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ARE THE MEALS PROVIDED TO FOOD BLOGGERS REALLY FREE?

Posted by crizlai On November - 18 - 2013|

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Recently, a Singaporean food blogger (flogger) has posted up on his blog, ranting his views on “There is no such thing as a free meal. This is the cost of food blogging”. Well, he got most of his points right. However, some points stated might not necessary apply to all the Malaysian bloggers due to the different standard on the cost of living.

Most people would just assume that floggers are enjoying their lives just because they have endless eatery requests for reviews. Some high profiles ones might even get free meals daily the whole year through. Is it fun? Yes, it is fun to try out different cuisine. No, as no one really knows the amount of time a blogger spent to get a well written post out. Towards the end of the day, the “I feed you free and you write a review for me” deal might end up costing you more than the meal itself.

Leaving all the nitty-gritty part of your investment out (E.g. camera, flash light, batteries, computer, editing software, photography workshop tuition fees, domain purchase, website hosting fees and so on), what the merchants did not realize is that there are still many hidden cost to a blogger. Here are some of the main factors:

TIME FACTOR: Most merchants would think that floggers are so free that time is not a factor. If they can attend their food review, it meant that they have lots of free time in hand. Are they serious? If a flogger can earn easily through blogging, then they do not need to have a full time job. Other than personal expenses from family commitments, most bloggers would still need to find ways to earn something to pay for all their miscellaneous bills. If time is free, who started having this phrase “TIME IS MONEY”?

LABOR INTENSIVE FACTOR: How many hours do you think a blogger need to be present in a food review? It’s at least 2-3 hours. Most of the time, it’s even longer than that. What about brainstorming to write a proper post? It’s at least 2-3 hours, though some seasoned bloggers can do it within an hour or more. How about the time spent in editing photos and uploading to the necessary photo archive before embedding into the post? Another 2-3 hours? For a review posting, it would safely take up to 6-9 hours of their time.

TRAVELING FACTOR: Do not forget that traveling to a designated venue would involve time, petrol/taxi/bus/LRT fee, toll fee and parking fee as well. Is that “our problem” since “I feed you free of charge? How you come is not my concern.” mentality has always been present in the minds of these merchants?

TECHNICAL CALCULATION:

Estimation:
Average time spent on a review: Estimated 7 hours x RM10/hour (cheap labor cost) = RM70
Traveling cost: RM15 (petrol/taxi/bus/LRT fee) + RM7 (toll) + RM5 (parking fee) = RM27
Estimated cost to review an eatery: RM97 (round up to RM100 for easy calculation)

SYPNOSIS:

Now come the interesting part on how smart a merchant would think in order to squeeze the best from floggers for the sake of cheaper publicity. Media advertising would cost them up to thousands.

Example:
Cost of food for review: RM800
Number of media/bloggers engaged: 10 pax
Average cost per media/blogger: RM80 each

From the example shown above, you can see that floggers are sponsoring merchants RM20 at their own expenses instead. Some merchants would argue that they are providing floggers with food to fill their tummies as well as contents to build up their website traffic. Well, that’s not all wrong too. However, most merchants are taking floggers for a ride in the sense that there are normally some “hidden clauses” to the free food deal. “Can you all help in spreading the promotion, etc via FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram or even TripAdvisor?” Moreover, some merchants have the cheek to request for free photos just to save on professional photography charges. I’m sure they are not aware that each camera has a shutter life expectancy of certain quantity of photos and it would cost thousands to replace a camera. Reviewing an eatery does not mean that the floggers’ photographs are the property of the eatery owner. Unless stated in black & white prior to the review, each photo given is chargeable between RM20-RM200 depending on the quality required. Are they expecting floggers to provide free service as well?

WORST FOOD REVIEWS ENCOUNTERED:

Case 1: Official opening of a restaurant – 13 media/floggers sharing less than RM200 of food from their ala carte menu.
Case 2: Burger review – 7 floggers sharing less than RM60 of mediocre burgers.
Case 3: Event – Dozens of media/bloggers begging to be served with just a drink.
Case 4: Restaurant review – canceling of review 10 minutes before review time. No rescheduling thereafter. Most of the floggers were already 3 quarter way to the venue.
Case 5: Hotel restaurant review – One session of food review and endless emails requesting to promote their monthly offer throughout the year.

REMUNERATION:

Bloggers are not beggars to insist on being rewarded. However, they should also not be taken for granted to provide all the publicity needs to a money earning entity. I want to compliment some PR personnel as well as PR Agencies here for handling the bloggers professionally. They are well aware of the bloggers’ efforts in writing a review and would reward/subsidize them at least something by mode of cash, vouchers and kinds. After all, blogging is one of the alternative ways to bring up the profitability of a business. It’s should be a WIN-WIN relationship for both parties

SUMMARY:

By the end of the day, you would realize that “free food” reviews are not really for free. In fact, the floggers are actually paying for their own food indirectly as stated above. On top of that, most of the time, the floggers are subsidizing these eateries instead. It’s always a WIN-LOSE relationship between eatery and floggers. The only advantage is that floggers get to try out new dishes, which are not necessary the best to their likings. At times, some of the inexperienced floggers with no culinary background will fall prey to writing positive reviews on lousy food, just because it’s an invited review.

CASE STUDIES:

Do you think merchants/brands/PR Agencies are treating bloggers fairly? Would you still accept such an invitation based on the different scenario stated below?

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Scenario #1:
Mode: Via PR Agency
Review: One top market women accessories company requires 10 female lifestyle/beauty bloggers to blog about their new products releases. Press release is provided.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: Each blogger will get RM200 worth of product samples.

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Scenario #2:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: One top confectionery company requires 50 food bloggers nationwide to blog about their new range products. RM30 worth of sample products would be sent to each blogger. Guidelines are provided to the bloggers.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: None

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Scenario #3:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: A Multi National Corporation (MNC) requires 100 bloggers nationwide to blog about their new product launch. Press release and photos are provided to the bloggers to come out with a proper post.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: RM15 blogging fees per post
Added Bonus: 3 lucky draw of products worth more than RM1000 each.

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Scenario #4:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: A 5-Star Hotel requires 10 food bloggers to blog about their monthly buffet promotion. The new items will be served ala carte. However, bloggers can access to their buffet spread of the day for additional dishes. A normal buffet will cost about RM60/pax. Press release is provided.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: Goody bags worth more than RM25 each

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Scenario #5:
Mode: Via PR Agency
Review: A fine dining restaurant in town requires 5 bloggers to blog about their new promotion. Bloggers get to try out all the dishes in a fine dining style. Each set will cost between RM100-RM150. No press release given.
Requirement: TWO posts with at least 5 photos each
Compensation: RM30 blogging fees per post
Added Bonus: None

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Scenario #6:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: A top mobile company requires 10 lifestyle/tech bloggers to blog about their next generation of mobile phone. Bloggers get to try out the new release for 2 weeks. Thereafter, the mobile phone would be sent back to the company. Return shipping will be paid by the company. No press release is given.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: An opportunity to purchase the unit at cost price (30% off from the RRP)

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Scenario #7:
Mode: Via PR Agency
Review: A top alcohol brand requires 10 lifestyle/entertainment bloggers to blog about their upcoming biggest party (RM300-RM400 per ticket) with smaller pre-parties held near your vicinity. Access ticket worth RM120-150 for the pre-party will be given to each blogger. Free flow of alcohol will be provided. Press release is given.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: Door gifts worth more than RM50

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Scenario #8:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: A restaurant requires 10 food bloggers to blog about their new menu. 20% of dishes in the menu (worth RM600) are presented to the bloggers to share out. No press release is given.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos and to share the photos in various social media.
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: None

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Scenario #9:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: An airline company requires 5 lifestyle/travel bloggers to blog about their new flight to a destination somewhere out of Malaysia. Each return air ticket will cost about RM4000. Bloggers will have to bear their own accommodation, food expenses and traveling cost within the country. The next flight out from the country will be in 5 days’ time. Thus, the bloggers would have to stay in the country for at least 4D3N at their own expenses. No press release is given.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: None

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Scenario #10:
Mode: Direct Engagement
Review: A 3-Star hotel requires 5 lifestyle/travel bloggers to blog about their experiences staying in their hotel somewhere out of their state. A 3D2N accommodation package (RM400/day) will be given to each blogger. Each blogger is allowed to bring along a +1. Bloggers will have to bear their own transportation cost to the hotel. No press release is given.
Requirement: ONE post with at least 5 photos
Compensation: None
Added Bonus: Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided for two.

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There are still endless scenarios to mention here but I’ll just keep it simple at 10 cases. Let me hear your feedback via the comment box below on the following scenarios with reasons why you think otherwise.

On the other hand, let’s understand a bit more on bloggers too. Most bloggers, not necessary only Malaysians, have the hope to be just like entrepreneurs, always on lookouts on how to monetize their blog/business. In order to become a professional blogger, do get your own domain name and host. Unless blogging is just for your leisure writing and not as a career, it’s strongly discouraged to rely solely on free blogging platforms. Not only are you restricted to place well any sponsored advertisements, you would give the impressions to any potential merchants that you are always on the lookout for “freebies”. Being frugal here won’t get you far in your financial dreams. Success won’t come free either.

REALITY:

The reality is that only a small percentage of bloggers are successful. These are the people who have the influence to determine how much they can earn through blogging. Have you asked yourself why you are not in that loop of successful bloggers? Firstly, how many years have you been blogging? Successful bloggers don’t just fall from the sky as it takes years of hard work, determination and patience to be where they are today. Secondly, do you think that by blogging alone will make one grow rich? Unless a blogger is super rich enough to sustain his/her living, the answer is “No”. If you research carefully, you might have missed out that most successful bloggers have backup businesses behind their blogs. Those can be by mode of cross selling their products and services or even having those “connections” that not any Tom, Dick or Harry would get access to. Thirdly, it’s sheer luck as you are extremely lucky to be at the right place and right time to strike gold by meeting the right person. However, even luck will run dry one day if you do not take the golden opportunity to maintain your blog quality as per high expectations from your readers.

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COMMON BLOGGING SCENES:

How many bloggers are really following the Bloggers’ Code of Ethics other than hoping that monetary gain would make them excel in their style of blogging? As I have always mentioned this message to many bloggers, “Do not make money as your primary driving force! Do take it with a bit of salt that any monetary gains would just be some extras for your ‘festive shopping’.” There are some bloggers out there who owned a camera, a valid blog plus some knowledge on how to write a bit better and they think they can rule the world as a professional blogger. Some even boasted that they have the best gadgets in town, thus their blog will sure rule the blogging scenes. I did tell many of my blogger friends, “You do not need to have the best gadgets in town to get a winning entry.” If you have the eye to capture the best composition, any model of camera will do. After all, you don’t really need super high megapixels photos, thus slowing down the downloading speed of your blog post. For knowledge sake, even a large wallpaper printing or a super large banner on high rise building would require only 1dpi for printing. Why do you need such a super expensive high megapixel camera just for blogging? The least is to get at least a better quality compact camera to do the job.

I won’t deny that some bloggers managed to pull through the hardship but from my study, most of them eventually turned inactive after awhile due to the lack of commitment, determination and time to maintain a quality blog. Blogging is surely not for those people without much willpower to strive for the best. It’s a tough “job” that most people could not endure for a long period of time due to not seeing any profitability from all the hard work they have put in.

I have also encountered many good bloggers surrendering to the wants of their readers to have shorter posts, thus ending up with just photos and descriptions with hardly any views from their parts. Without much detail, it’s as good as posting up on any of the social networks with limitation of words. It’s no longer a blog as I can see it. Potential merchants would surely avoid such blogs.

There are even some bloggers who would use their so-called credentials to “beg” for freebies and reviews. Yes, you read it correctly. Begging! There’re no differences between the blogger and that of a beggar. If your blog is at par with quality posts, merchants would eventually hunt for you instead of you pitching for any reviews like there’s no tomorrow. The most disappointing part is that some of these bloggers are not even having high blog traffic to demand for reviews.

BLOGGERS’ CODE OF ETHICS:

GOOD JOURNALISM: You should not plagiarize other people’s hard work. Even if you need to quote something or use any photo belonging to others, do give proper credits to your source. Moreover, you need to make sure you have all the necessary up-to-date details and not just assuming that it’s accurate just because you read it from somewhere ages ago. Get your facts right before even publishing your post. Most importantly, write in a language that you are comfortable with. You have the Google, Wikipedia and many other sites to help you in this matter. Stop giving excuses that you don’t know anything without putting in some effort in researching more.

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ACCOUNTABILITY: What we post might affect the reputation or profitability of a business. There are certain people who think that I’m bias in certain invited reviews without using my lion mouth to criticize them. Is it? I won’t even bother wasting my time writing a bad product or a service. If you don’t like it, just leave it. We have to be conscious on the livelihood of a business. You have a family to feed, so do they. Even the best product or even a restaurant might not please everyone. Negative feedback may come in many ways. You just don’t give a business a brutal slap just because you don’t like what you get at first impression. Moreover, I realized that many bloggers are doing so without truly exploring more on anything. Even a patient would seek other medical help for a second opinion. So, what about having multiple visits or try outs to get a better verdict? Do not keep it to yourself or voice it out to other parties on your displeasure. Constructive feedback should be directed to the business owner in order for them to improve further.

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CIVIL MINDEDNESS: As a blogger, you have the right to stress on your views. However, it’s unethical to run down anyone with personal attacks. We have to be mindful on how we write with the right choice of words. “The item sucks” versus “The item is not up to my expectations” would have totally different meaning. Do remember that personal preference can be real subjective. If a business had gone astray, do try to throw in some continuous reminders and feedbacks to get it back on the right track. Do have the interest to help build up the businesses within your community so that you can be proud of them in years to come.

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TRANSPARENCY: No blogger has the budget to review everything under the sky. If you are given any sample, discount or anything for that matter for reviewing, just disclose your privileges in your post. There’s no point bragging on how much you had spent while in actual fact, you are doing reviews based on other people’s expenses or even based on your online deal purchases. What your reader wants would be your truthfulness in your reviews and not on the false richness you try to conceal.

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PROFESSIONALISM: Just because you are a blogger with some influences, it does not mean that you could insist on special treatments such as offers, discounts, freebies, free food, free drinks and so on. Not only would you tarnish your image, you would also bring shame to the whole blogging community. Moreover, I did hear of certain groups in the blogging community, within and outside of Malaysia, even target PR companies/departments seeking exclusive reviews. What a shame to the blogging community! I have also seen some bloggers force selling their personal products or services during a proper review. There’s nothing wrong in promoting your business but do it on another day on your personal accord rather than jeopardizing the whole review process. You won’t want the bloggers to be termed as scavengers striking at potential victims.

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Disclaimer: This is a post for awareness and sharing purposes. I have no intentions in defaming any parties, either bloggers, merchants or whomever while writing this post. The entire post is based on my observations on what had happened in the world of blogging today.

8 Responses to “ARE THE MEALS PROVIDED TO FOOD BLOGGERS REALLY FREE?”

  1. HC says:

    Sorry, but I really have to disagree with you. Some bloggers do invited reviews because they genuinely would like to try out an establishment without needing to take out anything from their own pockets. Not all bloggers do it for the money. You can’t put monetary costs into this. Its simple – want to do the review or not, it’s up to you. No one is forcing.

    Thanks for your feedback HT. There’s actually no right or wrong answer to the topic here. It’s up for discussion. To review or not is up to the discretion of the blogger. You are right about that. However, monetary gain is not the issue here. With or without any money is fine to most bloggers. If there is any, it’s just a bonus. The main issue here is the increasing trend of most establishments of today exploiting the bloggers for cheap advertising. It’s like feeding peanuts and expecting bloggers to sign a “lifetime agreement” to promote them via different social media. If the food is good, they do not even have to “point blank” the bloggers and “force” them to publicize their establishments via any media. These actions had reached an alarming stage now compared to years ago.

    I would also like to stress on a point you had stated here. A “genuine reviewer” would pay at his own expense to review an establishment he deemed worthy without being bound by any “hidden clauses” as per invited reviews. This group of reviewers is practically extinct throughout the world. Price of food had gone up tremendously in the past 10 years and dining out is an added bonus for most families now. Only the rich will not have any issue with paying but how many really spend their time blogging? That left the the mediocre income bloggers who would love to be rewarded a bit better to at least cover some of their expenses.

  2. pamela says:

    I love the points you highlighted :)

    Thanks Pam~ :)

  3. Wilson Ng says:

    Do see me around doing food review nowadays in Malaysia? =)

    Haha~ Nice one there Wilson. You also felt the difference right? :P

  4. Vi Vian says:

    thank you for sharing such a comprehensive review! I can now refer to people if they have any doubts and need to know the reality of blogging.

    Thanks Vi Vian~ :)

  5. MrLonely says:

    thanks for sharing~

    Thanks for dropping by~ :)

  6. Tian Chad says:

    Saw this blogpost through a sharing from blogger friend. Nicely written and I shall let some party refer to this post as well haha. Cheers!

    Thanks for the visit Tian Chad. I do hope merchants as well as bloggers know what to do next. :)

  7. The Yum List says:

    Wow Criz! What an impressive article. You offer excellent advice and guidelines. I loved reading and relating to this. You’re a true professional. Warm regards, Monica

    Thanks Monica for the compliment~ :)

  8. Pancake Chin says:

    Woah, interesting points. Did not see it that way before.

    Thanks for the visit WK Chin~ :)

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Howdy from the Isle of delicious Asian food and the UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. Just call me Criz Lai and I am here to share with you on what’s the best food you can get in town as well as from many other parts of Malaysia.

By the way, you might not notice it but CRIZ BON APPETITE is iPhone/Mobile Compatible. Please do feel free to hop over to http://ip.crizfood.com to get the latest updates! If you want to contact me for any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at crizlai [at] hotmail [dot] com. Spamming would not be tolerated – you are being tracked here!

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