Devil’s Advocate

If you’re a fashion bloggosphere addict, you’ve probably heard about the newest fashion bloggers vs. editors cat fight erupted late last month. Personally I thought it would die down, it seemed to be an argument as old as blogging itself. Tavi also thought it would die down, and she unintentionally sparked this controversy. But it hasn’t, in fact is seems like there’s a new story popping up about it almost daily…and I haven’t even checked my reader (so apologies if some of you have also written about it). The fact that I have been so engrossed with organizing the IFB conference, that my regular mornings with my RSS reader had to be put on hold for the month (as with a lot of other essential parts of my day, like sleeping) …and still I hear rumblings of this. People are upset from both sides, and we need to talk.

In the Independent’s story by Susie Mesure about Grazia’s fashion editor’s reaction to Tavi’s giant bow at the Dior Couture show, noting that ‘former fans complain bloggers have been “bought off” by the industry.’

Mesure goes further to quote editors from Vogue and GQ (both owned by Condé Nast)

Robert Johnson, associate editor at the men’s magazine GQ, said: “Bloggers are so attractive to the big design houses because they are so wide-eyed and obsessed, but they don’t have the critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not. As soon as they’ve been invited to the shows, they can no longer criticise because then they won’t be invited back.”

They did not use any direct quotes from bloggers in this article. There’s a very good story about that on Business of Fashion.

I’m not going to pretend like I know all the details of what’s going on with PR companies and other bloggers, or what’s going on with PR companies with fashion magazines. But I can tell you my experience.

While I’d like to scoff and say that the editors are wrong. They’re not. Well, they’re not entirely wrong. They’re wrong about Tavi being bought off by fashion houses. They’re wrong to grossly generalize bloggers, and they’re also wrong to assume that this honeymoon period between fashion houses and bloggers will last very long.

Where they are right is that in the past few years fashion houses have been making scrambling to engage bloggers to present a positive image to you, the readers, and so have the magazines themselves. The level of pitches that come through are increasing by the day. I literally get hundreds of pitches daily, and I’m not even that important. As for the campaigns, they’re getting more and more competitive to stand out as bloggers reach points of fatigue. And it’s true some of campaigns are sexy, over the years the opportunities I’ve gotten as a blogger included sponsored trips to Paris (granted it was only a 50minute flight from where I lived at the time) New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, gifts, items for review, sponsored posts… all of which I’ve disclosed to you, and all of which have added value to the content of The Coveted, as I could not fund many of these things myself.

So in this madness how does one determine what to include, and what not to include?

Experience.

In the beginning, I had no idea about the difference between good campaign and when I was being taken advantage of. And through experience, it’s easier see more and more where companies do try to manipulate bloggers into generating positive content. I don’t think that fashion editors could do a better job distinguishing if they were on this side of the fence and managing their own advertising sales. In fact many times they don’t do a better job distinguishing as they are notorious for accepting gifts and selling copy just as much as bloggers.

But just because they do it, does that mean I should?

At first it sounded ok, you know, ‘industry standard’ ‘that’s what everybody does.’ I felt bad, conflicted, somewhat intimidated, and sometimes scared if I didn’t take an opportunity, or if I said something bad then it would ruin my chances to have a successful blog, that part about the GQ quote is true, and I’m not the only one. I saw The Coveted going down this road, reviews, giveaways, sponsored content, invitations, and though I was making more some money, I wasn’t enjoying it as much as the days when I just posted my own clothes and random thinkings. Sure, it made me look like I had reached some level of ’success’ but in reality, it wasn’t at all, so I’ve become so much more selective about what I say yes to.

It didn’t take long to realize that saying ‘yes’ has nothing to do with success, it’s the quality of my content and relationship with the community, that builds success. I’ve written bad reviews, said things that aren’t 100% positive. Griped about bad customer service. Had to face publicists who try to get me to retract words. And yeah, I’ll never be invited back to Chicago Fashion Week because I noted that I did not receive the full designer listing even after I emailed them for it, and Zara probably hates me. But you know what? That’s ok.

It’s also ok to have sponsors. In order to provide quality content, it’s necessary. I run two blogs, one is a community (and will be launching a new blog soon) and there is not enough time in the day to work a day job. For the past two months I have been working 12-18 hours a day on the IFB conference, and because of sponsors, we’re able to offer it to bloggers on a suggested $20 donation, as opposed to charging $300-$400 a ticket which would be what bloggers would have to pay without them.

I didn’t start blogging to get the free things, or to start a business, I started this as a personal project. And as I loved doing this, and wanted to do this full time, I had to start positioning myself as a professional. The difficult part about that, is that were very few professional fashion bloggers at the time, which is why I started Independent Fashion Bloggers. I didn’t know, I don’t know and I don’t pretend to. Blogging is so new, and such a unique medium there is a huge learning curve for everyone, including the journalists who snicker at blogger naivete.

So are the fashion editors right? In a way…yes, but in an even bigger way, they are wrong. To imply that bloggers don’t have the ‘critical faculties to know what’s good and what’s not.’ misses the point of what’s really going on. Perhaps new bloggers don’t know, but neither do new journalists, and successful bloggers have to learn quickly or risk community backlash. The quote misses entirely that like anything really, blogging is an evolutionary medium, and will take time to reach maturity…. and we’re reaching it faster than they think.

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