18 October, 2012  |   11 Comments

A Union for Bloggers

At my day job, I work with a lot of bloggers.

Wait.
Actually, I’m going to call us publishers.
I call us publishers because now that Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, freelance gigs and Instagram (mllehelenjane) roll up into compensatory audiences, blogging is too limiting a verb.

Publishers.

Publishers write, photograph, record, collect and produce amazing works of art every day.
Mostly for free,
sometimes for a little endorsement on the side,
sometimes only for endorsement.

Life is crazy and fun and full of fancy today.

Working with publishers, I see how much compensation varies by vertical. This means that compensation varies widely between food and parenting, tech and fashion, lifestyle and personal diary.

I see how influence isn’t always reflected in numbers.
I see what’s quantifiable and what can’t be captured by the numbers.
I see true talent ignored and diva-like demands from the lesser talented.
I see few safeguards or people who trying to make their living on the internet as compensation from the top to the bottom can vary 100% from month to month.

It’s a craft that takes time, skill, relentless creativity, curiosity and that undefinable secret sauce.

It’s risky.
It’s crowded.
It’s filled with weirdos.

Working with publishers, I see strong similarities to actors.

and THEN she posted a picture of herself standing next to Jennifer Garner like that MEANS something...

Actors work at a craft, can become well established in their niche, develop a following and become endless sources of fascination/revulsion to their audiences. Their personal lives are often mined for their roles, and a carefully scripted personal life can add to their net worth. Their net worth can vary wildly due to demand and a fickle viewing public.

(Sound familiar?)

Character actors make less than “leading” actors make less than action stars make less than the Academy Award winners.

For example, parenting/personal diary publishers can make less than food publishers who make less than fashion publishers who make less than lifestyle publishers who all make less than the tech and coupon publishers*.

It can feel cutthroat — with the perception that only all the same people up for the same gigs.

Actors/publishers put time into getting these gigs that isn’t repaid if programs don’t come through.
Actors/publishers are open for scrutiny from a public that doesn’t understand what it took to get there.
Actors/publishers aim for public acknowledgement of their talents.

Actors also have a union, the Screen Actors Guild, through which they get insurance, and have basic baseline rates established.

Publishers, well, they don’t. And content farms, plunging CPMs and a general assumption of, “Anyone, even MOMMIES, can do this” all conspire against us for the minimum base amount.

What would a Professional Publisher’s union look like?

  • Basic established industry rates commensurate with provable audience numbers.
  • Group insurance rates available.
  • Retirement options.
  • Definition of industry best practices.
  • Recognition from the community.

I know unions are so out of vogue right now, but I think some industry protection and standardization could actually help some folks. Who knows, as the borders between television, computers and movie screens blur, maybe SAG could expand to include publishers.

Thanks, LA, you're the foxiest.

There are about seven thousand disclaimers about what kind of union expert I’m not that I could put right here, but I’ll just ask, what do you think? Is it navel-gazing narcissism writ large or is it a solid effort that could protect the vulnerable?

*Not fact, just used for example.

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11 thoughts on “A Union for Bloggers

  1. 1
    outsidevoice says:

    I very respectfully, but very strongly disagree. :)

    There are any number of professions that have baseline rates, professional recognition, etc. that do not need to formally “organize”. Those rates are taken care of in the free market and through competitive intelligence – as well as the Darwinian approach. Recognition comes from effort and quality.

    Just because an industry is entrepreneurial in nature doesn’t mean it needs oversight and boundaries. I believe in the long run organic boundaries will set themselves with time and experience. The strong, smart and nimble will thrive – the others will not succeed “as much” – and that’s okay. ‘Protecting the weak’ doesn’t make them strong – but it can weaken an industry when it becomes more about being inclusive and fair and less about driving talent.

    I like the “Wild West” nature of the Internet – not unlike the dot com world of the 90s. That worked itself out, too — for the better of the tech/innovation world.

  2. 2
    Cecily says:

    There already exists more than one union for writers; maybe writers would be a better title? Dunno. I joined my local Chamber of Commerce for similar benefits (mostly the health insurance).

    I agree that there should be something; some sort of standard. I really like how you compare it to actors; I know that fits the role I play on the web to some extent (particularly the “develop a following and become endless sources of fascination/revulsion to their audiences” part).

    We’re such a weird little group, aren’t we? I don’t know the answer, but I love that you’re asking the question.

  3. 3

    Kelby Carr is working on just such an organization. http://newmediaia.org/

    I think it’s much needed, but I think there are standards that will make a huge impact on the community. Ethical behavior is a huge issue as the blogging industry grows.

  4. 4
  5. 5
    annabelvita says:

    I think this is something that the National Union of Journalists in the UK thinks about a lot (and you can join as a freelancer, but it’s protections aren’t very specific). Here’s an interesting few thoughts about it: http://www.bristolnuj.org.uk/2010/11/11/do-bloggers-need-a-union/

  6. 6

    Please some sign up and share your thoughts at http://newmediaia.org/ – Kelby Carr is leading this charge. I agree with so much of what you say.

  7. 7

    #1 I’ve been thinking this about actors/bloggers for years, but I couldn’t have stated it more eloquently.
    #2 I sure hope I’m not a diva.
    #3 YES, YES, YESSSSSSSS! I would love something like this. Love it.

  8. 8
    Niri says:

    I don’t know what the right thing is but I do think it seems like this is a direction to pursue. There seems to be no protection out there and while things may settle itself out it would be nice to have unions to help. I don’t see them as boundaries but more as protection.

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