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Will Huffington Post Syndrome Kill Paid Blogging?

Carol Tice

The new going rate for blogging?

I’ve made a lot of money blogging for pay in the past couple of years. And I’ve encouraged a lot of other freelance writers to develop their blogging chops, smarten up their personal blogs, and go after paid blogging gigs.

But a couple of disturbing recent developments have got me rethinking that idea.

I’m afraid we’re about to enter an ugly down cycle where the complaint isn’t going to be that companies want you to blog for $10 or $15 a post.

The new going rate — even from major corporations and publishing firms — appears to be zero.

Here’s the story of two recent blogging gigs I had, and how they went from great pay to no pay in a matter of months.

One was for the parent company of financial-services firm Lending Tree. Spun off from Interactive Corp. in 2008, Tree was awash in red ink and looking to rebuild its business by establishing itself as a major online finance-information portal. It would draw visitors and then advertise its products.

Last spring, I was writing for three different channels of Tree.com’s multichannel business-information portal at $100 a post, up to 16 posts a month. It was sort of a weird project — we couldn’t get much direction on who the audience was or which topics got the best traffic, and the company never put out so much as a single press release about Tree.com’s launch. But it was fun, and the editors and writers were great.

Shortly afterwards, I was contacted by Hotfrog, a heavily trafficked global business website based out of Australia and owned by venerable, publicly traded business-publishing house Reed Elsevier (owner of Lexis-Nexis). The company saw a profit of about $619 million in the first half of this year.

When I told the editor I worked for $100 a post and up, he offered me $175.

I felt like things were looking up in the world of blogging. Like skills in this emerging medium were being increasingly valued for the traffic and business they can bring to a site.

Then, in February, AOL announced it would buy The Huffington Post — millionaire socialite Arianna Huffington’s wildly successful site built on a model of unpaid blogging done for links and exposure — for $315 million.

I don’t find it a coincidence that within a few months of this announcement, both of these paid blogging gigs vaporized.

As has already been chronicled by others, Tree.com shut down its project overnight on June 30, after spending what may have been $1 million on editorial. Its big spend achieved its goal of creating a high-traffic website — the project was a total success. But the company thought it should try a new model for writer pay: Please blog for us for free — we’ll give you links and exposure, and maybe even a little ad revenue!

Three weeks later, I got the same song from Hotfrog: “We’ve decided to change the current contribution model,” my editor wrote, noting that they were unilaterally cancelling my contract midstream, leaving me out more than $500 in planned assignments. “We would like to propose an arrangement where we offer traffic and links from [our site] to your blogs or websites in exchange for your articles.”

I wished both of these major corporations best of luck in finding experienced business writers willing to go for that deal, and moved on.

On reflection, I’m concerned this is a new disease that’s broken out. I call it:

Huffington Post Syndrome

These corporations are looking at what AOL did and thinking, “I should do that, too.” Maybe I could get professional writers to blog for me for free, too.

The forecast: It’s ugly times out there for paid blogging.

I’m watching to see what happens with my remaining paid blogging gigs, but I’m not going to be shocked if they disappear, too.

What can you do?

When major, publicly traded companies think they can up their profits by convincing professional writers to donate their services — or use free writing talent to try to drive their business out of the red and start making a dime again — it’s time to branch out into other forms of freelance writing.

I think eventually, the cycle will swing back toward professional pay rates for blogging again, once enough companies have a chance to learn the hard way that they are not high-profile millionairesses writers would like to hang out with online and write sophisticated business-finance posts for, just for the reflected glamour.

But I bet it’s going to take a while.

In the meanwhile, I recommend writers:

  • work hard on monetizing their own blogs
  • start looking for gigs that aren’t blogging

There are plenty of other writing niches out there that still pay well.

Learn about technical writing, case studies, white papers, textbook supplements, grant applications, annual reports, requests for proposals for government contracts, feature articles.

Or you can write for this site. Even my little ol’ blog can manage to pay $50 a post.

What’s your recent experience been with paid blogging rates? Leave a comment and share your take.

Zero illustration: stock.xchng – ilco