December 20, 2004

Bloggers promoting products.

Mickey Kaus is praising an obscure music CD that was sent to him. He's not specifically saying more free things should be sent to him, but, really, why shouldn't review copies of CDs, DVDs, and books be sent to bloggers who might write about them?

And doesn't it seem inevitable that there will be a blogger payola scandal at some point? We bloggers build up our credibility with readers over the months and years of writing. You assume if a blogger you trust says that a TV show or a movie or a book is good it's because he thinks so for purely independent and un-self-interested reasons unless he says otherwise. I don't think free review copies of things undermine this independence. MSM reviewers get free copies of the CDs, DVDs, and books they write about. A blogger has such a strong interest in maintaining credibility that he's likely to make a point of saying he's received a free copy.

But don't you think the day will come when we will hear that a trusted, seemingly independent blogger is being paid to express an opinion about a product or even a politician or important policy? Will we be horrified? Will we just stop caring what the blogger has to say? Or will we accept it, the way we accepted it when we found out about paid product placements in movies? I made my local car dealer look quite posh in this post, just because I had nothing better to do than observe my immediate surroundings (and also because I wanted to get in on the big new tire-blogging craze). But what if it were the case -- it's not! -- and you found out, that Zimbrick gives me free oil changes in exchange for disguised ads? Small potatoes, you might think. Who cares? Imagine something bigger then: a high-traffic blogger paid big bucks to back the privatization of Social Security.

UPDATE: An emailer writes that there should be a spiffy little word for blogger payola, like "blogola." Maybe we could also do with a word for blog product placement, like maybe "product blogment."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me just flag the recent incident of the two blogs that received $27,000 and $8,000, respectively, from the Thune campaign. This is not, I think, an example of an existing, high-traffic, trusted blog selling out, but it is a related phenomenon. I hope blog readers are savvy enough to know that anyone can start a blog, and that, presumably, many blogs have undisclosed interests behind them.

MUCH LATER UPDATE: For my discussion of this issue postdating the revelation that Kos took money from the Dean campaign, go here.

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