Many commenters in previous TechCrunch posts on PayPerPost compared their business model to payola in the music industry. At PayPerPost, bloggers are offered cash to write about products. Disclosure is optional, and often the bloggers are required to only express positive comments. The company is now well funded, and a number of competitors have launched. This “virus” seems here to stay.
Don’t look for PayPerPost to require blogger disclosure anytime soon. Instead, they are creating a distraction, designed to keep the buzz about PayPerPost going strong, as well as to move people’s attention away from the core issue of blogger disclosure of product shilling.
In a move reminiscent of big tobacco funding tobacco research, PayPerPost is announcing a new initiative on Monday called DisclosurePolicy, which “provides policy creation tools, best practices and forums for discussing the delicate balance between content creator freedoms and audience transparency expectations.”
DisclosurePolicy creates a disclosure policy for bloggers to post on their blogs, based on their answers to a few questions. They will also pay every blogger who posts a PayPerPost disclosure policy on their blog $10.
While that sounds like a fine idea, PayPerPost bloggers should also be disclosing the fact that they are being paid for their post prominently within the post, not on some separate page in their blog. Also PayPerPost subtly works with the language they use, particularly around the definition of “compensation” to suggest that all blogs have bias (and therefore PayPerPost isn’t really that bad). Here are the three choices – bloggers must choose one:
This blog does not accept any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. We write for our own purposes. However, we may be influenced by our background, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience.
This blog does not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship, or paid topic insertions. However, we will and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, event tickets, and other forms of compensation from companies and organizations.
This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.
If you are a PayPerPost blogger, or the New York Times, or anything in between, you must pick the third option. That’s because “taking advertsing” and “paid insertions” are defined as the same thing. And even if you have no form of advertising or other revenue on the site, you have to admit to bias based on “background, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience.”
Blurring the lines in this way – facilitating the pollution of the blogosphere while creating an illusion of doing something good for the public, is a good business move for PayPerPost. But it is a terrible development for the blogsphere and public trust. I hope that very few bloggers are suckered into going along with this.