it pay.

    Scrivs is off-beam on this one.

    I agree with Paul on this one, however the real reason I think writing for many blogs you don't own is a bad idea has nothing to do with competition, it has to do with spinning your tires and not going anywhere as far as your personal brand is concerned.

    I don't see the value with writing for multiple blogs that you don't own, especially because if you took the time and started your own blog you could build your brand and recognition up much quicker and you don't have to relinquish any potential income to your network owners' pockets.

    Say this writer is earning $100/mo per blog they write for, and they write for 5 different weblogs. Per week they average 2-3 posts per blog, so they're writing approximately 10-15 posts per week on various topics. Extrapolate that out to a month, and they're writing 40-60 entries for about $500/month total. That's about $10/entry.

    Now do those figures actually happen? Not necessarily. This writer could be blogging on 5 brand new blogs with absolutely no traffic to start, so their 20-70% advertising cut could amount to absolutely nothing for the first 3 months, or the first 6. Say this writers' cut is a % of advertising revenue, well they're pumping out 40-60 entries per month for blogs that haven't gained traction yet, and because of that they're starting off making only pennies a post which is not a good place to be in. It takes time to build up a blog to a few thousand pageviews a day, and while the traffic is slowly creeping up there the writer is left slaving away for a large percentage chunk of almost nothing. The writer is putting the same amount of time and effort into the entries, but since the blog is new the payout is much smaller. I believe Colbert said it himself when he noted that after "problogging" for nearly 6 months he's finally "starting to see some advertising revenue trickle in". Trickle isn't a word I'd like to hear if I was working my tail off for 6 months.

    Now let's scrap all that back-of-the-napkin math and think about if this writer started his or her own blog, owned it completely, and worked hard on it for the same amount of time. Instead of relying on a percentage cut of the advertising revenue (do writers ever really know how much the network is getting? what the profit margins are?) this person is taking 100% of the advertising revenue from his new blog. It's starting off slowly just like if it were a new blog for a network, but since he's concentrating on this blog fulltime, he can devote more time and resources to its growth and development. Because he actually owns it, he'll probably take the initiative to email friends about it, tweak the design, and formulate strategies for its content.

    No one can tell me that someone focusing on 1 blog, that they own, isn't going to grow faster than one of 50 random blogs a network owns that they just hire writers to populate. And as far as money is concerned, if a network can't pay a writer *flat rates* per month, entry, or word like an actual media publication does, then all these promises for huge percentages of ad profits amount to exactly nothing if the blog isn't making any revenues to start with.

    This all goes back to why the WIN model of blog networks was successful, and that was because they started off with many 0s in their bank balance and could afford to pay writers decent amounts per entry or per month. Promises of large advertising revenues aren't that appealing when that percentage cut amounts to many times less than what writers should be getting paid if they were writing for an actual publication and not a blog.

    I will make this quick as a great example of what I am talking about occurred this weekend. You pay someone to write for your blog and make it kick ass and instead they write an entry linking to another network where they are writing better content. So now your money is pretty much being invested in another network or site.

    But let's be honest, most of these networks could care less about the quality of the content. They just want more pages being built and that's what they get with cheap labor and I hate to put it in those terms, but there is nothing showing me different.

    And being a freelance writer for print publications doesn't compare to freelancing on blogs. The models are fundamentally different.

    Mike, at Syntagma we pay booster payments for the first three months. On your general point, that's true, I was arguing that when I left b5media, but not everyone wants to go it alone. We help them make some money.

    Scrivs, in terms of quality, we don't hire people who can't deliver. I've just let one person go who produced dead copy. In terms of the print and blog models, both require multiple income streams for success as a freelance.

    The difference to me between problogging and print freelancing is that the residual income occurs in blogging where it doesn't occur in print. Lets' look at the two ways network pay writers:

    1) Percentage. Now you are telling me if I spread myself thin amongst many networks where my sites never really get off the ground I am going to make more than the one site I put all my resources in to help it blow up?

    2) Wages. Same thing if I help a site blowup and I make that site run you are telling me I can't improve my wages? How many writers in Gawker are writing for other networks because they have to?

    "No one can tell me that someone focusing on 1 blog, that they own, isn't going to grow faster than one of 50 random blogs a network owns that they just hire writers to populate."

    Uh huh. Would writing on one blog they own make them more than writing on one network blog though?

    My thoughts here: http://www.b5media.com/benefits-of-blog-networks/

    The ownership point is a valid one, though. Blog real estate has a saleable value as WIN and Blog Herald have shown. If the blog is sold from under you, you lose everything. That's why we offer our bloggers 10% stake in the sale price of their blogs.

    Interesting discussion. Diversification is no guaranteed road to success, but neither is single minded focus.

    Bloggers would be sort of fool-hardy to commit to one income stream only, unless that income stream had huge potential. It seems to me it would be a tough sell to demand exclusive posting unless you had a high upfront payout.

    John: You aren't the first or only one to do that. We announced that when you were still with b5.

    End of the day, the model doesn't define success. Strategy doesn't define success. Execution does.

    Holy moly. So I leave for an errand and come back to the computer and I see a good little debate happening. Let me digest all your words and form a reply. Meanwhile, have at it :).

    BTW, thank you, sincerely, for replying. I know you all are busy, but hopefully we can learn something from each other here.

    Er, not while I was there, Jeremy. But then we were all learning at that point. I learned a lot from b5 and I've added a lot since. We shouldn't beat oursleves up about this. If a model is a success, as apparently 9rules is, good luck and well done. Different bloggers will want different models. I believe we've struck a balance which is fair both to the blogger and to myself as owner.

    Okay, I've read through everyone's comments. I think there are several threads being debated here, and while I hope we can continue to address them all, I just want to focus on one or two issues in this comment.

    1) Does a blog network benefit or suffer if its bloggers also blog for money elsewhere (whether on their own or for other networks)? I suppose the answer varies depending on the bloggers, blogs and networks involved. If you're someone who is trying to make a significant amount of money by blogging, you'll need to be aware of the potential benefits and drawbacks of joining a blog network, as well as the pros and cons associated with blogging freelance.

    2) Does a "pro blogger" (one who is striving to make a living off of blogging) benefit or suffer by joining one blog network or several - or none at all? What's the most profitable route to pursue? Again, I think it depends on a lot of variables such as the types of contracts available through blog networks and the relative costs of starting one's "own" blog versus joining an established network.

    I appreciate your thoughtful answers to my questions. I think we would need a lot more time and space to delve into the minutiae that could influence this issue if we we really wanted to be thorough. It's all pretty complicated I guess. But in the end it boils down to this - which individuals and businesses will embrace monetization models that encourage profitability and brand enhancement without stifling individuality or causing insurmountable conflicts of interest?

    And again, from the average Joe Blog Reader's perspective - where can he go to find the freshest, most interesting, most useful content at the lowest cost in time and money? (And therefore, for networks and individual pro bloggers alike: How can we get Joe Blog Reader to notice us and stick to us?)

    Easton, I appreciate the approach you have taken to handling this debate. It helps everyone out when we sit here discussing these things and not taking them as personal attacks. Of course there will never be an end to the debate besides "different strokes for different folks" because we are debating between two models in which everyone has placed their chips behind.

    Great debate. Well done.


    I do agree with your general point. One blogger can not be expert in lots of things. You have made me recommit that we try to keep our selection process tightly focused on bringing in experts. MSM is full of people that are journalists first and a bit of generalists in lots of areas.

    Our real ability to be distictive and valuable to the reader is when we find niche experts who happen to have unique and intriguing voices.

    Know More Media runs the risk of being bland and becoming *&%$ "pedestrian" (paraphrasing Chartreuse) if we hire generalists and not experts who have interesting voices.

    Know More Media has some great experts. And honestly, we (like every other network) have a small percentage of authors that probably aren't going to work out.

    And that is the beauty of this environment. If someone isn't authentic or have the street cred in their niche, they will be called out on it and changes can be made; something that would seldom happen in the Main Stream Media.

    Won't get into all of this, but I will make this point: how many blogs a blogger writes is up the them, plain and simple. I know bloggers who writer 30-40 blogs (I kid you not). Sure, I couldn't do it, but some people can. If Colbert was spreading himself to thinly his writing quality would decrease, and I've not seen that to date, and if it did, not only would b5 be talking to him about it, so would the other blog networks he writes for (I'm sure John at Syntagma would for example). For me, I can't write more than a few blogs at a time, but others are different, we all need to remember that different people have different abilities, and this includes the ability to multi-task over different numbers of blogs.

    Hi to all, especially John and Duncan who's giving me some good marks. I've been reading the great debate here and its very revealing. I know its kinda "fishy" to Paul that I blog for so many networks but it's been rewarding for me and I think I have not hurt anybody.

    I've had a personal blog before I even joined WeblogEmpire handling Thegadgetblog.com and it did not generate that much income either from Adsense or Affiliate Programs. So what's a lowly paid System Engineer like me to do? Surf more, learn more and look for other oppurtunities, of course.

    I've been priviliged to learn from the best in b5media.com, knowmoremedia.com and syntagmamedia.com. Now I hope to learn even more after joining BlogMedia.biz

    The knowledge I've absorbed is definitely for my own consumption but who knows, down the road I can turn it into a profitable education training course like what Darren Rowse is doing in Six Figure Blogging and empower Bloggers around the World.

    In the end, I will be blogging full time like my b5media bosses - Darren and Duncan and it's the next step for the rest of my life. I'm ready to take a challenge. I don't want to just earn a paltry "salary" anymore. Cost of living in Malaysia is increasing in leaps and bounds.

    So having multiple streams of income now is my best bet to keep food on my table until I strike lottery or get a good deal from one of my Blogging Networks.

    Till then, I'll continue to do what I do best and hopefully one day, I'll be a prominent Blogger in Asia just like you guys on the other side of the Ocean.

    I'll need to get myself some of them business cards too....

    Thanks .....

    If you fancy another blog, Colbert, just say the word ;-)

    I'm going to dive into this from a different perspective. For a background, I write for none of the networks, but hire bloggers to perform certain contracts for clients that want to have a blog but for one reason or another don't have the ability.

    I think what also needs to be addressed that seems to so far be missed in the threads I have been to is the issue of "fiduciary duty". Yes, a fancy lawyer term for allegiance to the people you are making money for or the people that pay you.

    I am going to post about this on my blog, but I'm curious about the duty a blogger owes to their partners, which is really what a blogger is when he has a stake in the company profits.

    Jim, I think the blogger should post decent copy regularly and observe the NDA in the contract. There's no other obligation with Syntagma Media. Anything else is given freely.

    If the network demands more, that comes under the category: "obsessive".

    My post about fiduciary duty is up. I love the conversation that is developing.


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