The subject of payment amongst book bloggers has long been a contentious issue and has often been seen as a taboo subject. We’ve seen the rise of blogging from hobby to career over the past few years with bloggers and influencers earning incredible salaries by sharing their online stories. Not book bloggers though. Why?
I’ve been itching to write this article for a while and it’s something that’s been at the back of my mind for years. I must admit that I have held back because I am scared. Scared that a publisher or PR might read this and then decide that they don’t want to work with me anymore. That one of them will read this and think “who does she think she is asking for payment?” and with the click of a button my blogging career will go up in flames.
I currently work as a full time blogger so that would be a huge blow to me. However, I’m increasingly receiving messages from fellow book bloggers or bookstagrammers wanting to monetise their social channels and blogs, frustrated by the lack of opportunities, so I thought it was time to share my thoughts.
Here’s a brief overview of my blogging journey: whatshotblog.com is now over seven and a half years old and it has evolved quite a lot during that time. What started as a fashion blog, very quickly turned into a dedicated book and film review blog. Fast forward to the present and I’d now describe it as a culture, travel and lifestyle blog. I’ve never had a strict “niche” and have always flitted between different topics because I love to write about lots of different things and that reflects my interests in real life. However, books still remain my number one passion.
I started my blog at school purely because I loved to write and share my thoughts on the numerous books and films I was getting through each week. Then, during my year abroad in Paris, I stepped things up a notch. I’ve earned bits and bobs from my blog from the very start but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started to take things a bit more “seriously”. I started earning more money by working with brands and PRs and slowly over the years I’ve managed to turn this into a full time job.
So let’s discuss the book industry and take a look at why book bloggers aren’t being paid and why they should be.
My experience with money and book blogging
As I sit between different niches, I have seen how different industries have reacted to the growth of influencer marketing over the years. It seems fairly clear to me that publishers are a little behind on this front. Although I write about many different topics, I’d say around 85% of my posts on Instagram are book related and over 50% of my blog posts are. However, only 8% of my income from the 2017/18 tax year, came from book-related sponsored posts.
I think this reflects the fact that publishers aren’t putting as much of their budget into influencer marketing as other brands are. You can read more about marketers and influencer budgets here. Some might attribute this to books being worth a lot less than say, the latest pair of ghd straighteners. This is true, but I don’t think that’s the real issue here.
Here’s an example. A couple of months ago, I was approached with the perfect campaign for me – a bookish lifestyle product. However, I was told there was no budget because they wanted the campaign to be as “authentic” as possible.
I found this to be highly insulting and a poor excuse for their lack of budget. Whilst payment might guarantee that a product is featured on my account, it does not dictate the tone I use, nor my opinion of the product itself.
A blogger’s “authenticity” is e v e r y t h i n g and I was more than slightly miffed at the implication that all my previous paid campaigns were not authentic.
What’s funny is that I had previously worked directly with the publisher this PR was representing on a paid campaign – was she saying that campaign had been inauthentic? I actually would’ve participated in this campaign without payment had she not used those words in her email, so she really shot herself in the foot!
An even bigger problem, however, is not so much that publishers don’t have the budget, but that they choose to spend it elsewhere.
A couple of months ago, a large publisher ran a campaign for their new January release. I was gifted a copy of it since I had previously reviewed this author’s work.
However, come publication day, I noticed that hoards of lifestyle bloggers were publishing content about this release as part of a sponsored campaign.
It was at this point that I really began to get frustrated. The book bloggers and bookstagrammers were sent review copies, but denied payment, whilst lifestyle bloggers received both. That’s a double standard I find hard to swallow.
Why aren’t book bloggers getting paid?
Payment seems to be a “taboo” in the world of book blogging. A lot of book bloggers think we shouldn’t be paid at all. Others are simply too afraid to ask.
In all honesty, I can see why publishers don’t want to pay. Newspapers and other more “reputable” publications provide reviews for free. So why should we be paid?
Some of the biggest and best bookstagrammers, with beautiful content and high engagement, also continue to participate in their campaigns and instagram tours for free. So why pay?
The problem here is two-fold. Firstly, publishers seem to be behind other industries on the influencer marketing front. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, many book bloggers and bookstagrammers remain unaware of when they should charge and how much to charge. As a result, I think they are often taken advantage of.
#bookstagram now has over 20 million posts on Instagram and our shelfies have massively boosted the book industry (check out this article). The majority of this publicity has been free of charge, simply because we love books. However, reading a book could take you anywhere from 3 to 10 hours. A well thought out blog post plus imagery might take you another 3. Why are we doing this for free?
Many of my bookish friends have expressed their frustration at the current situation, acknowledging that they spend hours aiding publishers spread the word about books alongside their full-time jobs and would like to be paid. I mean, who wouldn’t love to get paid to read and review books?
I could honestly speak for days on this subject but I think I’ll bring my essay to an end here. It’s time for book bloggers to get paid. Publishers are profiting from the continual rise of #bookstagram but book bloggers don’t seem to be given their fair share.
To every book blogger or bookstagrammer who feels equally frustrated, I’d encourage you to fight for change by (politely!) asking about their budget when you are asked to participate in campaigns.
There will not always be a budget and you might choose to take part anyway and that’s completely fine. You do you after all. I am by no means suggesting that every post in which you feature a book sent to you by a publisher should be sponsored.
However, when the publisher demands certain things from you: a specific style, posting date/time, hashtags etc, you should consider asking for payment. I strongly believe that if they have any say over the content you are producing, then it is a business relationship, and should be treated as such.
Remember, they’ve reached out to you so clearly they think your content is worth something! Don’t think that you shouldn’t ask or that you don’t deserve to be paid. If you work hard at what you do and can show the results, then you absolutely do deserve to be rewarded for your efforts.
Being a book blogger or bookstagrammer does not mean you are automatically entitled to payment. However, if you are providing something of value to the publisher, in essence, free marketing, then you need to think about how much your work is worth. And yes, it is work. Every campaign should be mutually beneficial so really think about what value you provide before you think about asking for payment.
I do not believe that book bloggers should get paid to review books. Paid book reviews introduces the issue of bias. However, there are numerous ways to feature books through social campaigns, listicles, articles etc. that can and should be monetised.
Lastly, I have previously worked on paid campaigns with publishers and have some lined up for the future. I am very grateful for these opportunities. However, the evolution in this industry seems to be a lot slower than in others and I think that speaking about these issues openly can only be a good thing for both publishers and book influencers.
p.s. I’ll be sharing a discussion piece featuring opinions from lots of other bookstagrammers in the next few days so join the conversation and share your thoughts in the comments below!
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