5.24.2005

Filthy Lucre Corrupts Idealistic Blogosphere

In this March interview with Lockhart Steele, certain precious, precious beans were spilled about how GM bloggers are paid. The normally scarce information about internal GM operations was quoted in the recent Times piece and paired with GM traffic data. The info from the Steele interview was sort-of disavowed, but it still lead to further speculation and some fun crazy-town math to figure out just how many kopecks your average GM blogger takes home in comparison to an equivalent MSM journalist.

Leaving aside the creakily outdated concept of paying by the word -- which last worked to a writer's advantage when Dickens serialized A Tale of Two Cities until the French Revolution finally, regrettably, ended -- this is not only a case of comparing crab apples to orange smoothies. It ignores the far more interesting possibilities presented by GM's new bonus system, where bloggers get access to a "bonus bank" of extra cash if they generate increased traffic. The bonus system was teasingly described by Steele and others in OJR, where Joel Johnson of Gizmodo allowed that the pay was was fair, but he still grumped, "I'd rather be writing than learning how to trick Google."

A better strategy would be learning how to trick bloggers -- especially other GM bloggers. You've already got audience overlap, reader interest, familiarity with the product family ... it's a potential traffic goldmine. Sure, there are already copious GM incest links in the sidebar, but who looks at the sidebars, unless you're checking out the latest American Apparel softcore model? Cadge a link in one of the regular listicle features ("Remainders" etc.), or even better, inside a regular post. Target their interests. Gizmodo and Kotaku were all over each other for the recent E3 electronic gaming convention, and naturally so. Gawker and Defamer regularly swap spit for the bicoastal celebs they tend to "share." There's no reason that the second-stringers shouldn't start preying upon their more corpulent sibling blogs, cleaving off little slices of traffic that the more popular sites won't miss, but which the up-and-comers can quickly bank, withdraw, and spend. Jalopnik needs to focus on Paris Hilton's skankmobile. Screenhead should employ Sidekick hackers to steal and publish link dumps from Maer Roshan. An enterprising Lifehacker should undergo Scientology "clearing" sessions with the stated goal to "be more like Tom Cruise."

And once the incentive system is itself incentivized, it's merely a short and briskly easy step into the wonderful world of payola. Want to scam a link in the next "More Good from Gawker" on Gizmodo? Ten percent sounds like a reasonable "finder's fee" for tossing a little geek traffic your way. Cash please. No, don't pay us, pay the blog! If things really get desperate, GM bloggers should consider purchasing advertising on other GM blogs. How could Nick Denton say no? The minimum ad buy is a little steep at $500-$750, but text links start at $150 for a week. According to GM's text-link hawker AdBrite, a $200 text link on Gizmodo buys access to an average daily site traffic of over 200,000 pageviews -- a cool million for the week. Of course, you can get access to almost as much traffic for $50 less at Fleshbot, and the click average is four times greater. More bang for the buck in all kinds of ways.

As the incentive system adjusts to compensate for increased traffic and demands that those levels be sustained, the pressure will increase. Eventually, GM bloggers will be forced to keep withdrawing from their bonus bank in order to subsidize kickbacks, ad campaigns, and guerrilla marketing initiatives. Denton will replace the regular paycheck with "Gawker Dollars" scrip redeemable only in the GM company store, which stocks nothing but vodka, intern chow, Condé Nast publications, T-Mobile Whenever Minutes, and a 24-hour brunch menu. All because a few greedy bloggers couldn't be satisfied with $2500 a month.