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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Caveat Bloggor

posted by Chris Clarke
The folks at Medgadget have posted an interesting warning about BlogBurst, which bills itself as "a syndication service that places your blog content on top-tier online destinations." BlogBurst's business plan is straightforward. Bloggers who want their content syndicated sign up and agree to give BlogBurst:

... a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, make derivative works of, perform, display, disclose, and otherwise dispose of the Work (and derivative works thereof) for the purposes of (a) modifying the Work without substantially changing its original meaning, and (b) distributing the Work (and derivative works thereof) to Publisher electronic web sites or corresponding printed editions, whether now known or hereafter devised.

BlogBurst then sells the bloggers' content to publishers. At this writing, papers in San Francisco, Washington DC, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio have signed up, as well as Gannett and Parade.com. The material appears with the bloggers' bylines and a link back to the originating blog. BlogBurst and its publishers split any advertising revenue generated by the content.

What does the blogger get out of this? A link. The promise of traffic. Um, that's pretty much it. And that promise, in the experience of a couple people who've signed up with BlogBurst, a bit optimistic. The clients republish the blog posts in full. Without a "read more" link, there's little incentive for readers to click through to the originating blog. What's worse, the nature of Google ranking pretty much ensures that participating blogs will show up well below the republishers in Google searches. This means signing your blog up with BlogBurst could actually lead to a drop in traffic.

There's a rather nasty feature of the syndication which I assume is an unanticipated glitch. Syndicated content includes any images in the original post. BlogBurst doesn't mirror the image files: they remain on your server. In essence, BlogBurst sets up extremely high-volume hotlinks to images on your site, and if you're not using an image-hosting service like Flickr, you might find yourself running out of bandwidth a couple hours after Gannett publishes your photo of the pad thai at the new restaurant in Cedar Rapids. Or you might wind up with an extra hundred bucks on your bandwidth bill. Especially if you don't take care to reduce the file size of your images. Great deal, huh? Run out of bandwidth without anyone knowing your site is there.

BlogBurst's executives say that they hope someday to be able to offer remuneration to participating bloggers. They may well be sincere in saying so. Maybe you can get your web host to accept second-hand hope as payment for your bandwidth.

I edit a magazine for a living. For the most part, we don't pay writers. I'm continually having to ask people to donate their writing. One of the things I use as a selling point in asking for donations of writing is increased exposure. Most of the time I don't have to point that out: people who write want their work read. But all I ever ask for is one-time print and web publication, and I'm flexible on that second one.

BlogBurst is taking advantage of bloggers who're so eager to get their names out there — and, often, unnecessarily uncertain of the worth of their writing — that they'll hand over a lifetime license to their work for nothing.

This pisses me off. If your writing is good enough for a major daily or chain to want to put it on their website, it's good enough that they'll pay you for it rather than BlogBurst. (I speak from experience here, having parlayed a cold call to my local paper's Home and Garden section editor into a brief and ridiculously underpaid, and yet still paid, nationally syndicated garden column a few years back.)

No writer should ever sign a contract like the one BlogBurst offers unless they're being paid. I don't care how uncertain you are of your writing, how nervous you are about asking for money. Don't do it.

Hat tip: Grrlscientist at Living the Scientific Life.
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