Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Reading: Sponsorships and Swag

Racked recently did a feature about how much swag they, a smaller online publication, received in the last six months. This isn't particularly surprising, especially if you watched The Devil Wears Prada (though the movie painted an exaggerated picture of what it's like to work at Vogue, employees don't actually take home clothing and handbag samples for keeps). What was more surprising is that Racked doesn't ever feature the vast majority of what they receive. Either way, it doesn't particularly bother me that big publications get lots of freebies - I always assumed that. Regardless, I generally don't get product recommendations that way. The feature didn't generate too much discussion on r/femalefashionadvice, but there was still some good food for thought, most of which went in the direction of gifts and sponsorships sent to social media "influencers."

Last year, Adina posted her thoughts about the extent to which bloggers may contribute to excessive consumption, or unrealistic ideas about how much one should buy. I left a rambly comment there and always wanted to spin it off into my own post, but alas, it takes me forever to write anything serious. Back then, I thought it wouldn't be fair to attribute my previous more excessive, and sometimes careless, consumption habits to fashion bloggers, as I had those tendencies long before blogs were a thing. Plus most of my favorite blogs were by extremely creative, dedicated thrifters (Fops and Dandies, I miss you still!), so if anything, they encouraged "good", or at least, relatively eco-friendly and wallet-friendly, shopping.

Yet the top comment on r/femalefashionadvice makes a good point about how, because social media types present themselves as, and certainly started out as "real, normal people," it can create some sense that because "normal people" consume this much, maybe I should too. Looking back, this happened for me, particularly as to beauty products. I've never been a big makeup wearer, but I've purchased much more than I needed, or even particularly wanted. (I've since gotten rid of all the eyeshadow and most of the nail polish.) Because I had no other way to learn about makeup, I relied on Youtube, though this was a lot time ago, before sponsorships, back when Michelle Phan just made her first video, and I viewed it on her Xanga. One indirect lesson I got was that, of course someone must get each of their looks from multiple palettes, so maybe that contributed to my previous VIB every year Sephora habit, which I've since put aside.

I still don't think fashion blogs have ever been the primary cause of any of my bad shopping decisions, however. Sure, I sometimes get one of my sudden impulses for a specific item from a blog, but for the most part, it's because seeing the item worn by a real person helped me make a (relatively) educated decision that it might be something that works on me. Anyway, I often find the blog post in question because I googled that specific item, so I generally had the idea before seeing it on a blog.

And because I monetize Invincible Summer, this is also something I need to think about in terms of my responsibility for how I write about products. I hope (knock on wood) that I couldn't be a harmful influence because I'm fairly blunt about the pros and cons of items I talk about, if I bought them, or the possible pros and cons that I can predict, if it's something I'm only thinking about. Also, over time, I think my tastes, which are not always the most discerning, and my other preferences, particularly my fondness for a good sale, are pretty clearly implied. That could help anyone who reads here frequently to know if something I mention might be right for them, if they're in the market. (This is also a point someone raised at r/femalefashionadvice.)

As for the "sponsorships and swag" side of things, I'm largely an outsider, so my perspective is more that of a general reader.* I've only read about what an actual sponsorship agreement might look like, and it seems crazy demanding for very little compensation (of course bloggers with large followings probably get compensated better than that!). For some broader perspective on sponsorships and monetization, Design Sponge has two thoughtful pieces on how blogging as a business has changed, one from 2014 and one from 2017. While they grew to a multiple-employee business, a lot of what's discussed sounds very relevant to individual bloggers. That crazy list of sponsored post requirements seems consistent with Design Sponge's point that, in 2017, advertisers want more and more for less. Companies are willing to send tons of free stuff to a bigger publication without any expectations, but if they're paying an individual (who isn't a celebrity), I guess they want more.

Alas, I don't have much of a conclusion, except that I find it all fascinating from an academic perspective. I first became conscious of blogs way back, maybe starting 2008, which I think was a while before sponsorships were a real thing. I then took a long break from following any blogs consistently for much of blogging's heyday, only to return to reading and eventually writing here around 2014, so for the most part, I can only think about these topics as a casual, ex post facto observer. On another note, Lin pointed out that the New Yorker recently did a nice, pithy take on the Refinery29 Money Diaries. I personally am probably quite affected by that Great Recession-driven financial anxiety, so I totally relate to what they're saying and think they have it right.

*All of my blog income comes from Shopstyle affiliate links, Amazon affiliate, and Google Adsense I've disclosed the income I'd made as of last December, and have been including disclosures about how affiliate income works towards the start of every affiliate link-containing post, in keeping with FTC requirements. (Everything I cashed out last year was reported to the IRS on a Schedule C-EZ, as I didn't make enough for Shopstyle to send a 1099. That income was taxed at approximately 45%.)  I also received three free items from Grana, without any firm expectation that I review, nor any guidelines for how I should post, but only after I had already shopped on my own and reviewed their items months before. As I was a fairly early adopter of Grana, I've also earned a lot of referral credit (thank you to everyone who has used my link!).

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