Why Are We Willing to Pay for Fashion Magazines and Not Blogs?

I’ve written several posts about the value of digital labor but what is the value of digital content? I don’t have a ready answer for this question so I’m posing it to you, dear readers. I’m particularly interested in how fellow fashion/style bloggers might approach this: Would you be willing to pay to read blogs? How much would you pay? (Edited to add: A subscription to a domestic monthly fashion magazine is about $12/year, an international magazine is $40/year. If a reader follows, say, 15 blogs – the cost per year to read these 15 blogs, if we assume fashion magazines and blogs are of equal value, would be $180-$480/year. Of course, there would be no shipping costs but blogs are required to update with much more frequency than fashion magazines and all of this labor is usually undertaken by one person rather than a team of people.)  And if not, why are you still willing to pay for print magazines and yet unwilling to pay for fashion/style blogs?

I suspect that paid blogs would suffer the same fate as satellite radio – what CNet has called one of the top 10 biggest tech flops of the decade. Like radio, blogs are a form of media we’re accustomed to accessing for free – how many of us (or our readers for that matter) would be willing to pay for something we once got for free? And unlike radios – at least for our generation – blogs are more intimately tied to the concept of free access and all the ideas about the democratization of information it entails.

If you’re not willing to pay to read blogs (and maybe not even to maintain a blog), is there another way to valorize (give value to) a blog? Some bloggers have been materially compensated with gifts from designers in the form of free clothes and accessories; invitations to exclusive parties and shows; ad revenue; book deals; and salaried employment with established print and digital media companies. But the “glittering prizes” of this digital jackpot economy are unevenly distributed upwards to those who already have a large and mainstream following, who have already been acknowledged by traditional media (a glowing write-up in the New York Times, for example), and whose blogs already show up in the top 5 results of Internet searches (determined by several factors such as: their number of unique daily and monthly visits or “hits,” the frequency in which blogs appear in top bloggers’ blogrolls, and the number and prevalence of reader commentaries).

But what about the blogs and bloggers who don’t have the patronage of star designers and media giants? How might their blogs be valued? What are alternative ways in which we might determine their “value”? How might we reimagine the meaning of “value”?

I don’t mean for these questions to be posed in the abstract – these are real questions that I hope will generate thoughtful answers or even thoughtful speculation from those who have a material, temporal, and/or emotional investment in the work of blogging.

I imagine/hope that this is the start of a larger discussion about how to valorize digital content in our writing portfolios, in our tenure file, etc. What are the dangers of counting blog posts as professional work? What are the dangers of not counting them? More posts about this important subject on the way!




27 responses to “Why Are We Willing to Pay for Fashion Magazines and Not Blogs?

  1. For me, at least, fashion magazines have the fatal flaw of seeming to be more about what the advertisers wants rather than what the reader wants. I know that’s part of how this whole capitalism thing works, but I love that I get to interact with people on blogs – and in some ways decide what the content will be. I love that there are always a multitude of viewpoints in not just the posts themselves but also the comments in response to them, and you can’t get that in a magazine. I think there’s more to it than that but I just woke up from a nap so this is as articulate as I can be right now.

  2. To be fair, my favourite blogs are the more personal ones so I find that hard to compare to magazines. I want a magazine to deliver me interesting and preferably timeless content (I’m having a hard time finding this, unsurprisingly) and with high fashion magazines I often just want the editorials that are shot by great photographers and I want the glossy photos that I might be able to use in a collage here or there.

    This is how I see it though. So that said, I am now just going to subscribe to comments because I’m very interested in other people’s point of view.

  3. kips

    Since I started reading fashion blogs, I don’t buy magazines anymore, at. all. I get my news from the internet and I don’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. I watch movies on Hulu and Netflix, and haven’t had cable TV for years.

    I feel, bloggers should make money from advertisers. I have absolutely nothing against ads; I sometimes find them entertaining and helpful, and they are almost the most important part of fashion magazines, to me. Looking at the inane writing and stale styling in Vogue, for example, or the trifling copy in Lucky, I really could do without it. Just give me the ads; that’s what it all comes down to. I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t think of a mainstream magazine that I would pay for.

    I value blogs far more highly, and yet they are free. Well, aside from what I pay for internet service.

    And what I love most about blogs is their individual POV, how much more real they seem and how they speak to my life, rather than just to the lives of 6 foot tall, 100-pound millionaires. Blogs are more about being creative.

  4. kips

    I apologize for not addressing your question. I would pay for subscriptions to my favorite blogs.

  5. Meggy

    A few thoughts.

    First, I couldn’t help but draw parallels (warranted or not) between this question and that of free online lit journals vs. print (Zoetrope, Paris Review vs. Failbetter.com, Monkeybicycle, DIAGRAM). I seriously doubt that Failbetter (or any of its online literary peers), should it ask for payment, would survive for long thereafter.

    Something that comes to mind is the audience’s view of something’s worth as it relates to something’s cost-to-produce. When I purchase Elle UK, the only mainstream fashion magazine that I still purchase on a semi-regular basis, I am extremely conscious of the money that goes into its production. I am aware of my contribution, with my precious doll hairs, as a way for the magazine to recoup its multitudinous costs. (And yes, they clearly have relationship with advertisers as a way to recoup costs — but this isn’t something that I “instinctively” feel when I make the purchase.) On the other hand, when I view a favored blog on my reader, I don’t think too much about the costs behind that blog’s production or accessibility. Fashion for Writers costs money to produce, sure. I pay for the domain name, and for CSS style options. But other than that, Jenny and I don’t spend money on clothing especially for the blog, etc., leaving the question: How much is the labor (as opposed to cost-to-produce) behind our blog worth? As you’ve so wonderfully put in previous posts, this isn’t something that anyone seems to have a good grasp on, and to refer back to the old-school glossies and paper mags, I’m not sure I think about production labor (as opposed to cost-to-produce) very much when I shell out my money, either.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense. Anyway, I look forward to reading future posts about this interesting issue.


  6. Kassy

    This subject comes up a lot on this blog, and I have a few things to say:

    There’s different ways of expressing and quantifying value (as we have expressed): money, fame, community, personal enjoyment, resume/portfolio -building.

    In the sense of abstract “value,” I value this blog more than probably any other source of content I receive on a daily basis- print or digital. But how would you quantify this sense of value that I have for this blog. I never comment, reblog, share, “like”, or show any other form of digital appreciation.

    As you’ve said before, the blogs that gain popularity and compensation often are already or quickly become aligned with the dominant players, companies, opinions in their field.

    Could a place as awesomely critical as threadbared exist in a space where you two are being paid by interest groups (ads) and depended upon these to keep the blog running?

    I guess, that’s my fear of “value:” in order to be “valued” do we have to pander to the systems producing the very notion of what is to be valued?

  7. unfortunately, as meggy pointed out, we can accept the cost of production of a magazine as justification for making the purchase whereas we don’t really see a direct correlation between a blog and the cost of its production. but it’s a shift that people will have to accept as we move towards the digital age. i hope that as more magazines cross over to digital, people will begin to understand that it’s not just the print that has value, but the work behind it.

    in the meantime, i’m going to have to agree with kips in that bloggers should (or can) make money from advertisers. i suppose i’m also biased because it’s the only option that has worked for me personally. it’s a decision that i made because i needed to offset some of the costs of providing the free content on my blog. it takes a considerable amount of time taking photos, editing, writing posts, networking, responding to emails, and doing web and graphic design on a daily basis. obviously, i love it or i wouldn’t do it, but i have to put a value on my *time* at the very least and i feel like other bloggers need to understand this, too. it’s a personal choice if a blog wants to monetize, but i think it’s an important step in recognizing these costs.

    i don’t think this is the only way to go, but hopefully as the digital world matures, we’ll see more options for labor to be compensated appropriately.

  8. Thank you all for your comments, keep them coming! There are so many great points here that are in dialogue with each other! So rather than replying to you one at a time, I thought I’d respond in a group comment.

    Meggy’s question gets at the heart of my admittedly speculative post: “How much is the labor (as opposed to cost-to-produce) behind our blog worth?” For most of us, it’s worth a lot – I know that Mimi and I often wish that the time and energy we spend on Threadbared could be monetized but we’ve also chosen not to for a lot of reasons – many of which Kassy points out. If we make Threadbared into a commodity and readers into customers then we change the entire dynamic of not only Threadbared but blogging, writ large – not that fashion blogs don’t ALREADY operate through capitalist ethics (of productivity and accumulation of unique “hits”, of posts, etc.). See all posts categorized under “Labor and the Creative Economy” but especially “Why I feel guilty when I don’t blog” (http://bit.ly/aCJEeg) and “Digital Work and Child’s Play” (http://bit.ly/8YMgHm).

    But to put a monetary value on blogs, it seems to me, may not be the magic pill that gives remedy to the situation of unpaid and underpaid bloggers. I think we’re on thin ice (w/ heated blades) when we make the relations between bloggers and readers into an economic one rather than a social/intellectual one. Exploitation is inherent to capitalism so integrating our blogs into a capitalist system (more than they already are) won’t alleviate the exploitative conditions of the new creative economy of which bloggers are a part, it’ll exacerbate the exploitation and the hierarchies therein. Only the blogs that appeal to the monied mainstream will earn a livable wage for bloggers. This will necessarily lead to the standardization of blogs in 2 ways. As bloggers try to appeal to this monied mainstream, they will necessarily have to standardize their perspectives as well as yield to a certain standard of quality and posting frequency. But these standards won’t be determined by individuals but by influential groups of people or market segments now. And here, I want to reiterate Kassy’s important question: “In order to be ‘valued’ do we have to pander to the systems producing the very notion of what is to be valued?”

    So for all these reasons, I’m trying to consider how to REIMAGINE VALUE OUTSIDE OF CAPITALISM. Are there other ways to valorize quality when it comes to blogs? We already do this in some ways: putting our favored blogs on our blogroll, linking to them on Facebook, Twitter, on our own blogs, etc – all of this drives more readers to blogs and increases the number of hits blogs get and thus increases the likelihood these blogs will show up in the first ten results of Internet searches (instead of being buried under the millions of results that a Google search might return). These are hugely important ways of valorizing quality blogs – of redirecting and shaping the public discourse about fashion, style, and beauty!

    Here are some other strategies Threadbared is implementing: we’ve invited other bloggers and non-bloggers to guest blog, I’ve written about some of my favorite blogs in my book, and talked about them in lectures I’ve given. But are there other ways as well? How might we give value to (or demonstrate our valorization of) smaller blogs that are high in quality but low in visibility because they offer points of view about fashion, beauty, and style from a non-normative racial, gender, sexual, religious, class position? (And for those of you working both in academia and in digital media – how does your digital labor count (if it does at all) on your CV and towards tenure and promotion?)

    • kips

      Does your blogging feed into your work? Even if you weren’t posting the things you write, would you still write them? Do the comments feed your work? You know, you could just post stuff that you’d already written/published, then you wouldn’t have to do much extra work.

      Your questions and people’s responses made me realize I value the writing in fashion blogs maybe more than the pictures. Sometimes the writing is a fun extension of the chats people like to have about fashion and style. Maybe your friends don’t share your taste or zeal, so you find a blogger who does… The personality-laden posts of the outfit, events and music on a certain day are like little anthropological capsules… But the kind of analysis you guys do on this blog was what I feel is sorely lacking in magazines! Why is it that in fashion magazines, no one talks about FASHION? No one critiques the clothes as objects? No one really speculates as to the reasons something comes into being? I’m exaggerating, but only very slightly. I guess I really love fashion (though you wouldn’t know it to look at me) so I feel most magazines do it a huge injustice, and I feel sexism and homophobia hanging over their vapidity like a cloud.

      Re whether blogs require a lot of shopping on the part of the bloggers– it absolutely doesn’t! That’s one of the things I love most about it. Readers want all kinds of different things, and all the different kinds of bloggers address that need just by being themselves.

      I don’t think fashion blogs have to feed into capitalism/consumerism. My favorite kind of posts are analytical, historical, or discuss new ways of coordinating clothes you’d already have. And I guess I get a lot of pleasure out of just observing what someone else has, though it’s not something I’d want for myself.

  9. Great point.. Though there are certain working models where we do pay for content.. WWD for one is subcription based. I think gala darling has a successful podcast which you have o pay for. Even using social networks are increasingly offering better services for a fee (I’m thinking of flickr) other blogs you have to pay to access parts of the site like problogger forums or the ebooks.

    It’s happening.. And while print does charge money the subscription fees barely pay for postage… It’s largly funded by adverts. I’m not sure if blogging will go along a similar monetization strategy because there are so many options out there.

    • ah, i hadn’t heard of Gala Darling . . . will check that out! Problogger (just acquired by Google) and WWD are corporate, does anyone know if subscription fees have worked for stand-alone, independent blogs?

      • yeah, i think what we’re seeing with independent blogs is more like selling ebooks or pdf magazines, like Sketchbook Mag.

        also you can sell your RSS on amazon.

        as far as blogs selling subscriptions for content jean v. pratt sells subscriptions to gift guides:

        on that side, i’m not sure whether it’s a blog or not, but she does well with it.

        as for problogger, wow, yeah, google is going to do some crazy things with it…but i think darren

        in the end, ,i think it’s really a matter of being able to develop consistent quality content or service and a reputation for doing so.

      • woops, that above comment was supposed to use my IFB icon!
        too many blogs, i tell you, too many blogs.

  10. i buy magazines, compulsively — almost as dccor, and i tend to buy more unusual, large, image-heavy magazines rather than small text-heavy ones. i like the object of it, i like the large size, high-quality paper, large images — i leave them open on tables, stacked against my walls, i tear the images out for inspiration boards for photoshoots (somehow folders on my computer don’t seem to have the same effect) etc. same thing with vinyl, which i still buy, though i haven’t paid for a cd in almost a decade. with fashion magazines, at least, i buy them more for the aesthetic appeal and social significance and greedy consumerist satisfaction of having them around rather than for the information contained within; i could get that online anyway!

    i think there’s something here in which we think of information and “media” as something that should be free, but we’re wiling to pay for an OBJECT that seems to carry value, social significance, a brand/image we want to be associated with or seen reading on the train, something of monetary value with some sort of ‘lasting power’. the quality magazine is more like buying clothing or art — but the INFORMATION is something i should have access to, for free.

    in the same way as other commenters have pointed out, the paper of the magazine makes it obvious that there was a production cost — an issue which I think music also faced, in a strange way that music is similar to information and seems like something that should inherently be free, though we know there’s a large production cost behind it as well. i wonder what it is about physical objects that links weight to worth? i know there’s probably an asston of scholarship out there on this but my mind is going blank now, things about capitalism and value and why we’re more likely to grumble over paying for things we can’t hold (medical costs, subscriptions, taxes, etc) than over solid objects we can acquire and hoard. why does a vinyl (heavier, larger, ‘nicer’ art, more delicate, difficult to transport) seem worth $20+ while the sound itself seems like something i should have access to for free? why does a 2 lb bundle of paper seem ‘worth more’ than an endless stream of updates of text, images, and video? why does a heavy dictionary seem worth $30 or so as opposed to googling define:word ?

    i don’t think it’s only that we think information ought to be free though, as there’s obviously much more than sources of information when it comes to blogs — take luxirare and garbage dress for example — both basically use their blogs as catalogs for their creations and to manage their brand identity and image. this is another issue when talking about ‘blogs’ — so many of them have different purposes, functioning either as sales portals, forums for discussion and community, news sources, personal style diaries, outlets of self-expression, or some combination of all of the above. it’s difficult to determine a value for ‘blogs’ because the potential varies so widely.

    • also, i’d love to say i’d pay to read blogs, but at the end of the day, i’m pretty sure i wouldn’t, and i also don’t personally think of myself as providing ‘content’ that any reader should have to pay to access. from a few years of watching the digital music industry slowly and desperately choke itself to death with attempts to make money off access to information, exclusive content, and sound, i’m going to bet pretty solidly that most other folks wouldn’t want to pay either.

      inexplicably, however, i was excited to pay $2 for access to the New York Times iPhone app when it first came out before it was free, but i doubt that would apply to more personal and less corporate media, and may have seemed like a bargain because i could READ THE NEWS EVERY DAY ON THE SUBWAY FOREVER AND EVER FOR LESS THAN THE PRICE OF THE PAPER ITSELF!!!

      • Meg, your comments had me rifling through boxes for my copy of Marx’s Capital (damn tiny apartment w/ not enough space for bookshelves!) and particularly the section on object fetishism. I now have the beginnings of a blog post on the political economy of ephemera but until that’s done, i just wanted to pick up on some of the smart things you’ve pointed out.

        YES, value is NOT intrinsic to an object but is instead a social process that endows objects with in Marx’s words “strange social properties.” These “strange social properties” include the prestige that comes from, as you put it, “a brand/image we want to be associated with or seen reading on the train”. Thus, the value that object fetishism gives to objects – now commodities – has little to do with the “cost to produce” (a la Meggy) or the labor of production. (Recall that in 1992 Michael Jordan earned more for endorsing Nike sneakers than Nike’s ENTIRE Indonesian workforce of 30,000 for making them!)

        But today information and knowledge are commodified as well. The information-object has value (think of copyright laws and intellectual property rights, etc.) – and in some circles, the value of the information-object supercedes the value of the material object. An example: the knock-off dress in all its materiality is less valuable than the immaterial idea of the design (now protected by copyright). This leads us back to the problem of how to value or evaluate blogs which are immaterial and ephemeral information-objects. . . . which leads to my forthcoming post on the political economy of ephemera (moving swiftly along THANKS TO ALL YOU BRILLIANT READERS, THINKERS, & SHARERS)!

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  13. Just read Cory Doctorow’s article, “Saying information wants to be free does more harm than good” – which untangles nicely the differences between economic and political freedoms when it comes to the Internet. http://bit.ly/9i3XeY

  14. You’ve inspired me to do a topic post on IFB. This topic is great considering that, like Erin said, the digital world is coming up fast. We are all moving towards fast, quick, information-which is why the internet has become such a phenomenon. I do believe that bloggers should be making money if they have a great quality blog. I believe that people will pay for information-it’s only a matter of time.

  15. Dawn.

    Excellent post. I am at an impasse re: how to value blogs (and digital content at large) within our capitalist system. Kassy made a good point about reluctance to “pander” to the system, and I would go further to say that my reluctance is also based on the fact that if blogs were monetized, that would erase a formidable segment of their readers. Not because they don’t want to pay for it (but I’m sure most middle/upper class people wouldn’t want to), but because they can’t. Millions of people who don’t have the disposable income to spend “$180-$480/year” on the digital media they read and/or engage in would be ostracized, and I am emphatically against that.

    On the other hand, I do think bloggers who produce high-quality content and spend a considerable amount of time (i.e. 20 hours/week or more) on their blog(s) should be compensated somehow for the work. I am acutely aware of the immense amount of time it must take to maintain a professional-quality blog, especially as that blog gains a larger following. That time could be spent on paid work; every time I read a blog I think about that. Bloggers like you, Minh-Ha, deserve to be valued and compensated. I’m just not sure how.

    Ads and donations are often trotted out as solutions, but those typically end up being band-aids for broken legs. Ads are particularly problematic when your blog has an obvious stance re: independent culture, anti-capitalism, social justice, etc.

    Meggy – very good point re: print literary journals/zines vs. online literary journals/zines. I am a writer, so I immediately drew that parallel too. I have never been paid for my work, because the online journals that publish me can’t afford to pay me. This is a problem, obviously, because time is money and creative work should have some value. But I’m at an impasse again, because I read these journals for free before submitting to them and (usually) most of the staff is volunteer so why should I expect to get paid?

    Many of the lit journals I read are tied to presses that sell books, chapbooks, broadsides, PDFs, etc, and more online journals seem to be offering annual/semi-annual print issues for a price. Perhaps more blogs could do something similar, i.e. PDFs or photo collections for a reasonable fee in addition to the free content. This is not a catch-all solution, but I don’t think there is one.

    Sorry for the exceedingly long comment. I’m just fascinated by this issue and I think this post is very thought-provoking.

    • I like the idea about selling books, chapbooks, pdfs, etc. Certainly more and more bloggers are turning their blogs into books though they’re usually published w/ popular presses. I also appreciate you noting the benefits of open access media and lit journals that we all enjoy – social networking technologies (whether blogs or facebook) are part of our everyday lives now. I’m not necessarily arguing that subscriptions are bad ideas but I DO think there are more disadvantages than we realize.

  16. Someone

    Nice discussion.

    I had the thought that one reason why some people are willing to pay for things like fashion mags (which I am not anymore, I think the last one I bought may have been about 10 years ago and as I recall it was for entertainment during travel) is that they know what they’re getting, and the “what they’re getting” has a value pre-agreed upon by the buyer and the social environment in which the mag was produced.

    First, in a similar way that peer-reviewed academic journals are “better” than self-published books, fashion mags have a team of professional producers and filterers (like editors) so that, by committee, the content has a standardized level of quality and (concentrated high) quantity that can be relied upon. The amount of novelty is what keeps subscribers interested, so they are paying both for what’s similar every month as well as what’s new.

    Fashion blogs are generally produced by individuals, they can be uneven in content value, and they can blogfade at any moment…there are other things that make them unpredictable and therefore maybe less of a good bet in the mind of a consumer than a mag if they’re going to pay before they consume. Same thing is the case with most podcasts.

    That’s one (somewhat inchoate and partial) thought.

    Also, it’s interesting how much the concept of being paid for one’s labor has come up here, because…well folks, that’s never been a fair system, most especially for women. Just because we provide value certainly does not mean we will be paid commensurately. It sucks more than I can express, but I’ve observed through my almost 5 decades on this earth that the world is reluctant to pay women unless we are playing the role of consumer product ourselves. (I think it has a lot to do with resistance to allowing us out of a dependent and servile role, as well as normalizing our value AS consumer products, but anyway.)

    Finally I’m intrigued by the references to how non-normative bloggers might fit in this convo, because I’m getting a notion to blog and would have to be one of those. This means it is quite likely it will be a labor of love, so I’d better love it…

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