Thoughts on fashion bloggers
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Join Date: Nov 2006
Technology giant Samsung tapped three of the most prominent fashion bloggers — newest cast member of “America’s Next Top Model” Bryanboy’s Bryan Grey Yambao, Susie Bubble’s Susanna Lau and Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine — to mark the launch of its Galaxy Note smart phone tablet hybrid during New York Fashion Week in February.
“Not only could they take photos, but they could comment and sketch directly on the images and share their opinions with their followers. Consumers across the nation experienced Fashion Week in real time, [and] in a completely new and personalized way,” said Samsung Mobile’s chief marketing officer Todd Pendleton.
The bloggers were responsible for attending 40 shows over the course of the week, tweeting and uploading images on the devices.
Yet as the number of brand partnerships with bloggers grows, they bring a recurring issue to light: the journalistic integrity of bloggers.
On the one hand, bloggers want to be considered journalists but forging partnerships with leading brands and designers creates what some believe to be a conflict of interest. Bloggers argue they aren’t “traditional” journalists in the same sense that an editor at a newspaper or established magazine is — and say this is starting to give way to a fast forming, hybrid type of journalism.
For starters, the new breed of online journalism is generally transparent. Bloggers don’t pretend to be unbiased — more often than not, they’re unabashedly self-promoting. The FTC ruled in October 2009 that a post of any blogger who receives payment or accepts gifts is considered an “endorsement” of the party he or she accepted it from. The ruling went on to state that “bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”
This further blurs the already murky line of what a traditional blog is, compared with content in a magazine. And, like in magazines, bloggers do have lines they will not cross in terms of promoting a product.
“For the sake of maintaining integrity I won’t trade product for blog posts, but if someone sends me something, I don’t send it back,” said Man Repeller’s Medine, who receives about 2 million page views a month. “If Isabel Marant wants to pay me to blog about them, it’s basically just an awesome fee on top of work I would already be doing, not that Isabel Marant has ever paid or gifted me anything,” Medine said, firm that this is her “whole m.o.,” and there is a note on her site that clearly states this. “I know I’m not an editor at The Wall Street Journal and that’s fine. I don’t have to have an unbiased point of view. Blogging is about subjectivity.”
She went on to liken talent on the digital medium to the “new supermodels,” — not aesthetically, but because her and her contemporaries have transformed the notion of blogging into a new medium used to convey a message and product.
“Ultimately, everyone in this world is trying to make a buck, and I don’t see why bloggers would be reprimanded for trying to turn hobbies into a business,” she said. “I do consider myself a writer with integrity, and I believe in everything I put on the site.”
Case in point: paid partnerships such as a recent collaboration with e-tailer Bauble Bar, where Medine created her signature “arm parties” for sale on the site, or styling Christian Louboutin shoes in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue, were very “on brand” for Medine, and the content was cross promoted on each brand’s respective site, manrepeller.com and on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. She also maintains an affiliate partnership with Shopbop, and the e-tailer, although it doesn’t pay her in dollars, does give her a monthly gift card to Shopbop.com. The gift card amount is based on the amount of traffic and sales Medine drives to the site from manrepeller.com, which has increased significantly since she began working with the site in 2010.
On the flip side, there’s The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman, who considers himself the counter to the many bloggers jumping into branded partnerships. He is adamant about keeping his seven-year-old blog “clean,” meaning that it doesn’t contain any sponsored editorial content.
“If I work with someone like Levi’s, who wanted me to shoot something a year ago for the Curve ID jeans — they wanted something more integrated into the blog which is a content thing instead of an ad. I said no to that [and] it was a lot of money. I don’t have a problem taking money for taking pictures to put in an ad — I’m a photographer. That I have no problem with,” Schuman said, ultimately calling the situation a win-win. He wound up featuring the Levi’s ads as advertisements on Thesartorialist.com and Style.com featured the shots as part of its editorial coverage of the campaign.
A similar situation occurred with a project Schuman and blogger (as well as real life girlfriend) Garance Doré worked on with Tiffany & Co. Although the two of them declined to feature the images they photographed for the brand’s campaign on their respective blogs, they mentioned the project and were happy to have their work live on pop-up sites elsewhere.
Calling his the “first to go after advertising in a serious way,” Schuman’s blog counts Style.com as its first advertiser (the site is no longer an advertiser). To date, 75 percent of his revenue comes from this channel, with the remaining split among personal appearances, print sales, designer collaborations, the syndication of his images and book sales (his second book comes out soon, which might change this percentage by year’s end). He said he’s selective in who he deals with and there’s absolutely “no touching the content of the blog,” which even during the slowest months of May and June can see up to 12 million page views (March had close to 15 million) and average about 1.8 million unique visitors a month. For the last several months, Schuman has seen about 30 percent growth each month compared to last year, and current advertisers include Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Net-a-porter, American Apparel and Cole Haan. Schuman declines to reveal the price of an ad on thesartorialist.com.
“I don’t command a fee, I negotiate. It’s a business [just] like anyone else’s,” Schuman said of his distaste for the term “commanding a fee,” and politely declining to discuss numbers. “People get a lot more mad at bloggers for making money than they do at other artists. They get mad at us — unlike a designer who owns their own business. Somehow they don’t seem to get as mad when a designer increases their sales by a certain percent. We don’t need to tell people how much money we make. We have to be very conscious. It’s not that we’re being coy — when I talk about money people get mad.”
Although not as opposed to branded content as Schuman, Into the Gloss’ Weiss has been hesitant about featuring this variety of content in the year-and-a-half since she launched her beauty blog. Her policy is not as strict as his (she contends she can count the number of sponsored posts she’s done on one hand), but she said the blogger-brand line is one she’s tiptoed along with trepidation, until now.
Weiss counts leading brands such as Dior, L’Oréal, Bumble & bumble and Coach as advertisers on her site, while Lancôme was the site’s exclusive first advertiser. Most of Weiss’ revenue comes from ads, and she maintains she’s not under contracts with any companies as a brand ambassador.
She is about to sign with an agency — a “traditional photographer, hair, makeup artist” and non-digital agency — in order to facilitate projects outside of Into the Gloss, such as a modeling gig with Louis Vuitton earlier this month or creative directing and styling a film for Love magazine.
While the aforementioned are several examples of the leading “pure” bloggers, Derek Blasberg, editor at large of Harper’s Bazaar, V and V Man; author, and blogger at Mr Blasberg, part of the now Fairchild Fashion Media-owned NowManifest blog umbrella, embodies the new hybrid kind of online journalism from a more traditional perspective.
Blasberg’s work is not limited to the three magazines that he’s “contractually obliged” to (he’s a contributor for Garage magazine and compiles a weekly best dressed list for harpersbazaar.com). It’s enabled him to leverage his career to a point that allows him to straddle the “traditional” journalist and blogger roles.
“What’s important to me is that my blog is still fun and fabulous, but grounded in real experience as a fashion professional,” Blasberg said, counting the best part of his job as that, on one hand, he can work with long lead publications but on the other, he can go off on his own blog and “say something that’s entirely from my perspective.”
While he might interview Lady Gaga or Daphne Guinness for Harper’s Bazaar or V, he can post personal family pictures or snapshots from a night out on Mr Blasberg.
“Five years ago, if someone called me a blogger I would have probably scoffed and been offended. But things have changed and it’s a digital world now. If someone calls me a blogger today? I’m flattered and I feel relevant,” he said.
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