A brand new business, ReviewMe was launched yesterday with a model to help bloggers monetize their blogs by reviewing various advertisers' products and services. This model is quite similar to the controversial model recently introduced by PayPerPost which is also promising to monetize bloggers' posts. However, there are several significant differences between the two models.
The main reason for controversy behind PayPerPost's model is that PayPerPost:
1. Allows advertisers to reject paying for bloggers' posts based on what they write. This effectively encourages bloggers to only write positive reviews or risk that they will not be paid.
2. Does not require bloggers to disclose that they are being compensated. PayPerPost recently launched DisclosurePolicy.org, an organization devoted to setting industry-wide guidelines for disclosing how bloggers are being compensated for their posts. However, no requirement to disclose is required by PayPerPost, thus potentially leading blog readers to not be aware that the writer's bias may be based on compensation rather than by genuine, impartial motives.
On the other hand, ReviewMe has taken a vastly different approach to compensating bloggers. Namely, ReviewMe requires that:
1. Advertisers pay for product reviews ahead of time, with no guarantees that review will be positive, but only that it contain 200+ words, and
2. Bloggers explicitly disclose that they are being compensated for their posts. While this condition is widely talked about on various blogs (see below) and even mentioned on the ReviewMe's own blog, I could not find this requirement anywhere in ReviewMe's Terms and Conditions. Not sure that being mentioned in a blog entry is good enough to make it policy; however, I'm sure this is just an oversight and ReviewMe will address this in their T&C's asap.
On the surface, ReviewMe has addressed all of the controversial aspects of PayPerPost and has received a warm welcome from a number of influential pundits in the blogging community, some of whom have been quite critical of PayPerPost:
- ReviewMe Launches: A Better PayPerPost by Michael Arrington / TechCrunch
- ReviewMe.com Launches With A Model That Makes Sense by Jim Kukral / ReveNews
- ReviewMe Launches by Darren Rowse / ProBlogger
Despite the welcome ReviewMe has received, I see significant and critical problems with their business model that makes ReviewMe effectively dead on arrival. Let me analyze all of the reasons for my conclusion:
1. What advertiser is willing to pay for a product whose quality they cannot review ahead of time? While PayPerPost gives advertisers ability to review the final product before agreeing to pay, ReviewMe takes this critical component away from the advertiser. Besides, the fact that advertisers do not want to pay for negative reviews, ReviewMe does not offer any guidelines as to the quality of the review the blogger needs to provide (only the quantity of words). What happens if the blogger only casually mentions the advertiser's product while discussing something else? What if the advertiser's product is not even mentioned? While this lack of advertiser oversight is touted as a "feature" by ReviewMe and is certainly to keep it out of the controversy, this lack of "customer (advertiser in this case) is right" attitude will cost it in the eyes of the very group it needs to recruit to be successful.
2. Forcing bloggers to disclose in each ReviewMe post that they are compensated for making the post will automatically minimize the buzz behind any positive mention of the advertiser's product. In the eyes of readers, any disclosure of a writer being compensated for the post will automatically discredit the review due to perception of bias, even if no such bias exists. Besides building scepticism behind the product being advertised (umm, reviewed), this disclosure will also discredit the blogger, raise bias allegations, and potentially affect overall trust placed on him/her by the readers. No reputable blogger will risk losing his audience by even remote appearance of impropriety. For example of this, see comments Darren Rowse made in his post I mentioned above regarding him not willing to accept payment from ReviewMe.
3. By forcing advertisers to pay whether review is positive or not, ReviewMe addresses perception of bias on paper without eliminating any actual effect on bias that exists with bloggers using the PayPerPost model. When advertisers review potential blogs from which to solicit a review, of course, they will read through history of that blogger's posts. If the blogger has history of negative reviews, advertisers will automatically shy away. Thus, bloggers will clearly recognize that while they will get paid for the current review, whether positive or negative, their ability to get paid for future reviews will be greatly impacted if they write negative reviews. Thus, they will tend to stay on the positive, exactly the same way they would be with PayPerPost.
4. ReviewMe pays bloggers based on popularity of the blog. For some reason that was not documented on the ReviewMe site, ReviewMe will automatically reject bloggers if they do not meet certain criteria. They are told to "come back in a couple of months". However, no specific reason is given to the blogger and the blogger does not in fact know what criteria he/she did not satisfy. This approach makes no sense. ReviewMe again takes decision out of the hands of the advertiser and imposes its own constraints, potentially eliminating opportunities for advertisers and bloggers to interact. Instead, ReviewMe should allow any blogger in and let advertiser decide whether to request a review from them.
By focusing on addressing the perceived controversy surrounding PayPerPost, ReviewMe has forgotten to address some elimentary business model issues that any company has to have in its business plan. On the other hand, I clearly see value proposition in the PayPerPost model to both sides, advertisers and bloggers and see it as a better business proposition.
As far as all the controversy behind PayPerPost encouraging bloggers to "lie" in their posts, I refer to my previous post, Should Bloggers Disclose That They Are Compensated?. Bias always exists, whether disclosed or not. Being compensated for the post does not in any way mean that a blogger is not honestly recommending a product they have evaluated and found useful. Just as not disclosing compensation does not automatically dupe the reader, disclosing does not automatically mean the writer is biased. Credibility of the blogger is built on consistent, interesting, thought-provoking perspective, based on months if not years of publishing. If I respect a blogger, I will not mind if he is compensated. And he doesn't need to tell me. I will trust that this blogger will not want to ruin his reputation which had taken years to build over building bogus positive reviews based solely on getting token compensation paid him by the advertiser.
Gene Kavner, Former World-Wide Director, Amazon Associates Affiliate Program, 2005-2006.