Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Sticky Wicket

I am not the boss of much, but I am mostly the boss of this blog (except when Harry overrules me). And so today, instead of showing you knitted wares, I am going to tell a little story and ask you guys what you think of this practice:

An owner of a yarn store approached me last week, offering to supply me with yarn and let me do anything I wanted with it--knit cat hats, felt myself a mousepad, or just wind it around my ears. She would them pay me to post the review on my blog with a link to her store for those who wished to purchase the stuff.

I told her I might be interested, if, at the beginning of the review, I informed my readers I was being paid to fiddle with the yarn and say something about it. The owner did not like that idea at all. According to her, several Famous Bloggers, whose names she did not mention, are on the payroll of the biggest on-line store, which she again did not specify.

Besides the fact that this practice is now illegal (see here), the entire concept makes me a little ill. I am not a Famous Blogger, but I think I would be doing my readers (however few) a disservice if I didn't reveal that I was being paid to talk about something. And certainly, I wouldn’t review the yarn at all if it were a nasty knit.

I find it sad that Famous Bloggers have become Greedy Bloggers. I may have been laid off and spend a lot of time inspecting the couch for spare quarters, but I don’t want to do anything that would compromise my innate honesty. Or am I just being naive and stupid?

What do you guys think?

63 comments:

Mary said...

I think that paying you to knit samples for her store is one thing..asking you to write reviews for pay is another thing entirely!

At least now I know if I am reading a yarn review for a big name blogger...take it with a grain of salt.

heidi said...

You should be proud of yourself! showing integrity, and sticking to what you think is right in these times really shows what kind of person you are.

I must say that this has really increased my respect for you! not only are you an awesome knitter, you are honest too!

you truly deserve tons of respect for writing about it too!

FUZZARELLY said...

I have sent my spinning fibers to several blogger friends, hoping that they would say nice things.

However, I did not offer any payment. I reckon it was more of a marketing ploy, just trying to get word out about my stuff.

Some people blogged. Some didn't.

But one does not pay for reviews. So good on you.

By the way, would you like a small box of Fuzzarelly Fibers?

CozyStitches said...

I think you are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, integrity is being left behind these days... :(

Pandora's Box of FIber said...

I am of the mindset that there should be a disclaimer stating that compensation took place. But, from an economic standpoint, what foolish reader would think that any review was for free, be it that the compensation was from the yarn submitted for review, or for payment via money?

I agree with your integrity and insisting that your readers know, but I think that there is also a place for those Famous Bloggers being paid for their reviews.

We should all just be aware that such things take place, and that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Anonymous said...

I read several knitting blogs and it's apparent that the more popular ones are inundated with 'presents' from stores and yarn companies. I have always wondered if the blogger just reviews the yarn and gives it a kind word if they like it, or are paid for the review (most with links to the company).

It says something very positive about your character that you are concerned about the offer. Many writers do start a blog hoping to make money from it, but IMO it should be revealed if they are reviewing for profit. Maybe that's naive--but readers tend to trust these writers and think of them as friends, unlike just hearing a famous voice pitching something on TV. You know then that they are paid and everyone's all right with it; maybe the paid bloggers view their favorable comments in the same way.

Patsy

Kitty Kitty said...

Good for you... I wasn't aware that this was being done in the yarn industry but I guess in retrospect it doesn't surprise me. This is the no. thing that has killed all the major game review sites and make them worthless today. When companies pay a certain amount of add dollars for a certain rating how can any rating on your site be worthwhile.

Thank you so much for your honesty. Like you I could never look myself in the mirror if I took money for a review.

Ann said...

How refreshing to see integrity and character rise to the top.

Character does matter, and I truly appreciate people who choose to do the right thing even if it may not be the easiest nor most profitable.

Give yourself a pat on the back as I applaud you from the sidelines.

Jocelyn said...

I find her contentions very hard to believe. First of all, I don't know any FBs who review yarns for a website. They receive yarn for free from *vendors* and state that outright. Those FBs who are designers will indicate who sent the yarn, but they don't formally "review" it. If what she says is correct, then those FBs would be outed pretty quickly, I'm sure, and have zero credibility.

Karen said...

I don't see what would be wrong with being paid for the service of reviewing a yarn...but would definitely raise an eyebrow if you were offered payment for praising it even if it didn't deserve it. And such an honest review would include the "I'm being paid to do this" disclaimer. And, I would hope, we would all understand that the review would be your opinion, respected though your opinion would be!

yarnlot said...

If famous bloggers get paid for making publicity there is the risk that their review is not going to be impartial. Therefore it would only be honest if their readers were informed of the fact. Of course honesty is often labeled as naive in this world...

larascreations said...

Nothing wrong with doing a review but getting paid? Full disclosure or Harry will pout :-)

I think it would be ridiculous for someone to ask you to do a review without at least providing the materials (I would not call that payment in this context although you could certainly mention they were sent) but to pay for the review AND want you to keep it secret? That's just wrong. Isn't that just a very short step away from "please endorse this even if you hate it because I am paying you to?"

Good for you!

daywoods2 said...

You aren't being naive or stupid, you're being honest and honorable. I agree with the others - be proud of yourself!

Walden said...

I agree with most of the other comments. It seems wrong for her/him to pay you for a review of her yarn, after all, what if you don't like something about it? I think you should go with your instinct, if it feels bad, don't do it.

Clumsy Knitter said...

I'm with the other commenters: full disclosure is necessary if there is some kind of monetary exchange here (reviewing for financial gain as opposed to reviewing in exchange for the skein of yarn you just got to play with). I'm also skeptical of the YSO's claims that other big name bloggers are getting paid for reviewing yarns. Many of them have relationships with retailers or yarn companies, it's true, but I would be surprised if it went beyond giving the blogger some yarn and leaving it up to them to review it if they thought it was good.

Good for you for hesitating and asking questions. If your gut instinct is that it's not right, it probably isn't!

larascreations said...

And that number would be what? Just kidding of course - I'd have to have it before I could share ;-).

PS - forgot to mention my Bosie came in. FABULOUS and I'm getting almost nothing done. Well, except spinning of course, lol.

BadCatDesigns said...

I need to know what famous bloggers and what big stores are doing this??? Soon blogger's reviews will have about the same worth as the always-glowing reviews in the knitting magazines; worthless...

I admit that I am gifted with yarn sometimes, but never with any strings attached. I would never give something a "good" review if I didn't mean it 100%.

Keep your integrity and don't do it unless you can do it on your own terms.

I hope your new spindles arrive soon!

Janice in GA said...

Yeah, I'd be happy to review a product give to me for free. But, like pretty much everyone else, I'd want to say how I got it (i.e., free, or "I was given some yarn for review.")

Kara said...

I guess I'm a cynic, but I always assume that all reviews were for some sort of compensation (even if it *is* just a free ball of the yarn for the review) unless the author specifically stated otherwise. I suspect that a lot of bloggers have a complex relationship with the sources of the things they review, and not just knitters! For instance, most of the reviewers of children's products mention that the product they are reviewing was sent to them by a particular vendor but not whether they were specifically paid for the review.

You should go with your gut; I think it's a little weird that the shop owner asked you to do this the way she did and it clearly bothered you too.

fleegle said...

FYI, I have never received yarn, books, tools, software, or any other knitware product for review. Every review on this site was about stuff I purchased myself. If I had ever gotten anything for review, I certainly would have mentioned that fact right up front. Assuming, of course, it was worth reviewing. And Harry didn't steal it before I could look at it.

JennR said...

I would pay more attention to the YSO if she actually named names. I'm always leery of people who make claims like that without names to back them up. Accusations like that give everybody a bad taste, and nobody knows who to trust.

Then again, I've got friends who make their living doing book reviews for booksellers; and isn't that the same thing?

Cheryl S. said...

I'd have to say that the idea makes me ill, too.

I don't suppose I'd have a problem with someone providing the free yarn/book/tool/whatever and asking for a review, but even then, it seems only right to disclose that.

Getting paid on top of that? Makes me a little queasy. What if you have a bad opinion - are they still going to pay for the review? And if it's a good review, is it really unbiased? Hmmmm.

Susan (and SmokeyBlue in spirit) said...

IF she would allow you to actually be honest, and by that I mean if you hated a yarn, then you would say that, if it was so so, say that too, etc. We know you speak your mind. Also some where on the page should be a disclaimer stating that the LYS pays you to review these yarns.

Would you be able to pick and choose yarns or only use those she gave you?

Would you need to only be reviewing or could you do blogs on other topics as well?

Will the pay be worth the effort? I am assuming free yarn plus pay and not just something nominal.

I have noticed in a certain famous blog that one brand is showing up way more than any of the others lately.

momsue84 said...

You are absolutely doing the right thing. I admire your integrity and honesty. Way to go!

Diana Troldahl said...

I know that in teh world of book reviews, the only payment a reviewer receives is her copy of the ARC. (Advance Reader's Copy).
I had not known of bloggers being paid to review anything.
I DID know about them receiving free samples of stuff to review, and think that's pretty cool beans.
The person who is creating the product should be confident enough in their product to allow an honest review, or I wouldn't want their stinky free yarn.
Good for you!

Diana Troldahl said...

Oops edited to add, except in the case JennR stated, when they are working for a bookseller, rather than reviewing on their own.
(I guess the equivalent would be if I were working for Jimmy Beans Wool as the person who wrote the yarn descriptions.)
Famous Authors are not paid to give a quote on a new author's book, but sometimes if they are published by the same company, they are asked to read the book, and give a quote.
As a former reviewer for an online book review site, we were asked to give reviews a positive spin... and even in books I personally did not like, I was able to find something positive to say, without compromising my own ethics. (sorry for the essay Fleegle).

Dave said...

Well, yeah, what everyone else said. But!!! According to that link indicating that the activity MAY become illegal, you CAN accept a trip to Europe, write the review (perhaps while on said trip, in which it could be tax deductible), and then say, "While on a trip paid for by XYZ, I had a chance to knit a bric-a-brac out of her recycled lima bean yarn, and let me tell you, although it tastes good with a little butter and salt and pepper, it's crap as far as knitting." I do not believe the practice is as widespread as she indicated, and if it were happening, would it not be the manufacturers doing it and not individual yarn store owners? If she's wiling to pay for an ocean cruise, I would say, "Have a nice trip." :-)

Katie K said...

pcworld.com says, "There currently is no regulation in place specifically regarding bloggers and payola." So I think it's fair to say that what she requested is not "illegal" as you claim. But, of course, I'm glad to hear that you're ethical. Thanks for sharing the story.

mawelucky said...

Fleegle,

I have no idea how much was offered to you, but having a good head on your shoulders, you know it wasn't enough to pay for your integrity.

You're not naïve, you have something that sadly many people don't have anymore - principles.

I admire you more each day.

Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

I would love to twine yarn round my ears. Even if there are aspects to a yarn that you don't like, doesn't mean that those very things won't make it an appropriate yarn for something. No yarn can be all bad. I would trust you to weigh the pros and cons in a review. Maybe the lys owner will come around and pay you to review even with the disclaimer.

LittleBerry said...

I think you did the right thing... I've always found your honesty about a yarn you used refreshing especially in a world were people are reserved about criticizing things for fear of retribution...

Thanks fro the kind comments on the shwl...

The Cussing Tinker said...

Echoing just about everyone else, stick with your integrity.

We had a controversy here in Australia, where a couple of our best-known radio broadcasters were giving favourable comment without disclosing the fiduciary arrangement (look up "cash for comment affair" in wiki if interested. This article states "it is widely considered a breach of journalistic integrity".

I wonder if she was paying for and supplying the yarn, or if she was using samples from the yarn company? It would certainly be in both their interests to get favourable reviews.

I have not been a reader of yours for long (< 1 week), and you have already switched me on to some yummy-looking yarns (Lisa Souza's Mother of Pearl is presently at the top of my lust list).

And I would like to think that anyone who does read your blog would know you wouldn't say nice things about a yarn if you didn't mean them.

KPiep said...

That's really, really strange. I feel like I read a bunch of the 'well-known' knitting blogs, and I've never got the sense that any of them are being paid to do reviews. Granted, I always take any sort of reviews with a grain of salt - taste being so very personal.

Interestingly enough, there was an online article recently about how big corporations have tapped stay at home Mom blogs as a source of revenue/advertising, and so are now paying a bunch of them for product placement and/or reviews. Ugh.

Good for you for turning the woman down! Full disclosure would be the ONLY way to go!

Julie said...

I've been sent books that I was asked to review on my blog, and I did - after stating right at the top of the review that I was given the book for free. Don't see a thing wrong with it, as a reader of blogs, or as a blogger, myself. (Though I think that the marketing folks should be more careful about blogs they choose for this - if something sucks, many of us will just say so, free product or not.)

Paying for reviews seems to taint the whole process, I think. Regardless of who is doing the reviewing. Once you pay them for it, it starts looking like bribery.

So, as a reader, I don't mind bloggers getting stuff they're asked to review. But I want to know it was given to them with that request, and I want an honest review.

KPiep said...

I'm so sorry to hear that your Golding isn't what you had hoped for! I would definitly send it back if it isn't making you happy. In my rather limited experience with spindles, I've already figured out how important it is to have a spindle that you can work well with! I think it's even more important than the type of wheel you have.

Sligo said...

Honesty is the best policy.

kicki said...

a couple of balls of wool for a free link to a yarn store seems like pretty lousy pay, imo.

and whether or not you disclose that the yarn has been sponsored is up to you, but i'd be disappointed if you didn't mention it.

then again, who cares, it's not like it's a big deal. If a review doesn't xplicitly say that it is independent, I'd expect it to be more or less sponsored, even if it's only with wool.

Same if a Famous Blogger posts a pattern for a specific yarn, I expect they've been sponsored. After all, the manufacturer will end up selling a lot if the designer is reasonably famous.

Ebony said...

I think your response was the correct one. I myself wouldn't be comfortable reviewing a yarn and not mentioning its source.

Leslie said...

Keep your integrity intact. If you get something to review, say it was received for review but please don't take money for it.

I'm surprised you haven't been given things to review. I consider you an excellent knitter and blogger.

ashidome said...

Previously, when my blog was popular and edgier, I was asked if I would review two books by a publisher. Other than the free books -- which I stated I got from the publisher -- there was no monetary compensation.

I told my readers the story of how the books came into my possession, did my review and then gave the books away. I know I would have felt uncomfortable to be paid to write a review.

Kudos to you for taking a stand and sticking up for your integrity.

sayingthings said...

Fleegle, you are right. Reviews are supposed to be impartial. They aren't supposed to be advertisements. Well, they're used as such, and as such they are useless and discarded by any thinking person. An unbiased reviewer if a precious thing.

=Tamar said...

Regardless of what she said, I doubt that any Famous Blogger is really being paid to tout a particular brand of yarn, even if they seem to be using it a lot. (If someone likes a product, they'll use it, right? People do ask "what yarn is that" so it's reasonable to mention the yarn used for a project.) I suppose it could happen someday. I'm glad you are keeping your integrity.

WendyKnits said...

Okay, now I am curious about who these Famous Bloggers are and what the big online store is. First I've heard of it!

I'm with you on this. I'd say no thank-you.

I am sometimes (but not terribly often) given gifts of yarn by indie dyers when we meet at knitting events, and am often emailed offers of yarn. Sometimes I accept an emailed offer (if the yarn is something I think I will use and be able to give a positive review), and most of the time I say "No thank you, I've got more than enough yarn to last me three lifetimes."

Most of the yarn I use and talk about on my blog, though, it stuff I've bought.

peachesforever said...

I agree with you completely that it should be identified when someone is being paid to use/review a product. If this LYS is not practicing this, then shame on them...cheryl

Mama Cat said...

One FB posts a lot about The Loopy Ewe, where her patterns are on sale - but I'm pretty sure that she always states that she BUYS her yarn there. And I believe her. She does get gifts of yarn from various places but always discloses that it's a gift. Even so, I've got so tired reading about this one online shop that I don't read that blog as much as I used to. But I don't think there is anything unethical about it - just tiresome.

Personally, I would lose a lot (all?) respect for you if I discovered that you were reviewing yarn or a particular shop in exchange for undisclosed yarn payola. If you mentioned it however - "so and so sent me this yarn to try out" and then provided a fair review, I guess I'd be OK with that. But I probably wouldn't believe the review.

So - IMO - don't do it.

ColetteS said...

I am sure that many high readership bloggers do receive (direct/indirect) compensation for featuring yarns/books/patterns, on their blogs. I have long ago stopped reading many of those blogs. I know that everyone is in effect marketing themselves, however I don't want to feel like I am being marketed to.

Promote the items you plan to carry in your store and let the yarn companies and LYS promote their own products on their sites.

Carla said...

I think that only because said Store Owner mentioned what "famous bloggers" did, does not mean that the "famous bloggers do". Does she/he actually know any famous bloggers?? What are famous blogges anyway? People being hounded due to their extensive yarn stash?

Myself, I read many blogs mentioning yarn and stuff and they make no mystery of the fact they were given this or that yarn to play with by the owner.

Too bad your Yarn Store Owner does not seem to understand how far reaching is the word honesty...

Kudos! to you "cause you do!:-)

Suna said...

I'd definitely mention it if I were being paid--I certainly make it clear in my own blog that I have taught for money at one of the local yarn shops. And I am a much less famous blogger than you are!!

I am happy to say nice things about friends' efforts, but if paid, I'd say so. Just seems ethical.

Vicki Stammer said...

Dear Fleegle, many thanks for taking a stand for putting honesty ahead of personal gain. The problem with the proposition you've been presented with is neither the doing of the review nor the taking of compensation; it's the desire by one party to the deal to hide the nature of the business relationship between the two parties to the deal.

If you were being offered a stock and the party promoting it as a good investment were being more highly compensated to discuss that stock than another, you'd want to know that was the case, wouldn't you? Of course you world.

If you were considering a mortgage and your broker was being paid more commission for one mortgage option but a lesser commission for another, you'd want to know that, wouldn't you? Obviously, you would!

(Let's all think for a while about how obscuring this information or deregulating its disclosure has worked out over the recent past, shall we?)

Little personal compromises of integrity are the thin end of the wedge. You can always find a few more quarters in the couch, but I doubt you'd be able to locate your character under the cushions if you lost that.

Well done!

Vicki Stammer

Spike said...

Integrity and transparency are not the same as naive and stupid.

I absolutely agree that if you are going to review a product, your audience should be informed about any compensation you get for your review PRECISELY so we know how your words may be weighted.

It's one thing if you gush about Gooey's new licorice yarn and pass me a link to a store to buy the stuff at because you JUST LOVE this yarn. It's totally another if you gush about it and are being PAID to do so. And if I found out someone was gushing for pay and not disclosing the same, I'd probably drop this person from my blogroll--or discount ALL his/her reviews as being advertising.

Which would, of course, obviate the purpose of having Famous Blogger flog your wares--to garner credibility and generate sales.

Stick to your guns, Fleegle

GJabouri said...

Hi Fleegle,

I don't think that there is anything wrong with reviewing, or even being paid to review, a product - as long as your review is your honest opinion; iow you should be free to post a negative review if warranted.

From your post I assume the sticky wicket is that the Yarn Shop Owner wants to pay you for posting the (hopefully) positive review together with a link to her store. That's not cool - because there surely would be other stores carrying that yarn. So my conclusion is that she really is trying to pay you for linking to her store - more so than for the review. That would also explain why she does not want to be mentioned as "sponsoring" the review. Don't do it.

I've also heard about the Mom blogs - yeeccch! And there are also people getting paid for posing as ordinary supermarket shoppers and then praising a product while conversing with other shoppers in the checkout line! Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

I add my vote to those who feel you did absolutely the right thing. Good on you!

Anonymous said...

If she was the kind of person who wanted you to do what you said, she would be the kind of person who lied about other bloggers. How does she know what other bloggers do?

EGunn said...

I've been doing a lot of learning about internet business lately, and "affiliate marketing" is a really big trend, especially among those selling e-books and other "information products." Basically, the seller pays you (usually about half) of any sale that they make when someone clicks through from your blog, and so you get paid for every customer you send over. They better the review, the more money you make. It is very common, and lots of people do not reveal their affiliate links (though I think you're right that this has recently become illegal).

That said, I completely agree with you that it is better to be honest with your readers when you are making money off of a review. As long as it's an honest review and as long as you would recommend the product even if not being paid, I don't think it's a problem to make money off of word-of-mouth advertising. Still, as a consumer, I prefer to be able to take any possible money bias into account when making my decision. It's one of those caveat emptor things...it's a common practice, but I'm not sure it's a good one. It's nice to know that your recommendations will all be above board! =)

Jean said...

I think one of Cardinal Newman's big ideas was that, if you sit quietly and just think, you can trust your conscience to come up with the right answer. Your dilemma may be the perfect example.

knittingdragonflies said...

Ditto here, stick to your guns, go with your gut, you know you are doing the right thing, feel good about it.
And thanks for sharing, very interesting.
Vicki

Carol said...

If it is a review for pay, then it should be disclosed as such. Otherwise it is misleading at the very least. Outright lying at worst. The pay should also NOT be contingent on whether the review is good or bad.

A said...

Good thing Harry was out of the country...

astoriaAnn said...

I'm glad she didn't name names, but she's making an accusation that I'm not sure how she can be so sure about. It helps her, doesn't it, to claim that others are doing this. It makes her look less unethical for asking you to do it. That doesn't mean others are doing it. They may be, they may not be. Who knows.

In any case, I think the practice is perfectly fine if, as you suggested, you own up to the fact that you were given the yarn free to review *by this yarnstore.* The fact that she balked at disclosure would make me very uncomfortable.

madonnaearth said...

I don't have a problem with you reviewing yarns for pay, but the way she was talking about doing it seemed shady. I don't like that, and I'm glad you don't either. No telling what else would be shady about that person businesswise. And don't let her be unhappy with your review. No telling how she'd badmouth you.

Jane said...

I think your instincts and ethics are good. I'm not sure I'd belive anyone who was suggesting you be less than your usually honest and up front self. I have always valued your opinions and your honesty so I support how you feel about this matter.

malcolmandmarcus said...

I agree with you. As a knitter, I really take seriously what I read in other blogs - especially product reviews. I rely on a lot of that information for my future purchases. I view fellow knit bloggers as friends (whether they want to be or not!). I've come across a few "big blogs" that are very obviously in the pockets of yarn companies/distributers, and it's very off-putting. This is a craft and most of us are in it for the love of it.

Luisa said...

If you are paid to write a review, your opinion will never be read by your visitors as impartial, no matter what you say. And you'll quickly find out that this makes it virtually impossible to say something not so nice about the yarn (or whatever product you are writing about).