Monday, November 24, 2014

The Problem With Blogging- 2014 Edition


When I started this blog in early 2006 it was because I wanted to add my own voice to the beautiful chorus that has been forming in the online world by regular people who had something to say. Things seemed to have been going well in the beauty blogging arena, just as they did in other areas of the blogsphere until the backlash that happened around 2008. I admit that I was somewhat surprised. No one seemed to care that tech bloggers were regularly receiving various expensive gadgets for free, including every i-whatever. It was the objectivity of beauty bloggers over $20 mascaras that was called out and questioned in the NY Times. I wrote this response back then, and I still stand behind every word.

Unfortunately, while there's absolutely no problem with accepting samples and products for review  from brands or stores, there are more and more instances of what I call "Bloggers Behaving Badly". This covers a range of questionable actions from begging for samples on Twitter (or begging in general, really, that causes the blogger to owe the brand), to the deplorable practice of selling gratis items. A gift from a brand, a store, or a perfumer was given out of good will. Selling a palette, a dress, or a perfume bottle (even splitting the latter for profit) is as unethical as it gets. This is the kind of behavior that besmirches the name of bloggers and gets us blacklisted. I'm shocked that I even have to say this.

The issue of disclosure is still a hot topic, considering that bloggers and vloggers from outside the US are not required to put any disclaimer in their work. YouTube especially is rife with sponsorships, paid content, promotionals, advertorials, and infomercials, all pretending to be legit user content. They're not. When you watch a makeup tutorial that was sponsored by a brush-maker you will not necessarily get the best advice. You'll only hear the info the company wants you to absorb. The use of affiliate links (everyone from Lisa Eldridge to Gwyneth Paltrow does it nowadays) adds another compromise to the already fragile fabric of trust. If the blogger in question profits from the links it's an incentive to avoid writing negative reviews (best case scenario) and even to gloss over serious issues with the products. But that's something that any intelligent reader can decipher on his/her own. It's just the way it is, and honestly, with regular advertising revenues on the decline for years now, I have a lot of sympathy for bloggers who decide to use these links. As long as they disclose it clearly in a way that makes it obvious that when they're praising a product to high heavens they're also hoping that it'll make you click on their links to make a purchase.

There are bigger issues, though. A year ago the Husband and I wrote this post about paid content/native advertisement on beauty blogs and magazines. It's become even more relevant since. I've always maintained the view that there should be a sharp distinction and separation between personal blogs and personal advertising publishers. The fact that the content of a website is written by a sweet and funny individual does not make it a blog if the purpose of said site is promoting products and companies. That person is not a blogger. He or she are marketers, publishers, promoters--- call it whatever you want, but that is not a beauty blog (nor is it a gardening/cooking/parenting/pet etc. blog). It's a commercial website. As veteran blogger Kelly Kreth had put it: "Native advertising is basically saying 'What do I have to do to put you in this car today?' "

The blurred lines between bloggers and advertorial writers have created ridiculous incidents, such as a blogger who published a sponsored review that directly contradicted a real review she wrote a month earlier. Can't we at least expect that a blogger that dislikes a product would avoid accepting money to promote it? Is it that hard? It also extends to "bloggers" charging companies for inclusion in their holiday gift guides, getting paid to run a giveaway (sometimes for products that they haven't tried, didn't like, or has absolutely nothing to do with the niche of their site). Add to that all those "10 day challenge" paid by brands, sudden appearance of posts praising everything from frozen lasagna to feminine hygiene products on a beauty blog, and you get one big confusing mess

I have to admit that in this type of environment it is sometimes hard to keep doing what I do. I know that I'm old school, which raises the question of relevancy. Some of my favorite bloggers from the mid 2000s have left the field, partly because of the changing scene. Don't get me wrong: I know who my audience is, and it's amazingly large, diverse, and wonderfully sophisticated. I keep many of you in my mind when I decide which products to buy, what to accept for review, as I choose images that hopefully will delight you. My reasons for blogging are still valid, and my readership keeps growing, which probably answers the relevancy issue. I just hope not to be swallowed whole by a new reality where I and my friends who hold the same values no longer belong.


Photo: Audrey Hepburn in the 1951 movie Laughter In Paradise via http://www.emmaaime.com/.

41 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I've been reading your blog for years and continue to do so because I can trust you to be honest and objective. Please keep doing what you do; I know so many of us appreciate it.

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  2. I appreciated this post and the comments made within. One of the reasons I love this blog is that no matter what, I always feel there is integrity intrinsic to every post. I might not always agree with a review or opinion, but I can always trust that what is being said is, at very least, honest and forthright. I love when you see a rash of bloggers or youtubers suddenly reviewing a product, and somehow they all just love it even though it sometimes looks dubious at best. I have a short list of people whose recommendations I take to heart for this very reason, and I am happy to say that this is one of the blogs I trust implicitly.

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  3. Please keep this blog as it is: a place for truth and integrity, a place to share your vision of beauty. A place and a blogger I still value and trust.

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  4. I am in the rather unique position of being both a publicist, a paid writer AND a personal blogger. So I tend to have a pretty good umbrella view of native advertising and obviously agree with everything you have written above. I'd take it one step further though--while advertorial has been around forever, it has traditionally been made very obvious that it was either sponsored content or a paid ad. But with "native advertisig" (that phrase makes me want to shower) it is far more deceptive.

    Think about how differently we'd see the Seinfeld scene in which Kramer has a part in a Woody Allen movie and utters the famous line, "These pretzels are making me thirsty" if it was actually part of a native ad by Lays!

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  5. You've raised great points (many of which underscore my own dissatisfaction as a blog reader in recent years). Your blog is always a pleasure to read: your reviews are thoughtful and discriminating (uh, in the best sense of that word), you highlight products that are really particular to your interests and which, happily, are often far outside the mainstream tedium, and your point of view is quite distinctive. For those reasons and others, from a selfish point of view I hope you will continue your blog for decades to come! But I can understand if you--as others have done--become too disillusioned with the blogging/marketing overlap to continue. For now, I wish you the best in dealing with all the nonsense as you continue to maintain a blog with standards you feel good about.

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  6. Thank you for raising the subject. It seems a thorny issue. I just hope that the bloggers who act ethically will not be discouraged in providing us with information.

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  7. Gaia: I've been lurking for less than three years. Your blog is well written, insightful and a lot of fun. I look forward to the vintage fashion photos as well as the artwork. I've learned quite a bit from you--and I'm a LOT older than you--on a variety of subjects. Most of us who find your blog irresistable are smart enough to know the shill from the ethical reviwer. don't give up.

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  8. Bless!

    I have a tiny blog since 2009 and it will probably remain tiny because I actually write about what I buy. Your was one of the first blogs I followed, we have similar tastes in makeup and scent, and I hold you as as example of grace and class. So it makes me very happy that despite the somewhat desolate landscape of instant gratification and freebies, blogs like yours continue to be successful. Believe me, there are still people out there with the same values as you.

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  9. I know that things change and evolve, but how they evolve is not necessarily heartening (understatement) and I can't help but be sad that so many of the bloggers I read a decade ago have left for the reasons you've mentioned, but I really hope you stay as not only are you one of the few left with obvious integrity, but you've got a great talent for writing, a very original voice and have created a truly comprehensive, unique blog - easy to see why your readership keeps expanding.
    Anna

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  10. Like others have said I appreciate your honesty and I can understand why you feel frustrated with the scene in general. I've never commented here, maybe once. I've been following you daily for the past 5 years or so and what I like about Gaia is the honest opinion on everything. I believe that having a blog is a tremendous responsibility, and keeping it up to date with honest opinions is even harder, especially in a market that wants everything now, covered in glorious reviews and praise. I follow certain blogs for the ethics behind and because they cover something I feel passionate about. In this case perfume. Mostly. Like the non blonde. Bottom line is that i will keep following you and I sincerely hope that this won't discourage you from keeping it up. It's a very personal choice but I believe that you have one of the very few blogs that are truly meaningful, an I'm sure that many more like me, who don't usually comment follow you as well. I wish you many more years of blogging Gaia. After all, you do truly try stuff so we don't have to.
    Best,
    Alex

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  11. Thank god for you. Seriously.

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  12. I love you! Thank you for writing what we have discussed in our hilarious phone calls. All that paid content has made it difficult for readers to know what's what. Affiliate links should be obvious, but I fear they are not. Beauty blogging has become for most beauty bloggers an income stream - not a narrative of honest appraisals born from a love of products that, for the most part, we purchased. You and I are lucky in having extraordinarily savvy readers. You deserve yours and the many compliments above.

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  13. I'm glad to have another post where I can state how valuable I find your blog and your perspective, and how much I look forward to reading your posts. I wish it hadn't come as a result of the beauty bloggers' implosion, though. (Transparency benefits everyone. I don't think anyone begrudges bloggers making money! But covering up endorsements - being paid to talk about products - at the expense of objectivity - makes it so hard to trust people today. Which is why your voice is so valuable.)

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  14. Well, I'm very glad you wrote this, and I completely agree. As someone who writes for one of the old-time perfume blogs (since late 2007) and for my own very small blog (since 2012), I'm often surprised by other bloggers' behavior.

    The freebie-begging is particularly embarrassing and aggravating, since all bloggers then end up being tarred with the same brush. Brands that used to enjoy meeting perfume bloggers at trade/industry events now often seem to be steeling themselves for freebie requests when I/we approach.

    I buy most of my own samples, fragrance as well as haircare/makeup/skincare. Yes, I do occasionally review a press sample, but if it's a full-size perfume bottle, I give it away afterwards (my cousins and sisters-in-law have benefited!), and if it's a makeup item that I received from a PR office *that offered it to me*, I mention that fact at the end of my review.

    Anyway, brava! I hope that this post will be read by many, many people.

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  15. what you said! keep doing it your way, gaia. it's your blog, and your conscience, and you get to decide what's right for both.

    we intelligent readers can always spot the difference between a sponsored and a genuine post.

    you're putting out good product, or i wouldn't keep coming back.

    go, girl! (and go, kitties!)

    cheers,
    minette

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  16. Cheers, Gaia! I respect your honesty and unvarnished opinion. Please know that readers who care can tell the difference between the quality of your writing vs. bloggers who are behaving badly. As an avid reader of all kinds of blogs, I have definitely narrowed down the number of blogs I read to those who, like you, are writing out of a desire to share your honest views. I hope that you keep going because I am learning a lot from you!

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  17. I'm with you on the sponsored content. What's more, New York Magazine (ironically the king of sponsored content but they were right in this particular article) wrote about the Internet becoming too nice. People used to go online seeking the truth because it was the last regulated form of media. Now they go online for affirmation. It could be the Facebook effect.

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  18. Gaia, you're the best. Please don't ever stop, we beauty girls need you! Best advice ever....

    Love, Theresa

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  19. Thank you for the post. These "bloggers" who most smart readers know are the equivalent of air brushing on a model read these reviews with a grain of salt. I don't follow them. I follow you and a handful of honest reviewers. Trust me, it will nip them. It just takes one nasty PR person with a vendetta against another company...history repeats itself.

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  20. Your blog is different....You put out what you like ...... The vintage pics, the vintage everything from clothing, perfume, magazine shoots are the best.....I'm probably a little older than you so when I see them it bring back memories and memories of what my ancestors may have experienced.

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  21. If I wanted advertising, I could just go through magazines. I like authentic voices and yours is one of them, definitely not a cookie cutter blog. We may not have the same coloring or like different styles but I value your thoughts. Hope you'll be around talking with us for many years to come as other ordinary blogs gather dust. :)

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  22. AMEN! some of my favorite beauty bloggers are selling out and it makes me so sad. for example, someone who consistently writes exclusively about luxury cosmetics suddenly does an entire feature post of how amazing ALMAY cosmetics are. WUT? it makes me not trust ANYTHING they write from that point on. do they REALLY like the new product from a brand i like, or.... is this about $$.

    i wish you all the best. your blog is one of my faves because of your unique writing style, your amazing image collection, and most importantly that i TRUST you.

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  23. I love you because I know you are "REAL" and that , sadly, is a RARE thing these days. !!!!

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  24. I read your blogg I don't know for how many years by now,but it is the first time I post a comment.Your writing is smart,fun and I read it the first thing in the morning,so that I start my day in a nice way😃
    I hope you will continue!

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  25. I only read a couple of "beauty blogs" and yours is one of them.
    I never felt manipulated, I like they way you write, I value your opinions, I love your style and now I admire the way you stand up for your way of blogging...
    I've been following you for about 4-5 years, although I've only commented 3-4 times. But I always admire the way you write.
    Kisses from quite far away, from Greece!
    Christine

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  26. You are one of the few beauty bloggers I still read regularly, and sponsored/advertorial content is a major reason I've abandoned a number of other blogs. It's become harder and harder to use bloggers as a reference when buying things online - color swatches are one thing, but it's difficult to trust comments about product quality and wear in a post with hints of sponsorship. (And the reason I'm online in the first place is to avoid vulture-like SAs spouting brand boilerplate!) That's one reason I keep coming back. (The cats don't hurt either.)

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  27. You are absolutely right. Which is probably why I only read a dozen or so blogs by people who I know write just because they want to.
    Of course I love getting free samples but all my reviews of stuff I am given have that stated (if not stated, it means I procured the perfume myself).
    Like you mentioned in your post, intelligent readers/viewers will recognize the fakes. So, rest happy knowing you have a growing intelligent audience. :)

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  28. I love your blog, just curious why some of the beauty and perfume blogs you link to are some of the guilty ones. Should they be removed? I don't know. It's difficult to say if they aren't repeat offenders. There are blogs much worse that aren't listed. It's your website. I can spot a PR message, so I'm curious.

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  29. As an avid content surfer (and wannabe blogger...at some point), I feel like I have pretty good nose for bullshit. And so it is particularly refreshing when I come across a blog such as yours. "It's the economy, stupid" has become "It's the content, stupid." I recently unsubscribed from Refinery29 posts on Facebook because I got so upset at the clickbait and fawning over D-listers (why the hell are any Jenners worthy of any "ink" much less a Khardashian???). Oh right: because they paid for it. It truly made me irritated and ill. If honest content like yours goes away, then not just your readers, but society as a whole, are the poorer for it. I found you by doing an online search for content. If had sensed dishonesty I would have moved on. But your posted are often witty, disarming, and boldly truthful (Charlotte Tilbury's Magic crap comes to mind...I looked up every ingredient in her supposed kitchen table formula and 1/2 of it is poison and not fit for pregnant ladies--which was me last year). So please keep on keeping on. You are an inspiration for me to one day follow a little bit in your shoes.

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  30. Well, what everyone already said, keep up your honest voice in the blogger chorus :-) I agree completely, and have found myself becoming loads more selective in my reading choice than what I used to be.
    As only a new kid on the blogosphere, and in EU, like Ines I do disclaimers when I didn't obtain the sample myself, and sometimes I do write that too.

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  31. Gaia, you were one of the first bloggers that I was exposed to and you are still one of my favorites, though these days I simply have much less time to read blogs and other things that I love :).

    Lisa Eldridge lost a bit of my credibility when she said that Chanel Matte Velvet lipsticks are moisturising. And this is after it took my lips one week to heal after this lipstick!

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  32. And this is one reason that you are at the top of my "blogs to read" list. Well that and the inclusion of your wonderful kitties.

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  33. I consider my self either naive or lucky that all my favorite blogs have such a strong stand in terms of advertisement/paid endorsement. Thank you, Gaia, for being such a voice.

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  34. You are one of the VERY FEW beauty bloggers who remains independent and unwilling to be a pawn used by publicists and marketers, in my opinion. Thank you! I think it's absolutely fine that you accept products/samples for review, and I agree with everything you wrote. I personally don't mind affiliate links as long as that's clearly indicated.

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  35. It gets harder and harder to find real information, and I'm grateful that I can find it here. Also love your posts of vintage ads and other images, occasional recipes, red carpet reviews, and your wonderful "currently" round-ups. Thank you for putting so much heart, soul, intelligence, wit and hard work into this blog! nozknoz

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  36. I have been researching skincare products a lot lately for my own use, and this very thought about beauty bloggers living off brand-derived revenue has been troubling me and making me question some of the blogs I was reading. I see it to a lesser extent in perfume blogs, but thankfully it does not appear to be quite so rampant there. Though there is some bullying of perfume houses to extract 'swag', of which I heartily disapprove.

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  37. I love your blog and one reason I do is your integrity. Although I don't always like the products or perfumes that you do I know that the review is honest and detailed. That's why your blog is the first one in my list of bookmarked blogs that I visit regularly. Every evening one of my relaxing treats to myself is to click on the link and read your latest post. I say to myself, "let's see what Gaia is up to today" and many times I laugh out loud, nod my head in agreement, or add something to my growing wish list. I admire your discipline in posting on a regular basis and do so enjoy the wonderful photos and artwork you dig up. One of the things I especially enjoy is your simple and heartfelt post when someone beloved and famous dies, just some well chosen quotes and photos of that person, really classy. Keep doing what you do and trust that there are still a few intelligent people out there who truly appreciate it.

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  38. You will always belong. You continue to be candid, original, classy and sincere. Thanks for all you do. I enjoy your blog and the images you include with your thoughts.

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  39. Gaia, hats off to you for raising this issue... again! I've been meaning to write about it for a while, but I've always stopped myself on the (misguided?) grounds that not enough people care.

    This is whole thing really is becoming a larger problem. There are very, very few perfume blogs out there which can claim to be totally independent and unaffiliated. And that's a shame, in my view.

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  40. I'm with you on the losses of the great beauty bloggers of the 2000s.Those were the heyday, eh?
    The 'native advertising' issue is actually much worse, it has seeped into forums. I hope Makeup Alley remains immune.

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  41. This article is why you're one the only originals who still has integrity and whose reviews and commentary can be trusted. I've always appreciated your honesty, and all the points you made are major reasons I drifted away from blogging. >^..^<

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I love comments and appreciate the time you take to connect with me, but please do not insert links to your blog or store. Those will be deleted. The comment feature is not intended to provide an advertising venue for your blog or your commercial site.

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