Ministry of Controversy, Taking Your Gardening Dollar

The Article You Will Never Read in a Beauty Magazine

Dear Reader,

We, the editors of Beauty, Inc., your monthly guide to beauty, fashion, and the path to a better you, have some surprising news to share in this, our latest and probably last issue.  This is going to blow your mind, so settle into a comfortable chair, take a deep breath, and read on.

First, skin care products do not make you look younger. There is no way to erase wrinkles or spots, no matter what the label on the jar says.  And really, why would you want to erase the lines in your face?  We earn our wrinkles.  You know what makes you look younger?  Smiling. Stop worrying about your skin.  I mean, put some sunscreen on, but then stop worrying.

Second, you don’t need any makeup.  Seriously.  Not a bit. There is no need to put shellac on your eyelashes or a paste of dubious pigments from China on your lips.  Ever wonder why it is that guys get away with looking so great without a single one of these products?  Because they just do.  And you will, too.  Really.

Third, you know how we were always telling you that buying these products was a great way to pamper yourself?  Wrong.  Turns out that buying these products was just a way to transfer some of your personal wealth to a large, anonymous corporation that doesn’t care about you.  Instead, we have some really good news about what you could be doing with the money you are currently spending on perfumes, creams, and lipsticks.  Turns out that the amount of money Americans alone spend on cosmetics every year can provide clean water and sanitation to families all over the world, and the amount Americans and Europeans spend on perfume can provide reproductive health care to your sisters in impoverished countries all over the world.

Imagine–women getting to safely deliver babies, and then have clean drinking water to keep them alive!  How’s that for pampering?

We’re sorry to have said the opposite for so many years.  We don’t know what we were thinking.  We’d be happy to continue publishing this magazine if you’d like to continue subscribing, but the message going forward will be:   Wash your face with soap.   If it feels dry, rub on–we don’t know, some coconut oil or something.  Smile a lot.  Floss your teeth. Go run around outside.  Eat some fruit.  Don’t worry about going grey.  In the end, nobody cares about your hair.  They care about what you did with your life.  Go forth and do meaningful things.  This is going to be so much easier now that you’re not worrying about whether you have lipstick on your teeth.

We hope this news comes as a huge relief to you. It certainly does to us.  We’ll see you next month–maybe.

Signed,

The Beauty, Inc. Editorial Staff

Why won’t you ever read this letter in a beauty magazine?  Because beauty and fashion writers simply can’t stay in business by telling people they don’t need any of that stuff. The whole idea of beauty and fashion writing is based around the belief that we need all the stuff, and we need help deciding which stuff to buy.

Garden writers, on the other hand, can and do tell people they don’t need to buy stuff.  We, and our fellow garden writers around the blogosphere, have written many times about the benefits ofpassalong plants and seed saving, the uselessness of any number of sprayspotions, and powders, the silliness of gadgets and expensive grow lights, and so on.

You really need almost nothing to garden.  Which is not to say that we don’t all buy stuff.  Garden gloves, garden shoes, shovels and pruners, plants and bulbs and seeds.  But that’s not all there is to gardening.  Far from it. There is art and sex and music and, of course, drinking. And food.  And marriages.  And politics.

To follow on Susan’s post yesterday  about a long-simmering discussion about garden bloggers and sponsors, advertisers, etc, here are a few more thoughts.  If this discussion is getting tedious for you, please don’t read on.

All garden writing (and most other kinds of periodical writing) is supported by ads.  Most magainzes and newspapers you subscribe to?  Your subscription price barely covers the printing and deliver cost, if that, and it doesn’t begin to cover the cost of actually writing and photographing the articles.  With few exceptions, advertisers have always bankrolled publications and, by extension, writers and photographers.  The writers generally have no idea what ads might appear next to the articles they write, yet their paychecks come largely from ad revenue.

Ads in a sidebar don’t bother me in the least.  They’re just like ads in a magazine.  Off to the side, easy to skip past.  Pop-up ads?  Obnoxious, noisy, animated ads?  Nobody likes those.  But bloggers that manage to post something new almost every day, or write a long, thoughful post once a week?  That takes some work!  I don’t begrudge them a little ad revenue. I want writers to be paid for their work.

This discussion is nothing new.  For years, “mommy bloggers” have been dealing with this issue of product reviews. For instance, Blog with Intergrity came out of this discussion.

Product reviews only get weird if bloggers let it get weird.  Personally, I’m a little irritated with the FTC for applying its freebie disclosure rules to bloggers but not magazines, newspapers, TV, etc.  The FTC itself explains its reasoning thusly:

For a review in a newspaper, on TV, or on a website with similar content, it’s usually clear to the audience that the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. It’s the reviewer’s job to write his or her opinion and no one thinks they bought the product – for example, a book or movie ticket – themselves. But on a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader may not expect the reviewer to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned…

I’m not sure that it is clear to readers of, say, a beauty magazine, that the magazine is literally floating in free stuff.  But whatever.  Those are the guidelines, and as guidelines, bloggers can follow them or not. (On the same page, the FTC says, “There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide” and “we’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to… If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.”) So these really are guidelines–more like advice than laws or regulations–for bloggers.

Keeping some editorial independence is really pretty easy.   Using some kind of intermediary to dish up ads that you can accept, reject, ignore, etc, helps. Google AdSense and BlogAds are just two examples. They act like the advertising sales division of a magazine or newspaper in that way–they go out and sell the ads; the writers don’t.

And as for freebies?  While I don’t mind saying that somebody sent a product to me for free, until those rules get applied to other forms of media, I’m not going to get too worked up over it. I just wrote a book review for a major newspaper and nowhere was I required to disclose that I got not one, but two free copies of the book. But sure, yeah, it’s reasonable to mention that a freebie is a freebie. You won’t, however, see me getting up in arms over whether or not somebody disclosed a freebie.  I’m a grown-up, I’m hardly harmed by what somebody writes on a blog about a product, and I’ve got no time for blame and games of “gotcha.”

The key for me is writing an unbiased review.  I’ve had PR people ask me to use certain phrases in a video when describing their product, and ask me to link to a particular page on their site using particular words to help with their SEO strategy.  The answer is always a resounding NO.  I remind them, over and over, that they can send something to me, but it’s up to me to decide if, when, and how to review it.  Period.

Oh, and about giveaways?   We did our first giveaway in 2007, (remember the Sloggers?) and people seemed genuinely thrilled to win something.  Over the years, we’ve given a lot of cool stuff to our cool readers.  It costs us nothing, it’s kind of fun, but it certainly doesn’t make us feel beholden to the companies giving the stuff away.  Honestly, as I’m writing this, I can’t come up with the names of even five companies who have done giveaways lately.   Hard to feel obligated to someone whose name I can’t quite summon up anyway.

Sorry for the long rant.  I didn’t have time to make it shorter. Your thoughts, if you are not too exhausted or bored to share them, are welcome as always.

Posted by on June 1, 2011 at 4:01 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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28 Responses to “The Article You Will Never Read in a Beauty Magazine”

  1. And I still wear my Sloggers to this day. I do not however recommend them in snow.

  2. commonweeder says:

    A great rant! I am with you on every single point. I’m not ready to give up lipstick, though.

  3. greg draiss says:

    Then we do not have a need for garden writers either…………..
    Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

    The TROLL

  4. Tara Dillard says:

    Gardening changed in the late 80′s.

    Testosterone-On-Wheels-Mow-Blow-Go-Monetize-Everything-I-Touch.

    Magazines, books, garden tours, TV, botanical gardens, flower shows went for it too.

    Printing pics, writing articles, taping video of expensively planted/irrigated/maintained landscapes. They still do.

    Disdain is worn on my sleeve, obviously.

    Happily, past 3 years have been the best of my almost 3 decade career in horticulture.

    Why? Have always copied historic gardens of Italy, France, England, Ireland, Scotland. And my grandmother.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. Sheri says:

    Great rant! On the subject of cosmetics, many are worse than a waste of money. They’re toxic. Check out Environmental Defence’s ‘Just Beautiful’ campaign. http://environmentaldefence.ca/campaigns/just-beautiful

  6. trey says:

    You summarized what I posted about originally with this. “I’ve had PR people ask me to use certain phrases in a video when describing their product, and ask me to link to a particular page on their site using particular words to help with their SEO strategy. The answer is always a resounding NO. I remind them, over and over, that they can send something to me, but it’s up to me to decide if, when, and how to review it. Period.”

    That’s the question. Is it a good business practice by horticultural companies to try and direct the conversation with garden writers? Like you, I say no!

    As far as side bar ad’s, like you I have learned to more or less ignore them. However the ad on your side bar advertising “qualified” attorneys (is there another kind?)is just tacky. It seems so incongruous with the theme of your site. Oh well…

  7. I think you used a key phrase here, Amy, grown-up. I keep thinking any reasonable adult would be able to filter the advertisement out of all of this — be it a literal ad like the ones on the right side of your site (which I never notice) or the more subtle one in the P. Allen Smith trip (I’ve never cared for his brand and would like to think I would have declined the free trip had it been offered to me, which it wasn’t). I think there’s a little jealousy in the whole conversation too. From business owners who wish they had the big bucks to expand their business by giving out swag to bloggers who wish they were receiving free trips or had enough readership to generate ad income. As I said to my husband last night, Buffa10 was a sponsored event and I don’t remember anyone complaining about meals being underwritten or the tab for the bus getting picked up.

  8. naomi says:

    Thanks; I tend to agree. We should all be adults, capable of critical reading and informed decisions. (The word “informed” suggests work on the reader’s part.) Well written; the length was necessary.

  9. Susan says:

    Amen on the beauty stuff!

  10. Lisa, Ontario says:

    I agree, grow up. But the makeup…nope, it has to stay. I have blotchy skin, and blonde eyelashes, and blonde hair. Without makeup, my whole head and face disappear into one colour.

  11. Genevieve says:

    Why you have to dash my hopes about makeup just as I’ve discovered mascara… (seriously, a client looked sleepy, she put it on and all of a sudden looked spruced up and ready to roll! Nothing else changed! I was just about to start investigating this mascara stuff.)

    Anyway, couldn’t agree more with the idea that writers should be paid for their expertise and work, relative to the amount of expertise, talent, audience and work they bring to the table.

    I don’t object to people having sponsors and advertisers so long as it doesn’t become too obnoxious, and I’m offended by the “ad-free blogging” trend (the little badge and sanctimonious link that goes along with it), largely espoused by bloggers who have no professional experience or education in the field of either writing or gardening.

    I think the bit Trey quoted is particularly good advice for bloggers dabbling in advertising or giveaways of any kind.

    “I’ve had PR people ask me to use certain phrases in a video when describing their product, and ask me to link to a particular page on their site using particular words to help with their SEO strategy. The answer is always a resounding NO. I remind them, over and over, that they can send something to me, but it’s up to me to decide if, when, and how to review it. Period.”

    And for those who are considering doing paid links within content on ancient posts that nobody sees anymore – really, if it’s against google’s rules, don’t do it. Just not worth it.

  12. anne says:

    Love the sarcastic “Beauty, Inc” magazine metaphor–well done!

    The idea of being a grown-up is right on–it would be nice if that thought carried over into other facets of society that do create harm (politics, for one). Sadly, common sense is not as common as it should be. I think the point is that you communicate to your readers your sincerity in your reviews (especially for new readers with no track record with you). It is “garden rant”, after all, not “garden emporium”. Disclosing the source of the swag and whether you got it free but unencumbered by demands goes a long way towards communicating that, but it’s not the only way.
    As for ads, I think a lot of us were hoping the internet might change the media advertising paradigm somehow. Not sure why we thought that would change though.

    I do have to ask the pressing question that apparently several of us want to ask, though: Why DO you have the lawyer ad up there? See, even though we might be able to ignore the sidebar ads (although not entirely, or Blogads wouldn’t be able to sell them), we notice stuff like this and wonder about it.

  13. Ian Barclay says:

    I can’t offer an ultra-specific critique of why I don’t care for ads on garden blogs, or whether I think garden writers should get paid. I simply notice a general inverse relationship between my level of interest in someone’s garden blog and the number of ads. Somehow I just get this feeling that people who don’t bother with ads are blogging from their passion in a more genuine sense without being subject to any deliberate outside influences, or the desire to make money from it; even if they are, in fact, making a little bit indirectly.

    I believe your premise “All garden writing (and most other kinds of periodical writing) is supported by ads” to be false – it may be the status quo according to a rather narrow and pretentious definition of what a garden writer is but if you truly believe that you aren’t reading much outside of your own sphere. It’s also seems like an extension of the rather old school mentality that conventional advertising is generally effective, which is increasingly less true in this changing world. Most of the best garden/horticulture content I have reads was not associated with ads. I can ignore sidebar ads as easily as anyone but I’m still not buying the general philosophy behind their use.

  14. Michele Owens says:

    I don’t need anything except a place to garden, a kitchen to cook the produce in, kids and friends to amuse me–and MAC’s Russian Red lipstick.

  15. I have always wondered why the only model we have for sustaining blogs, newspapers, tv, etc, is paid advertising. If we wish to shake this off, will we have to form little societies who fund protege bloggers? Some bloggers have a tip jar, some have a fundraiser a few times a year, but really, pushing unwanted commercial information on hapless readers seems the only way to go. I do ignore the ads on the sides, but they don’t go away, as in the old axiom. Oh well. And yes, great stuff on the beauty industry–imho, a good haircut and looking after eyebrows is about all one needs–at least if the world were fair!

  16. Kaviani says:

    This SO reminds me of Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias when she outlines that “There’s no such thing as natural beauty” for beauticians. Hilarious.

    Huzzah, then. I’ve had the same buzzcut since I was 24 and I love the cash I save on foofy conditioners and treatments. See, even males can trim down frivolity in our lives. And the best “cosmetics” are in your home already, most likely. Olive oil and sea salt is best exfoliant ever; lightly applied apricot seed oil is the best moisturizer for all but the most toxic skin types.

  17. donna says:

    Sorry, i use firefox, noscript and adblocker plus. haven’t seen an ad in years and years now…

  18. Derek says:

    THANK YOU.

    Some of the comments about advertising on garden blogs struck me as laughably naive. It’s like listening to a teenager talk about how their favorite band “sold out.” Ads support indy media and traditional media. Get over it.

  19. Don Shor says:

    “The writers generally have no idea what ads might appear next to the articles they write, yet their paychecks come largely from ad revenue.”
    Amy, you are not only the garden writer here. You own this blog. You control the advertising.
    We know that advertising revenue supports magazines. If I had a complaint about the content of ads in a magazine, I’d take it up with the publisher.
    You are the publisher.
    IGC owners are giving you feedback on the content of advertising on your blog. Without naming any names, I also urge you to go read some of the blog posts that resulted from P. Allen Smith’s open house. Let me know how you think that worked out for Proven Winners.
    We’re not trying to start a big fight here. But the chasm between big-box suppliers and IGC’s is growing, and I wonder if blogger and garden writers recognize when they are being used.

  20. I run a pretty big Web site organized around the topic of a particular religion. The arrogance of suggestions I receive can be pretty breath-taking. Eventually the obvious occurred to me, which is that people who want things on the Web operated in a particular way are free to publish, themselves.

    It’s a complete cop out to say, “But your site is so popular. If we started something, it wouldn’t be as popular.” Guess what? My site and, I imagine, this site weren’t popular from the git-go. It’s called building an audience while working your backside off. If you’re prepared to do that in service of your ideals, you can get started five minutes from now. Go for it.

    As long as these blog owners are willing to put up with comments that have both “We’re not trying to start a big fight here” and statements entirely to the contrary, I guess we’ll have — what? A little fight that doesn’t change anyone’s minds? I reckon I’m free to read or not read such comments just as one is free to read or not read a blog.

  21. Don Shor says:

    ” I guess we’ll have — what? A little fight that doesn’t change anyone’s minds?”
    Usually we’d have what I call a discussion.

  22. Dee says:

    Thanks for the article I won’t ever see — gives me permission to go yet another day without makeup… and I don’t understand people who get all up in arms about pesticides on their foods put then pour chemicals on their heads… (I don’t want either, thanks).

    Should garden writers get paid? Should writers get paid? Is what we do important? The people who think that garden writers should write for the fun of it have no idea what it’s like to have but one marketable skill — the ability to write a complete, grammatically correct sentence — and have people expect you to do it for free. Writers have to eat too, folks.

    My husband likes to fix cars. But he ain’t gonna fix yours for free, sorry.

  23. Laura says:

    Okay, I am about to write something that was probably obvious to everyone except me.

    I didn’t realize blog writers were paid to blog. I just assumed most bloggers had an outside job that they supported themself with and that they blogged for the fun of it. Seriously. I guess I’m pretty naive.

    I’m not actually sure where I stand on the advertising stuff. I like this blog and sometimes I look at the ads and other times, I don’t.

    For my blog, I don’t have ads, but then I don’t have readers either.

  24. Central Florida says:

    I didn’t even realize that there was an ad for a divorce attorney until I started reading the other comments. Then just for fun I clicked on this Saturday 6 thing and discovered Elizabeth is Troy-bilts gardener-in-chief ..lol. Man I do live under a rock..lol.

  25. Town Mouse says:

    It makes me a little sad that the assumption here is that it’s only possible to do something if one gets paid for it. I blog because I enjoy it, because I like to educate others about what I’ve learned.

    I don’t have a big problem with other blogs having ads (though I would like to know about that lawyer ad as well, Amy). But blogging, in contrast to magazine production, doesn’t really take a lot of time and resources so let’s just agree that it’s theoretically possible to do it without getting paid.

    (Love the rant about the cosmetics – now I myself just use all that money I save and put it in the piggy-bank where the blog advertising money would go if I did advertise).

  26. Sally says:

    The divorce lawyer ads for all those whose spouses have thrown up their hands at un-made up wives who spend all day reading blogs… Gardening is much more fun and productive than reading about it but sometimes one must come inside and escape the heat and and weeds, and have a good laugh.

  27. Cindy McNatt says:

    Unless you are a trust fund gardener like C.Z. Guest with a fashionable garden book published with forward by Truman Capote, you might want to make a living at what you know how to do. Monetizing your blog is one way to do it.
    I’d like to know what’s wrong with that?
    I’ve advertised Dirt Couture on GR with excellent results. Which reminds me to get another ad together quick before space fills up.

  28. Great post – thanks.
    All I wear is mascara on occasion because honestly, I feel more dressed up and people have said that I look ill without it. (which is kinda crazy) Beauty products are so ridiculous. I know people who are 23 but look 33 or even 43 just because of the caked amount of makeup. What in the world are they hiding under there?

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