The real dish on mommy bloggers, payola, and ethical creation of blogging income

amy lupold bairWhen the concept of "Mommyblogging" first hit big, scoring a payday meant getting a book deal, and the only scandal was how some of the novels produced pumped up the sex content over the spit-up.

But then the tables turned and somehow the term became a pejorative for "sell-out." Now moms who blog stand accused at every turn of taking freebies, shilling products while secretly on the company payroll and of profiting from a huge payola system of their own devise.

There must be money involved if the Federal Trade Commission saw fit to intervene and start requiring bloggers to disclose freebies or financial relationships as of Dec. 1. But is a pot of gold really out there for bloggers?

"I have heard rumors about top bloggers making $50,000 to $60,000 a month," said Amy Lupold Bair, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mother of two and the voice of the blog Resourceful Mommy. But does she know any? No.

Tales of bloggers getting big dollars for pushing products, from new strollers to the hot interactive learning toy, have turned out to be tales, in her experience.

Bair doesn't make $50,000 a month, but she is on her way to replicating the $30,000-$40,000 she made annually as a Maryland public school teacher by monetizing her web sites. She makes the money by taking consultation gigs with public relations firms and marketing agencies, helping them to plug into the 15,000 or so unique monthly visitors her blog attracts, but also her approximately 12,000 followers on Twitter and Momfluence, her network of more than 500 mommy blogs.

In addition to coordinating product giveaways, she's also applied a little ingenuity to the process, via an online site-warming service. These are one-hour events she runs -- paid at an hourly or project rate -- helping to launch any kind of site with a slant toward moms, from new blogs to publishing sites promoting books moms might like.

"This is allowing me to walk my daughter to the bus stop and walk back at the end of the day to pick her up, and yet still provide some income to help provide for the mortgage every month," said Bair.

"If things continue in 2009 the way they are now," she said, she could be bringing in 25% to 35% of the household income by year's end. Bair said her husband, a policy analyst for the federal government, earns enough to otherwise support the family while she grows her business.

The important part, Bair says, is that she's doing it without crossing the line into payola.

"No advertising, no pay-for posts, no affiliate links," Bair said. "I disclose to the nth degree. I do not accept payment for product giveaways. I would rather disclose too much, than not enough."

Around her, the underlying philosophical argument among mommy bloggers is heating up. Mommy-blog hub site recently pushed back against what some see as excessive product pushing by calling for a one-week mommy blog marketing-blackout. No product reviews. No endorsements. Just blogs about motherhood.

"The reaction was across the board quite honestly," said Trisha Haas, owner and main blogger at MomDot. "My call was to remind the women to not forget the natural roots and real content. Inside my own online community, the 'blackout' made a difference in showing women that it was OK to say no, that their value was worth more then a PR release, and that their time and skills were not something to be taken for granted."

Meanwhile, the FTC sees the problem along less philosophical lines. Put simply, it wants better guidelines on disclosure, and plans to vote this year on what rules of ethics should steer transparency about blogger-marketer relationships.

Then there's the Internal Revenue Service. Bair said not every mommy blogger views that $150 stroller, provided at no charge for review, as income. Nor does every one of her peers declare what it is they earn, when it comes to pay-for-posting and the like.

"I definitely know that not all moms are being honest about that," Bair said.

Bair calls what she's doing part of a movement, and as such she thinks it's worth protecting. If changes do come, from within or without, they could represent positive steps, she said.

"We should be taking seriously questions about truth in marketing," Bair said. "This may transform what we do, to an extent, but it's not going to kill it. Not in the least."
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