Back when PayPerPost first came along, it got a huge amount of negative publicity from the blogosphere, with some bloggers calling the company outright evil for paying people to write about corporate clients (and not requiring them to disclose that fact on their blogs). At the time, I wondered whether there was any such thing as bad publicity, and whether PayPerPost would suffer for the avalanche of criticism.
As is often the case, all that the criticism did was help get the company’s name in front of a bunch of prospective clients, and attract bloggers who didn’t really care about the disclosure/payola issue. In no time, PayPerPost had raised $3-million, and now there are at least two other competitors looking to do the same thing, including ReviewMe.com and Creamaid.com (a pretty weird name for a Web 2.0 company, although I’m sure it has something to do with cream rising to the top, etc.).
As an aside, it’s interesting to see the flashes of arrogance that Mike Arrington displays in writing about these two newcomers, one of which comes from an advertiser on TechCrunch called Text Link Ads. In addition to calling blog payola a “virus,” Mike says:
Frankly, weâ€™re not happy that one of our sponsors has launched this type of service, and weâ€™ve notified them that we will not allow promotion of ReviewMe through TechCrunch.
That made me shake my head a little. “Will not allow” promotion of the company through TechCrunch? That’s a bit rich, especially when the parent company’s product — Text Link Ads — is just as much of a cancer on the web as PayPerPost is, albeit a more obvious one. And then Mike says this:
Itâ€™s clear that simply stating we donâ€™t like these services isnâ€™t going to make them go away.
I’m hoping this was a joke. How could they not close up shop after Mike and the rest of the A-list told them to stop what they were doing? The nerve of some people. Let’s face it — PayPerPost is not going away, and even if it and ReviewMe and Creamaid all go away, others will take their place. From my point of view, at least ReviewMe forces the people it hires to disclose that they are being compensated, which puts it one step closer to advertising and one step away from editorial.
There are all kinds of similar boundaries that get crossed in “traditional” journalism, from the travel section to the various “special” advertorial supplements that newspapers run, and eventually smart readers figure out whom they can trust and whom they can’t. And that’s about all we can hope for.