In the last few days, there had been plenty of discussions about blogging networks, particularly, about blogger payments in the industry. I've followed them with interest as my company, b5media, is usually a "target" during these conversations. But, I kept silent for the most part. Not by force, mind you. By choice.
Jeremy Wright (CEO of b5media) had voiced out part of b5's side a couple of times in his blog. And, he'd been an active participant in the comments sections of other blogs including (but not limited to ;-)) - here and here.
Anyway, I decided to join in the conversation because:
2) Yuga wrote this interesting entry about "The Perfect Formula for Blogger Payouts" over at The Blog Herald.
3) I've been recently approached by an individual asking me if I wanted to sell AboutWeblogs.com.
And, well, probably the most compelling reason I have is the fact that...
4) I've taken on the role of Vice President for Community in a full time capacity over at b5media a couple of weeks ago. And I realised that I haven't really talked much about it.
Now, looking at all of these things, I realised that it has officially been two years since I entered the "blog network space". And, I'm amazed at how much it has all evolved.
When I first set up AW, I only wanted a place to consolidate all my blogging projects to begin with. I lived and breathed the world of weblogs and I wanted to find a home for my blogging compulsions.
As I started to build it up, I just began to think how great it would be to get some of my blogging contacts and friends involved in the project. I've always known how talented and wonderful they were, having been reading their blogs for months (if not years) and communicating with them for a while. So, I asked a handful of people if they were interested to take part in the idea. Thankfully, most of the people I asked were just as happy and excited as I was.
I believe the first few bloggers I had back then were Christine (who started with the Scrapbooking Blog, now Mad Cropper --- and a few other problogs now), Melissa (with Discount Travel Europe, now EuropeString; and she became a prolific Travel problogger), and Hsien (with Genetics and Health, who now blossomed in to a fantastic Channel Editor at b5 with other problogs).
Then, when I posted an invitation to my then-fellow About.com Guides who I knew were great writers and experts in their own fields, the first few who answered the call were Nikki (who started off with The Stamping Blog, but moved on to other problogs when we merged with b5), Tammy (of Jewelry and Beading), and Anne (of The Freelance Writing Blog, now The Golden Pencil).
After that, word slowly spread and I started receiving enquiries about joining the network and all. I was thrilled. AW grew. Nothing massive, but I loved the little blogging community we were building.
At that time, we had no formal agreement in terms of payment, revenues and such. In fact, no one signed a contract with me. Everything was based on trust. We had some guidelines and such (I ran a few network ads that I split profits with them; and each blogger ran their own ads as well - mostly affiliates), but things were kept as simple as possible.
No one whinged about how much (or how little!) they were getting paid. We were exchanging ideas... teaching each other how to build our blogs and become better with what we were doing. We were getting to know each other not just on a 'professional' basis. We were making friends and allies. If one was attacked, others came in to defend. If one needed extra votes for a contest or something, others showed up to give their support.
... these were the things that kept us going as a network. Whatever we lacked in terms of professional design, profitability and such - we made up for in community. We wanted more, of course. But, at the time, we were happy with that sort of payout.
So, when we were first approached for a possible merger (yes, with 9rules), the AW camp was generally hesitant. We liked our set-up and didn't feel it was the right thing to do. And yes, at the time, 9rules had a different set-up too (splitting revenues with them would've been an administrative nightmare). So, instead of changing our existing payout system, we decided that it was best to turn down 9rules under the circumstances and asked if we can revisit the idea another time. We didn't hear back so we figured that they didn't like getting turned down. And, that was understandable, of course. We just decided to move on.
A few months later, another offer came up: That time, with b5.
b5 was also operating in conflicting terms when it came to content ownership and payment issues at the time when they first approached AW. As someone who had been working in the freelance writing industry - and started off writing for another network of sorts (About.com), I knew what types of things writers and bloggers want and need. And, those were the very things that I made sure I addressed as best as I could when I first built AW. And... the very things I've raised with the initial b5 guys when they first talked to me about getting AW in to the b5 fold.
b5's response to me and the AW bloggers: Tell us what you want and we'll work on it.
That, to me, said a lot about b5 as a team from the beginning. It meant that they were a team who were willing to adapt, to change, to evolve... Not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of those who were willing to be a part of them.
It didn't matter that AW didn't look pretty or made a lot of noise or whatever. It didn't matter that we weren't making much money or bringing in massive traffic. They wanted us. We had something they were looking for. They were willing to adjust. Sounded like the perfect suitor to us.
With this in mind, we entered in to weeks of discussions and negotiations. b5 changed their contracts to reflect a better pay system that also gave more to the bloggers in terms of content ownership and such. AW bloggers were happy and, the rest, as they say... was history.
And, you know what? I like to believe that that core of the b5 team hasn't changed - even with VC funding and being more of a company and such. b5 still knows how to value what is really valuable.
And yes, my view of what bloggers / writers should receive in terms of compensation and content rights have never changed even though I'm wearing a more corporate hat - with formal contracts and such. My dream of blogging community remains the same.
What people from the general blogging community may not see is that a lot of things happen behind the scenes with blog network companies like b5. For example, the recent change in our pay schedule. Not only have we discussed it on a management level for months --- we've brought out the contracts to our CEs and bloggers for their approval and agreement more than just a couple of times. They were never ever slapped with a contract saying, "Take this or move it." That's just not how we do it. We can never please everyone, we know. But, we want to give what's right and what's fair to all parties - in order for b5 to grow as a business AND as a community.
That's why it irks me when people make assumptions. I mean, first of all, we all have the power to choose. b5 bloggers have the power - and the ability - to stay in the network or "to go at it alone". Those who stay have their reasons. Those who leave have theirs too. We wish everyone well. Those who stay, of course, we'd like to compensate as best as we possibly can.
Maybe that's why Abe's perfect formula seemed a little bit familiar:
- Better starting payout - b5 now has a flat fee payment that enables new bloggers to make money from the start - and not "when your blog starts to make money". And, at the same time, rewards blogs/bloggers who've been around longer.
- Traffic Bonus - Yep, we've now got this in place too, on top of the flat fee payment. It's a tough one that we had to talk about (there are more issues here than network owners would care to think about!) over and over. But, hopefully, we've got a scheme in place at the moment that covers different types of blogs.
- Seniority Bonus - Apart from the "natural" benefit of being around longer (e.g., more links, more content, etc. and therefore, more traffic), we've addressed this via our sliding flat fee scale.
- Performance Bonus - This is tougher to quantify, but we're definitely developing systems within the network to address this. We do believe that bloggers who work harder should get more in return. We've even recently conducted surveys network-wide to give us an idea on how to address some of the issues and challenges here.
- Travel & Training - Nope, we're not paying for people to go to the Bahamas or to send them to Blog Cruises just yet (Hey, I'm a VP/co-owner and I haven't even been anywhere yet! ;-)). But, we're a network that actually believes in growth so we even have a specific department for this: Training and Development, headed by no other than Darren Rowse, Mr. Problogger, himself. And, he's now going full time for b5 too! Can't reveal everything that's happening here, but it's definitely happening.
- Schwag Bags - Again, we're right at 'ya. 😉 Part of my job as a VP for Community is actually to look at all these non-monetary, non-direct network blogger benefits. We've been chatting - and working out plans - about b5 schwags even as I type this. No, we don't have masses of money alloted to this. But, we've definitely looked at our budget seriously enough to make sure that we are on to finding ways to reward our bloggers far beyond than cheques and PayPal payments.
Does this mean I believe b5's met the "perfect blogger payment system" based on this? No. Jeremy's right. It's not enough. That's why we want to make sure that we grow b5 as a business - because the more we can build the company's bottomline, the more we can give back. Not just to the b5 blogging community, but hopefully, even beyond b5.
And yes, even with AW's humble beginnings, I know that this is part of the dream, the vision... that I once had when I first thought of blogging networks.
Making money and such are all part of it. No doubt about it. After all, life does feel a lot better with more dosh. Even early AW bloggers who barely made enough to go out for a meal, knew that part of the goal was to earn cash. In fact, that's why I started the blog JustMakeMoneyOnline.com, as a way to help other AW bloggers find different ways to monetise their online world. Things have moved on a lot from then, yes. But, hopefully, for the better. b5 bloggers should be able to go out and buy themselves more than just a meal from hereon. 🙂
But yeah, to me, the concept - and practice - of blogging networks is alive and well - not just because of the money aspects. It's a lot more. There's community. There's the sharing of knowledge, experience, ideas, and inspiration. There's the camaraderie. There's the full and real fact that while we do look at the business aspects of things, we will never ever forget the true foundation of a network: Its people and their wonderful contributions to our growth, development and evolution.
We still have a long way to go. And, we're extremely grateful to all those who've been part of our journey so far.
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