Free Markets, Free People
Huffington Post was just sold to AOL for $315 million. Good stuff. An online media effort makes big bucks.
But David Carr throws out some interesting commentary about that and the online culture that does cause me to pause and think about it. The paragraphs that grabbed my attention were:
It will be interesting to see how the legions of unpaid bloggers at The Huffington Post react to the merger with AOL. Typing away for an upstart blog — founded by the lefty pundit Arianna Huffington and the technology executive Kenneth Lerer — would seem to be a little different from cranking copy for AOL, a large American media company with a market capitalization of $2.2 billion.
Perhaps content will remain bifurcated into professional and amateur streams, but as social networks eat away at media mindshare and the advertising base, I’m not so sure. If it happens, I’ll have no one but myself to blame. Last time I checked, I had written or shared over 11,000 items on Twitter. It’s a nice collection of short-form work, and I’ve been rewarded with lot of followers … and exactly no money. If and when the folks at Twitter cash out, some tiny fraction of that value will have been created by me.
He has a point. Maybe not the one he thinks he has, but there is a point to be made here. It’s one thing to labor away at a blog like QandO which is a personal decision and a labor of love. I don’t do it for money nor do I expect to earn a living doing it here. If someone were to come along and offer a pile of money for the place, I’d take it, but it would be money I and the other bloggers earned by developing the place and writing here.
But what about those sites which encourage community, give bloggers access and then use the demographics (which bloggers helped create) to actively sell advertising and raise revenue? And, like HuffPo, what if they sell?
Well, without out legal agreement that your participation is worth x amount in either area (advertising or a sale) you haven’t a leg to stand on. You agreed to whatever stipulations they had in place when you entered your first post, if there even were any.
So what happens now with HuffPo? The paid bloggers/journalists will most likely continue to be paid. But what about the bulk of bloggers/diarists/citizen journalists there? Will they continue to write?
I mean that’s a big change. Those that have helped build that sites reputation now know what their work built.
So will they be willing to continue on adding to its value without compensation? Or will they demand a piece of the pie or withhold their content?
And if they do withhold their content, will others be willing to step forward and take their place.
HuffPo also has the argument that all of the value isn’t to be found in the contributions of the bloggers/diarists/citizen journalists there. And that’s probably true – but HuffPo (and now AOL) can’t deny part of the value must be contributed to them.
The point of all of this is it changes, fairly dramatically, the thinking of many who participate online in a “free” capacity helping build a brand. HuffPo definitely has a brand.
You have to ask then, what are AOL’s expectations for non-paid bloggers? And, on the other side, are non-paid bloggers willing to continue working for nothing but adding value to AOL’s brand?
Interesting questions, interesting times. For whatever reason I keep hearing the “echo” of “union” floating around. Hopefully bloggers will avoid anything like that – a loose federation or association would serve as well, but I have to say, if bloggers are adding value to a site such that a 2 million dollar investment can grow to 315 million, they ought to have an understanding going in that they get a share in compensation for their contribution – or not. Their choice. But there should be a choice. And a smart entrepreneur is going to attract the brightest and best by providing one. And such a site or sites would keep the “feudal” sites from becoming more prevalent than they are today.