I consider myself an ethical person, sometimes overly so.

I’ll often torture myself unnecessarily about whether I have done the right thing and whether I may have upset or offended anyone.

I haven’t really said a lot about this so far as I’ve not seen the point, but with the subject being discussed at the IFB Conference in New York and the whole Tavi/Grazia debacle I thought it might be time to put my thoughts out there on free stuff, ethics and advertising in the world of blogging.

First, a history lesson…

I started blogging as an accident, really. Back in 2007 I left a miserable job and started selling vintage and pre owned clothes online. 6 months later, in April 2008, after reading a few vintage blogs in a kind of half hearted way, I started my own on Blogspot. It’s been a massive learning curve and the blog is increasingly becoming the focus of my business. Where it goes from here I’m still planning, but it’s very exciting.

Making Money…..

Obviously, as my way of making a living, I need to make money from my blog in some way, whether it’s by directing people to my eBay shop or accepting advertising.

I’ve always tried not to let advertising be too intrusive on Retro Chick. I’d never accept pop ups, for instance, and I try to only accept ads that fit in with my interests (though occasionally my adsense units throw up an odd ad or two). I also keep the pricing of my ad spaces at a rate that means independent designers and shops can afford to advertise on the site. I would hope someone would tell me if my advertising became intrusive on the content of the site.

The comparison of blogs to magazines isn’t always a fair one, but speaking as someone who ripped 230 pages of ads out of a 352 page copy of Vogue just over a week ago. I can’t help but feel a little frustrated when people complain about online advertising, where the content is free, but will happily shell out £4 of their money for a product that is more than 50% advertising.

(more photos here, here and here, I wrote about this on twitter)

Advertising, to me, however, is the easy end of the equation. When it gets really sticky is when people start offering you free things, or offering to “sponsor” posts on your site.

It is often argued that because magazines get freebies it’s ok for blogs to accept them too. I don’t care what magazines do. I’m not a magazine, and I’ve never worked for one (though I did work in marketing for a publishing house of technical journals and I once got a free pen, oh, the glamour)

Retro Chick is an independent site run by me and me alone.

I make all the editorial decisions and I write about things I like, things I own and things that happen to me. I don’t have much money (see above “leaving job” story!)  and sometimes (not often, sadly) people offer to send me things for free that I like and could otherwise not afford. Why would I say no? Equally, why would I keep the fact it was a gift a secret from you? And even more importantly why would I lie about liking something just because it had been given to me in my professional capacity?

Sometimes I can’t use these products and I pass them on in the form of giveaways. I absolutely love to run these as I love the chance to offer people something back for all their support over the last couple of years. Without freebies I couldn’t do it and that would be sad.

Sometimes, of course, people offer to send me things I don’t really like and wouldn’t buy even if I had the money. Occasionally I am intrigued and I say “Yes, I will try this”. If I love it I will tell you about it. If I don’t love it I might not tell you, or maybe I will tell you that I don’t really like it, but there are positives if you are the type of person who does like this.

My feeling is that accepting an offered product or gift does not beholden you to a company any more than you are obliged to sleep with a man who buys you dinner.

As long as you have the maturity and professionalism to deal with the companies concerned and tell them you don’t like their product, or deal with their wrath if you write negative things then how that product came into your possession is irrelevant.

Maybe younger bloggers, or those that blog for fun and just like to get free stuff might not have these skills, but in my experience most readers have the critical faculties to make their own decisions and see through an obvious sales pitch. If a blog declines into an endless series of advertorials, well, it just won’t get read, or believed.

In my opinion the stickiest of all sticky areas in blogging is the acceptance of Sponsored Posts.

I am still unsure how I feel about these. I have written 4, for the record. All were about subjects that  interested me in some way, and in all of them content was completely my own. I was actually quite proud of a couple of them. Despite this I felt uncomfortable about how the writing of sponsored posts might be perceived by my readers.

On one occasion I spent a considerable amount of time putting together a post that I thought was interesting after being offered a sponsored post. On the same day I noticed a post on another blog on the same company, except the blogger in question had just copied and pasted large amounts of information from the companies “about me” page. This made me a) stop following that particular blog as I felt it showed laziness and disinterest in their readers, and b) wonder why I’d worked so much harder. The answer, of course, being a pride in my blog and a concern for producing interesting content.

I personally don’t feel negatively about other bloggers that accept sponsored posts, as long as the end result is interesting and honest.

I only accept sponsored posts very rarely and am considering whether to continue to do so.  On the negative side is my discomfort about how these might be perceived as bias, but on the positive side if I receive a pitch about something that might be of interest, and they offer payment for me to write about it, should I turn it down?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on advertising, sponsored posts, and freebies for bloggers.

Do you think sponsored posts are biased, or does it depend on whether you trust the blogger?

Do you think there is too much advertising online? Do you find it intrusive?

How do you feel about bloggers who disclose a product was give to them? What about those who don’t?

header image by H Dickins