Paying top-bloggers to guest post: a brewing storm?

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Recently a reader asked me this question:

Many probloggers recommend submitting guest posts to bigger, established sites to get the word out about a blog. What about asking these probloggers to guest post in return for payment? Is there a protocol for that? I mean, I’m talking about situations where you already have a relationship with the problogger. Not just sending random requests. And the hope is that the problogger would mention that he/she has a guest post up on the site and lead readers there.

Great question! Now, I have my own feelings about this, but I figured I’d get some top-bloggers to share theirs, too.

Here’s what they thought…

Darren Rowse | – I rarely take on guest posting opportunities these days. In fact I can only think of one that I’ve written in the last 6 months and that was for a blogger who was sick at the time and struggling to keep his content coming through.

I can’t speak for other prominent bloggers but for me it’s about finding the time. I am not opposed to the idea of writing a post for others but the sad fact is that I find it hard enough to find time to write content for my own two blogs. If I do write guest posts I wouldn’t charge – that kind of goes the spirit of it being a ‘guest’ post. I see guest posts and paid posts as two quite different things. I only pay other bloggers to write for me when it’s an ongoing relationship (when they write at least one post per week usually).

The closest thing I do to a guest post is what I’m doing now – answering a question or doing an interview (although I only say yes to about 50% of requests – again due to time pressures). I don’t always link to these on my blog – mainly because they are often repetitive (i.e., I get the same questions over and over) and because there are numerous of them each week and it would get a little much to always be linking to them. I do try to link to them in Twitter though.

J.D. Roth | – In general, I try to contribute guest posts to other bloggers if it makes sense for them and for me. I can’t imagine ever charging for this, though. If I have the time — and that’s a big if — I’m happy to “pay it forward”. When I went on vacation last summer, I got some big-name help, and I’m grateful for it.

I can’t contribute guest posts to everyone who asks. But if a person comes to me with a specific suggestion, and I like their blog, and they’re making a decent go of it, I’ll try to find time to write for it. For example, Brett at “The Art of Manliness” recently approached me with a fantastic idea for a story. It’s something he could write himself, but it makes a lot of sense for me to do the story instead. It’s on my to-do list, and I should have it for him in a couple of weeks.

But if somebody who is just starting out came to me, I’d probably have to say no. Offering a guest post to somebody with ten readers is a waste of their time and mine. Nobody’s going to see it. Recruiting guest posts isn’t a way to build a blog at the start — it’s a way to strengthen an established blog. (It’s better for everyone if new bloggers contribute guest posts to bigger blogs.)

Paying for guest posts? I think that’s a bad idea. That’s not something we want to have become a standard.

Anita Campbell | – First I consider it highly unlikely that any up-and-comer blogger would be willing to pay for guest posts in the first place. Second, once a well-known blogger reaches a certain point, it becomes a question of weighing opportunity costs. Let me explain.

Most guest blogging is done on a voluntary basis. Paying a staff writer or assistant editor who does work on an ongoing basis, yes I can see that. But most bloggers are not in a position to pay for a one-off or the occasional guest post. It’s a matter of cost.

I’ve encountered two types of writing for payment:

  1. Writing for mainstream sites, where the going rate usually starts at $1.00 per word and goes up from there, depending on how much research is involved. Thus, a 750-word article would pay $750, or more.
  2. Writing for blog networks. When I was executive editor of Creative Weblogging, the going rate was $7 per post, or else a rev share. Of course, posts tended to be short and take less time to put together.

So, as you can see, there’s a huge extreme between the two. Once a blogger becomes well known, he or she is hardly going to blog for $7 a post (BTW, in the early days he or she may have been thrilled to get $7, but not once they become better known). More likely, the well-known blogger is going to expect a mainstream writing fee — $1.00 to $3.00 per word. That gets pretty steep for an up-and-comer blogger to afford to pay for a guest post. That’s why I consider it unlikely that the situation would arise.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, though, that the up-and-comer blogger has a marketing budget and is willing to pay premium rates. Then it becomes a matter of opportunity costs: can the well-known blogger get a bigger return from a paid guest post than from some other activity? In most cases, the better known the blogger becomes, the more opportunities they have. Chances are, the missed opportunity cost will be higher than the amount he or she could earn from a guest post, and the guest blogging gig would be turned down.

That said, would I ever participate with other blogs and give a contribution? Of course! And I’d happily do it without pay. Contributing to this kind of roundup post is one example. It takes 15 minutes and doesn’t prevent me from pursuing other opportunities. And it’s a way of “giving back” to the blogosphere with some of your hard-earned knowledge. No compensation is expected — and none is given. If you’re looking for contributions from better-known bloggers, a roundup post like this is the most cost-effective and best way to get it, in my opinion.

Collis Ta’eed | – I would decline. Unless it’s an enormous amount they are offering of course (kidding).

If I was working as a freelancing blogger then I would of course take a paid guest post, just like any other writing job. Since I’m not it would just be an extra thing to think about, and would make me feel like I have more obligation to whoever is paying me. Overall I’d just rather not be for hire, unless that’s my job. When I write guest posts, I do it for other reasons, money just confuses the issue.

Chris Garret | – If you are paid it isn’t really strictly a guest post is it? I have written one-off posts on blogs as a freelancer. You will find many bloggers are freelance writers so hiring such a blogger to write a blog post isn’t out of the question. My fee for writing a post depends on a lot of factors and it has to be said I turn down as many as I
take up. I would only mention it on my blog if it was relevant to that audience.

The more interesting question is bloggers taking payment to allow the payer to guest post on the payees blog. That is, someone paying to guest on a high profile blog. I think this is potentially more shaky and closer to paid placement or links. This isn’t something I would do but I think with strict procedures and quality control could work for some. It’s not too far removed from conference speakers paying for a spot in front of the conference audience and has similar plus and minuses.

Brett Kelly | – For me, it would depend largely on the niche of the blog in question. If it were something about which I had a fair amount of knowledge (and the requirements for the post weren’t too strict), I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

As far as payment, it would depend on the situation. I don’t think I would reflexively charge somebody for anything I wrote, but if they offered to pay me, it would certainly be a factor in deciding whether or not to do the post.

There’s something to be said for being “philanthropic” when it comes to other bloggers, I believe. Lord knows most of us didn’t start out as heavy-hitting, A-list bloggers (and truthfully, I still don’t fall into that category) – and the helping hand of someone more experienced and popular could prove beneficial. After all, it’s a pretty small price to pay to crank out a few paragraphs if it’ll help somebody else grow their blog and brand!

Leo Babauta | – If I could do a guest post on a hundred blogs, I most certainly would. Even as my blog has grown over the past year, there are plenty of readers I haven’t reached yet, on blogs big and small, and I’d love to be able to share my content with them. In addition, writing for smaller blogs and linking to them, if that helps them grown and find new readers … that’s something I’d like to do to help them out if I could.

That’s in an ideal world, however.

In reality, I only have so much time, and I get too many requests. I rarely do guest posts anymore, as I’m working on a book, two blogs, and a couple other projects. Not to mention I have a family I’d like to spend time with. So, in all honesty, I would most likely turn down
requests to do guest posts at this point, only because of time limitations. I still do one or two, here or there, but I really have to be selective, and I usually only accept if it’s reaching an entirely new audience I haven’t spoken to yet.

I also no longer do freelance writing, again because of time limitations. I wouldn’t do a guest post for a fee — to me, the fee is not a consideration at this point. I’m more interested in helping out other bloggers and reaching new audiences myself — one of the things I love about guest posts is it offers a win-win way for bloggers to collaborate.

Tina Su | – It really depends on the person asking and my schedule. I love to take my time with writing posts (even guest posts) and will only commit on doing so if I can do the article justice. If I had the time, I would do it and I would consider giving it a mention when the mention is a good fit to the article where I am mentioning from. At this moment, I would say no with even pay due to lack of time.

In the end…

It seems there are really two big concerns for the bloggers being asked to write for you–ethics and practicality.

Practical limitations – Blogging is a lot of fun, but it can also be pretty hard-work. As Guy Kawasaki puts it, you have to constantly feed the content beast. And, that leads to pretty tight schedules. Most bloggers spend the greater part of their time creating their own content, then a lesser amount of time helping out friends not for pay, but more out of a sense of comradery. Then, they might even have lives outside blogging (can you imagine?!), which leaves very little time to take on what is, essentially, a paid-job.

Ethical question – Here is where things get a bit dicey and, as you can see from the input above, there is some difference of opinion. It has to do with transparency. If you pay a top-blogger, is that really a guest post anymore…or are they just a paid contributor?

If they are a paid contributor, what exactly are they being paid for? Just writing the post? Or, writing the post and then publicizing it on their own blog? And, if they are getting paid, at least in part, to publicize it, should they reveal that?

It’s a bit like the debate over revealing affiliate links. Is there some secret incentive to drive traffic to the link beyond just a friendly, useful mention.

Seems, there’s not a clear answer to these questions, but many of the bloggers on our panel do point to some underlying ethical discomfort.

What about paying to write for a top-blog?

Chris Garret asked what I thought was a really fascinating question, though. What about top-bloggers accepting payment to publish a post from a lesser known blogger? Ethical, unethical? Chris points to the common practice of people paying fees to either speak or promote at big conferences in exchange for the exposure.

But, at the same time, this also seems remarkably similar to the payola debacle that slammed the recording industry decades back, where DJs and radio stations were taking money to play certain songs in heavy rotation. Granted there are many differences, but similar issues were at the heart of that fiasco.

So, I am curious, what you do guys think about all these questions?

Let it rip in the comments now…

(Oh, and this was my first official Ask Jonathan column. You can ask me questions using the Ask Jonathan box on the top right. If the question has broad appeal, some combo of me and my far-smarter friends will answer it on the blog)

(Double oh, anyone guess what the image on top of this article is? Hint: it ties in with one of my recent columns)

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12 responses

12 responses to “Paying top-bloggers to guest post: a brewing storm?”

  1. Great post as always. Interesting to see what the others thought. I have to guess the pic is you getting a tatoo done? 🙂

  2. Fascinating post. Also a bit of a shame that most of the bigshot bloggers aren’t available for hire. I’d definitely like to hire them!

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Chris – thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially your question about paying to be on a popular blog!

    @ Gab – yeah, I think in the end it’s really alrge a time issue, so most never even have the chance to weight the ethical issue.

  4. Todd says:

    I hope the pic isn’t your daughter getting inked:)

  5. Chris Cree says:

    Personally as long as there was an appropriate amount of transparency I don’t think most folks would have a problem with paid “guest” posting.

    Although I’d have to agree with most of your interviewees, Johnathan. Time availability really is a big issue in this business.

    I’d probably take a pass on the offer myself.

  6. I think guest posting works for some, I write content for websites so I guess I am constantly writing for others. But I hate writing for someone else’s blog, it’s too personal.

  7. Jeff Flowers says:

    I see no issues with somebody writing a guest post for somebody else’s blog. As long as the information is relevant to the blog at hand, why would I have any issues with it?

    I mean, it’s their blog, they’re free to do what they want with it. right?

  8. Jenny says:

    I would never pay a blogger to guest post on my site. I think a link back is payment enough.

  9. Interesting post. I think it’s a good idea to invite a problogger to guest post on your blog. As long as it’s a relevant post. Both can benefit from it.

  10. …somewhat defeats the point of a blog does it not? Would you want someone else writing in your diary?

  11. Tibi Puiu says:

    Some very inspiring answers, but as many have already said above, paying for a guest post, wouldn’t be considered a guest post anymore. It would just become a paid gig. Would probloggers do guest posts? The answers give some clear results, most won’t, not because their too pro, but because of lack of time, although I see some do guest post for very close friends.