There is no question that the current advertising structure does not work…
Banner ads don't produce much revenue unless you really push ad sales, affiliate marketing delicately teeters the line between editorial and sales content at the best of times. Flipgloss Media plans to change all of that. Funded by Forbes Media, FlipGloss.com is marketed as a ‘New York Times Magazine’ service for bloggers… Just as NYT mag gets inserted in the paper each week, FlipGloss delivers ‘Digital Glossy Inserts’ to blogs.' as quoted by CEO Kerry Trainor. Looking at the site, I could definitely see the potential. Much of the digital inserts reflects what many fashion bloggers post about anyway, though, Flipgloss goes a step further by creating mouse over links that give you more information about the items in the photograph, including links on where to buy.
Concerns About Copyright
As an alternative to the current ad structure, FlipGloss certainly opens a new realm of possibility in affiliate marketing and advertising sales. However, the first question that came to mind were issues of copyright. Here on IFB we had talked before about which images we can use on our blogs, which images we maybe/probably/might get in trouble if not for a legal loophole for using and which images we really should NOT use (hint… when you're told to take it down by the copyright holder). I understand the internet makes some murky waters for sharing intellectual property, but when there is blatant money exchanging hands these legal issues must be cleared up, not only to protect the blogger, but to protect the photographers and the company who is producing the distributable content to begin with. So when I asked Mr. Trainor about the copyright issues, he stated: ‘FlipGloss manages copyright clearance requests/fees for the content we distribute to other sites.'
Digital Inserts that Generate Revenue
So I then signed up. Upon signing up I was given the introductory offer of $2.50pcm for the first 90 days. All I had to do was post a slide show from this list of inserts, and then I would start making money. It all sounded great, I went browsing through the list, and found one that I was interested in, one called Takin' it to the Streets. They had images from Trendy Crew, Street Peeper and Style Sightings, and out of curiosity I contacted them to see what kind of deal they had worked out with FlipGloss and if they were happy with it. The emails I got back were disturbing, TrendyCrew and StreetPeeper had not heard of FlipGloss, and Stylesightings had been contacted by them, but was not told that the ‘inserts' were monetized.
When I asked Mr. Trainor about this, he said:
‘We are not monetizing any of the street fashion slideshows at this stage… we also love the idea of promoting them, and we reach out to as many as we can… and link to them as promotion if we have not reached them.
The rev share we pay as part of our intro offer to distributor sites is to build our network… essentially, we think of this as us paying to promote this content….at this stage, FlipGloss only collects ad revenue on branded content inserts (like those for Target or BMW)…'
This sat with me in a funny way. Am I missing something here? First of all, it took me all of 10 minutes to contact all the street style photographers I could find on FlipGloss including Jak&Jil (but we got no reply). And that's from the long way of going to the site, looking for the ‘contact me' link and you know, the hard work of getting blogger details. Second of all, when I asked about the slideshows that use their images, he said the shows weren't monetized but they would pay us to embed them on our sites anyway. So doesn't that mean the slideshows are monetized?
(Here's a video tour of the site and insert discussed in this post. Sorry for the crappy sound.)
Is FlipGloss Good for Bloggers?
If this is how FlipGloss deals with bloggers, how do they deal with the people I didn't contact? And if they did get permission from the other copyright holders, then what does that say about the level of respect FlipGloss has for bloggers?
The reason why this doesn't even fall under the murky fair use clause is that we're making money from other people's work, blatantly. This type of advertising without proper clearance isn't a great thing for bloggers, it's a liability.
Payment by Exposure
If you've been working in the Web 2.0 environment for any length of time, you've heard this before. To be honest, the whole ‘exposure' form of payment some companies offer bloggers is wearing thin. It's wearing thin on me, and I use it on myself! Especially since some companies use blogger content to make money for themselves and not give anything in return. It's one of the reasons why I don't give permission to publishers to use my photos to books anymore, after the What I Wore Today fiasco, which not only was a blatant rip off of wardrobe_remix, didn't give me any kind of ‘exposure' I can measure. And they got a free image to use, and a post, and I got a cheap paperback book that looked like it was designed by a 2nd year graphic design student. I don't know, that one will probably end up in the discount sale bin anyway. (Tricia, if you're reading this, I think you should make your own book, I'll submit photos for you any day!) Anyway… that's another post…
Are We There Yet?
FlipGloss certainly has potential, but it's not there yet. They've taken a step towards finding new ways to generate income for independent publishers so we can continue… but they've taken a step back by not securing permission to use the images, another step back for saying they secured all copyright permission, another step back for using blogger content and using a link as form of payment in a monetized application and being too lazy to contact them about it, so where are we? I don't know, it's Friday.
[UPDATE 06/28/09] Due to this post, FlipGloss media has contacted me to inform that they are now in process of installing a 100% contact policy. That's all the details I have confirmed for now. But I'll keep you updated if this turns out to be an interesting development for the community.