It’s a basic law of human nature: if you set up a system with boundaries, someone will explore the edge of them. I had never heard of PayPerPost until they sponsored the (sadly missed by me) ConvergeSouth. From what I understand of the joint, they provide an opportunity for bloggers to find subjects about which they can blog to receive money for just having written. Given that situation, it is inevitable that someone would explore the degenerate case of that system, which is someone making blog posts that consist of saying “PayPerPost paid me to blog about Y” in exactly as many words as the minimum length post they will pay for.
The basic assumption of such a system seems to be that the person taking the money is of good will and will make a reasonable post but if there is nothing in the contract that specifies that, how do guarantee that? Seems like this sort of thing is in fact what PayPerPost creates, a race to the bottom for how little effort you can put in to take the money. It’s only sensible economics when you are getting paid a fixed amount for a task to find the most efficient way to pull the “pay me” lever.
Note that the exact opposite of this situation is Pete Prodoehl’s PayMeToBlog experiment, where you are hiring the services of a known entity to do a similar thing. In this case, you only have one person and you can check their previous efforts to gauge how reasonable a job you think they will do. PayPerPost is asking you to trust an anonymous group of people whose incentive structure is to give you the lowest value possible. I’d be surprised if there is long-term prospects there, but I’m an optimist and I love to be wrong about such things.
Later: I wrote the above before I knew that this subject was such a tempest in a chamber pot. I was talking only about the specfic scumbaggy case above, but Doc Searls hates this idea in any form. I don’t know that I agree with his take or that of Jason Calcanis. I’m closer to where Dan Gillmor came down. Really, how is taking PayPerPost money any different from doing something like the Darren Rowse approach of blogging a subject specifically because it will generate good Adsense revenue? How is this different from Hugh MacLeod shilling for nice suits and wine? Why is one more cynical than the other?
Is it that an A-lister cashing for a lot of money is fine, while a Z-lister cashing in for nickels and dimes is no good? How about an A-lister selling a network of revenue producing blogs to AOL? I don’t see how you can see these as that different. How is it reasonable for Jason Calcanis to be on the high horse on this subject? I think a lot of people could claim that he polluted the blogosphere a long time ago with profit motive driven blogs staffed by paid bloggers rather than those writing purely out of their passions. Now that he’s cashed the check, he wants to keep the blogosphere pure. Where was he with that argument before he (literally) sold out? Why is one form of pandering horrible and another perfectly acceptable? It seems hypocritical to me.
All of these cases are making money by choosing specifically marketable subject matter to blog about. Perhaps the problem is that the PayPerBloggers are violating my own slogan – “there is no such thing as selling out, just selling too cheap.” Michael Arrington writing about The New Bubble or Boing Boing blogging about Disney and giant robots over and over are now making them a lot of money. Now that the cash machine has begun rolling can you see either switching to different subjects that will cut their traffic radically and cost them a lot of bank? How is that different?
Lest I be misunderstood, in summation I think PayPerPost is a cynical and sleazy affair, but I don’t see anyone I cited in here as being above reproach. I think you could indeed take PPP money and do it ethically, and like the place this post started — you can do it and be a complete weasel about it. This is all a very long way of saying that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Doc.
PS – I ran across this great site the other day called AmigoFish. I think it is really neat, and you should check it out. It is peachy keen, kids.
Update: Further stuff – Mike Dunn responds to this post and Eric Rice muses that the blogosphere is being played by all this. I actually had a thought occur to me and considered making another post about the socioeconomics of this, but I’ll just append that little bit here. As I look at everyone in the debate, they range from upper middle class to millionaires like Calcanis. No one (myself included) would even notice being up or down $50 any given month. However, a lot of Americans would. Where do people at the top of Mazlow’s hierarchy of need get off telling people at the bottom that they shouldn’t try to move up? If I didn’t have enough spare at the end of the month to buy my kids new shoes but by writing a blog post on a specific topic I could – hell yeah, daddyo. “Purity of the blogosphere” is the concern of someone who has made ends meet. For the person deciding whether to take a second job out of the house or write a few (cynical, yes, whorelike, given) blog posts at home after the kids have gone to bed, it’s a no brainer.
I believe that’s my (unpaid) last word on this subject unless something arises that is more interesting than what’s on the table now.