Junk Food for Your Brain
publication date: Sep 2, 2010
Recently, I got an email that said the following:
"This is John...with Economist Blog. We are interested in promoting your company on our blog. Please call me at..."
Normally, I would simply hit delete and get on with my workday. However, when I visited the sender's website, I found the following description:
"Our research department goes to great lengths to discover bloggers who possess creative, informative and entertaining qualities and to then present these bloggers to you, with their respective links, on the...blogger platform. We encourage our readers to click on these links to learn more about the blogger and their writings."
Now, I was a bit curious so I called "John." After the perfunctory greetings, John proceeded to tell me how much he would love to have some of my columns on his company's website and essentially regurgitated the preceding paragraph. He then said how many hundreds of dollars I would have to pay them to have my articles published on their website! And, he said, that he'd be willing to publish as many of my articles as I'd like. They apparently don't do that for just anyone, he told me, implying that they usually limit how many of an author's articles they will publish. (I guess my track record and credentials are worth something!)
There is a precedent for this type of "advertorial" publishing in the print world. If you've ever gotten those glossy newsletters "featuring" a small company stock you've never heard of before, more often than not, those are paid ads by the company being promoted. In the print world, there's usually a disclosure for such advertorials, albeit too small for my tastes in most cases.
What is shameful, extraordinarily misleading and unethical is the complete lack of disclosure on this well trafficked website that the "articles" they are publishing are paid advertorials. (The sales guy who originally contacted me was with the outfit 1800blogger). Over time, I've come to learn that such corrupted content is all too common online, especially and including the financial space about which I write. Alas, there are increasing numbers of companies that connect advertisers looking to promote their products with bloggers wanting to earn money by saying flattering things about the companies paying them. PayPerPost is a big player in this sleazy business and has received millions in venture capital money.
I've written before about the unseemly ways in which "free" websites make money. Many sites have affiliate relationships whereby the site gets paid whenever you click on a link to a mentioned or recommended product/service and buy said product/service. And, too many sites, which are small operations, have little if any separation between editorial and advertising functions which you could find in a larger, subscription-based print publication.
So when you're surfing the Internet, be sure to bring along your skepticism and shark repellent.