The Joy of ‘Blogging for Exposure’ vs What Magazines Get Paid

Bloggers are ALWAYS asked to work for free, for the exposure. I wanted to take a look at why, and the disparity between how much magazines get for advertising and their actual value, vs bloggers.

One of the joys of travel blogging is the amount of exciting emails I get. I have to limit my looking or I’ll just keep dragging down on the iPhone to refresh when I should be working away at the never-ending to do list.

In among the press trip offers, reader requests, newsletters and spam there are always requests from companies presenting me with a once in a lifetime offer to blog for them for ‘exposure’, despite the fact it’s obvious they’re up to their armpits in cash.

Getting paid for travel blogging

– I’ll get my name in lights on their Facebook page which, yes, has an impressive number of likes, but where’s the interaction?

– I’ll be featured on their site, which has millions of views, yes, maybe the site does, but the blog? Nada.

– And of course if I want to link back to them to promote the article once it’s done, on all the social media feeds ever, that sure would be swell.

I don’t even have to give them any money for this level of exposure, wowee!

Opportunity vs free labour

If the company contacting me are genuinely of interest, and the contact knows this because they’ve researched me so well and seen the genuine ‘synergy’ they speak of, I get it. If they absolutely, genuinely think it’s a golden opportunity and we’re going to have a long and happy life together, cool. Let’s have a look, maybe a go, and see how it works to benefit us both.

Travel blogging

– From The Oatmeal

Most of the time though the requests arrive from a PR or content agency – already a sign that there are tens of thousands of pounds in someone’s pot, somewhere – and they want me to write about some vaguely linked product, app or service in return for said ‘exposure’.

Basically they want to use my work to advertise, for free.

This post has created quite the conversation in the comments below and on message boards –
make sure to read them too to get a fuller picture! 

Social media shares for pay

I think of the person who’s got in touch.

They must love PR / SEO / marketing, I presume, that’s why they managed to bag that job and pursue careers in competitive worlds. I love my job too. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to create this blog that companies now want to use as a free advertising platform.

But no matter how much anyone loves their job if you don’t get paid for services given, you’re not going to last very long.

Love doesn’t pay the bills.

Travel blogging

What if the person responsible for paying those guys for their time turned around and said:

“No salaries this month employees, we’ll just talk about how great you are on the Facebook page. We have 20k likes!”

Nothing to pay for the technology you had to use to do your job, or transport costs, or even the electricity to power your work. In return for all those years you spent in training, the hours you spent building up your blog, and time spent answering their email you’ll get a mention on their Pinterest account.

This video from Zulu Alpha Kilo puts the whole working for free thing into perspective by presenting the concept to restauranteurs and personal trainers, who find it ridiculous.

“Do you do what you do for free?” – personal trainer

“Err… no.” – customer

“So, why do you want me to?”– personal trainer

Travel blogs vs travel magazines

There are a lot of variants in comparing travel blogs and travel magazines, I can see that, but as an interesting benchmark I thought I’d have a look at how much it is to advertise in the UK’s leading travel magazines, and note their circulation.

The prices I’ve listed below are for whole page ads.

As a blogger what we’d put together could better be described as an advertorial, which, for example, Lonely Planet would charge an extra £4,100 for, taking the money up to £10,600 from £6,500. Their circulation listed below is less than my average unique visitor count.

Most of the figures come from six months worth of ABC stats – the independent assessor of the UK magazine industry – so I’ve done the same. My circulation figure is the average unique visitor count from the last six months (May-October 2015) on my blog.

MagazineCirculationWhole page ad
Food and Travel27,000 (source)£4,950 (source)
UK National Geographic219,254 (source)£24,598 (source)
UK Conde Nast Traveller78,060 (source)£12,626 (source)
Sunday Times Travel Magazine56,624 (source)£27,040 (source for the paper)
Lonely Planet46,000 (source)£6,500 (source)

It is a difficult industry to put a price on sure but that’s upto an individual blogger. The fact that the post can last forever, and gather momentum as the years go by means that, if I was an advertiser, I’d see blogs as a much better investment of cash.

If you want to know more about how much travel bloggers earn, click through that link. And compare that article, to how much being a travel blogger costs, and you’ll see why I can’t just work for ‘exposure’.

Mobile advertising platforms obviously bring a whole new platform to the table too.

How I do ads on my travel blog

I’ve worked with a few companies to advertise their wares. InnTravel wanted to give me a Kindle Fire to give away to my readers and write about ‘switching off’, IHG wanted me to talk about their new business gadgets and wanted me to go ‘unrooming’.

I label them, as required by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK, and am happy to work with a company I know and like.

“The ASA requires bloggers who are paid (directly or in kind) by a third party to write reviews or comments about a product or service and who cede editorial control of the blog to that third party to be up-front with their followers by making clear that it’s advertising” – from

Sponsorship and advertising is a personal choice for bloggers but for me it’s one that allows me to carry on travelling and to provide all the free content that I do. It makes up a notable part of my income. 

Doing this often gets discussed negatively at blogging conferences, or bloggers like to give it a different name to make them feel like they haven’t sold out. In reality, pretty much anything worth advertising on, gets advertised on, from films to festivals to buses to blogs.

Sneaky magazine advertising

travel blogging

It annoys me that bloggers come under fire for advertising products they like, especially as it’s just accepted that magazines do too.

I’ve worked on a few leading UK magazines but my first job in London was for a different kind of magazine company. They’d pick a topic, for example beauty, and then sell as many ads as possible pandering to the advertisers requests just to get the money in. Then, the flatplan for the magazine would be created based on the ad space and what the advertisers wanted.

I was shocked and thought it a sketchy way of working. It was only when I moved on to more credible magazines that I realised that’s what they all do, base their content around their advertising. How else would they survive? The £2ish cover price barely covers production and distribution – it’s the advertising that brings in the cash.

Even though advertorials are labelled in magazines, and the adverts tend to be fairly obvious, often the content on the opposite page has been written specifically to keep an advertiser happy. The content is meant as a taster for the ad, which is what they’re officially paying for but the ad will need context in the form of editorial.

No matter how much free stuff a magazine gets it needs money to survive, and the same goes for blogs.

3 examples of ‘blogging for exposure’ requests

I’d imagine any bloggers who are reading this to nod along.

Any non bloggers who’ve made it this far by curiosity may be wondering what exactly these requests look like. Here are three of the most common examples of ‘blogging for exposure’ I’ve received over the last week. Some concepts and companies have been changed but you’ll get the jist.


You’re included in a round up post of the ‘best travel bloggers ever’ by a company that boasts millions of pounds of profit. They now want you to write a post on your blog about the fact you’re included in the list.

I’d always share these lists on my Facebook and Twitter feed – it’s an honour to be included. At the moment though I have one particular company who included me in a round up – which was liked and shared by me – and now they’ve sent me approximately six emails wanting me to write a post, for free, about the fact I was included in the round up. As I said, this company claims some of the biggest profits in travel.

I may have done this naturally, who knows, but the fact they’re hounding me to do it is driving me crazy. People who give to receive do my head in, so I’m not writing about them.

If you freely decided to do a round up post of the best plumbers in your area, and then asked the top ones on your list to come and sort your plumbing for free, would they? 

Just in case you don’t know, here’s a little lesson on how the internet works to explain why they want this.

For most people in the UK the internet is Google and Facebook. They want to know something so they type their query in Google and the answer appears. Google’s job is to find the page among the millions on the internet that will answer your question. They’re here to serve their customer.

Google uses thousands of indicators to determine how relevant a webpage is and one of the key ones is how many people have linked to that page because it shows that it’s a good page. This is why the company in question wants me to write about them – to link to them so that Google thinks they’re a knowledgeable page about the top travel bloggers and so shows them as a top result and they get more views.

I won’t go into it further but one of the best sites on the internet for learning about all this stuff is The intricacies of the internet will blow your mind.

blogging for exposure


A new start up wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

If it’s a new company and they haven’t budgeted for marketing, that company will not be around for long making any inclusion pointless. If they had the money to build the app they should have the money to tell people about it.

If you take them up on the offer you’ll need to pay for a tool to host the competition, take time to encourage people to enter via social media, to pick a winner, email them, stay in touch with the client and to write the review. And to download the app and try it out. I’d estimate about 5 hours work, in return for downloading an app you don’t want. No thanks.

Why should a blogger do this? If I really like the product, sure, sure, but if I don’t then pleading ‘we’re just a small start up’ doesn’t really work for me.

I’ll bet I’m a smaller start up than them! 

Blogging for Exposure


You’ve been sent a 600-word brief to write about whether you prefer Berlin or Munich. The company is one of the top 5 in it’s industry. You’ve been asked to cover 7 specific points in the body text, to use brand messaging, link back to them, to promote on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and to use the designated hashtag. If you could include the video that they’ve provided that would be good too. When you checked back there was no budget for this advertising, but they can put you on their mailing list for press trips in 2016. Oh and could you get it done in the next week? 


I probably get something along these lines every week. I despair and don’t want to waste time answering but they keep on with the ‘have you had chance to read my email’ emails. This request is clearly advertising and I wouldn’t want to pretend to my readers any different. They want a very specific message written on my blog, which I’d be happy to do as long as it’s marked that it’s an ad and they pay me. And I wouldn’t even charge the £6500 that a magazine of a similar circulation to me would.

And as for the offer to be on the ‘press trips list’ I’d rather have some money so I could afford to go on the trip myself.

Turn the request around Mr ‘Advertiser’, would you do it? 

Sometimes, just sometimes, it can be worth it

Blogging for Exposure

Of course, there are a few brands and / or opportunities in the world where it may actually be worth working them for free. You’ll be rewarded for giving your time in return for genuine exposure to the right crowd or an incredible experience which you can leverage to make money a different way. Those particular brands will change in reference to where you are in your travel blogging career with the pool getting smaller as you become more established.

Money travel blogging

5 ways to decide if it’s worth it

1. How many social shares do the company’s blog articles have?

They might be big sites, but how big is the platform your work will feature on? Do your research.

2. Have you heard of the company before? 

If big brands like Lonely Planet, National Geographic etc want to work with you and genuinely give you valuable exposure for your time, you’d be mad to say no.

3. How big is your following? 

If you’re just starting out as a travel blogger one of the best things you can do is to get yourself noticed on other, bigger platforms. And because every platform is bigger than yours it makes sense to carefully select who you’d like to work with. Anyone in the same field, with a bigger following than you, could provide value to you in working for them for free but just check the terms and conditions of what you’re getting yourself into.

iceland blogging

4. What will you get out of it? 

I recently wrote for the Travelettes ( I approached them, they weren’t asking for free content) and when they shared my post on their Facebook page I got a good boost in Facebook numbers from people interested to know more about my experience and work.

Travelettes is a site I love – I was proud to see my work on there – with people who were cool to work with, and I got some new readers out of it. I’d be happy to write for them again.

5. How long has the company been around? 

I’m not saying it’s not worth it if they’re new but so many start ups fall down fairly quickly, especially if they’ve got questionable work ethics, like not paying people. The best way to find a company who’ll be around for a few years is to find one which already has a few years under its belt.

Do you work for free?

Blogging for exposure

Blogging for exposure is something that’s been around from the start and is bound to continue into the future. On one side if companies know they can get you to work for free they’ll do it. Look at it a different way and if you manage to skilfully manipulate bigger company’s audiences with your witty and intelligent writing that they share across their genuinely large, engaged, relevant audience groups, then you can make it work for you.


  1. People asking me to work for free are the bane of my life. I get a few requests every day at least – and the worst thing is no one is upfront about it straight away. So I take the time to reply to an email, only to be told “oh we don’t have a budget for that”.

    Someone gave a really good analogy recently. It’s like going into a shop, picking up a chocolate bar, and telling the shop owner – “I can’t give you any money for this chocolate bar, but I’ll tell everyone I know that I bought it here so you’ll get tons of exposure”. Although, in the case of most brands it’s more like “I’ll open my window at 3am while everyone is asleep and quietly whisper about where I bought my chocolate bar”.

    Ok, I’m no where near the Lonely Planet circulation figures yet, but my audience is still pretty good. Good enough for an advertiser to want to advertise on my site. So…. pay for the ad! Seriously!

    Haha, rant over. I’m so going to start sending people the link to this post instead of replying 😉

    1. Yeah same. I guess it’s just the industry, both sides circling the other to see what they can negotiate for free. I like the analogy. As soon as you replace ‘blog post’ or ‘blogger’ with something from another industry you realise how ridiculous the request sounds. I love the video above because it just highlights the fact. Yep, feel free to send out the link, I’m doing the same!

  2. Nodding the entire time! I just got re-approached by a PR firm to share their contest with my readers. I had done so once for free about 6 months ago because it was a contest that was relevant to me and so many of my friends (was for engaged couples to enter to win a honeymoon in a destination of my niche). I would have shared it anyway and they didn’t ask me for more than that although they had “no budget” then to offer more. The second time around, I respond with a precise option of how we can collaborate. Crickets! no response at all. Some people are just looking to take advantage. If you remembered me from 6 months ago, then present me with a real way to work together.

    P.S. Cannot believe how much those magazines charge for ads!

    1. Hey Angelica, yep, sounds pretty standard. As has been highlighted in a few comments both on here and in the Facebook groups this has been posted in, it can be difficult to distinguish between PR and advertising, But also, whether the old models that worked in traditional media work with bloggers. It’s such a contentious and complicated subject I’m loving reading everyone’s comments about it. Yeah the prices are pretty crazy compared to what us bloggers get!

  3. Hi Vicky,

    I cannot tell you how much reading your blog (this post and several others) has inspired me today. I started blogging about 6 years ago and when I first started out, I had absolutely no clue about what I was doing or even what I wanted my blog to focus on. I changed/mixed/started over various themes in the first 2 or 3 years, before finally just dropping it altogether out of frustration. I’ve been back at it now for about 6 months, but it’s been slow-going starting all over again and trying to build up traffic and readership (a LOT has changed in the last couple of years!). Even with my paltry numbers, I get a lot of requests for freebies, and it’s sometimes hard to turn stuff down because it’s something fun I know my kids would like. But the amount of work involved after the fact always has me regretting saying yes to “free product” work. Your post was quite eye-opening and is the last push I needed to vow against taking any more unpaid work! I’ts time I started treating my work and my blog like the business it is.

    On another note, I’ve known for a while that I wanted to focus on travel blogging, but as a mom blogger without much experience or content in that area, I felt a bit intimidated. I’ve slowly been adding some travel-related posts and joining travel groups and the more I read, the more I feel I’m going in the right direction. Thanks for the inspiration, it was a good way to start my morning! 🙂

    1. Hi Tisha, so, so happy to hear I inspired you! Six years is a long time to be blogging – I’d say every little thing must’ve changed! Congratulation on getting back into it though. You’ve hit the nail on the head there with the ‘free’ products. They’re not free and always require some kind of work that goes into promoting them and crafting your blog post. I have a minimum requirement for all product reviews now and assess whether my readers would actually want to hear about them and whether I’d buy it. I’ve done some crappy giveaways in the past but it’s all part of the learning curve.

      Good luck with the travel blogging – there’s loads of advice in my Travel Blogger High series here if you’re looking for more inspiration!

  4. I’m going to send this post back to people who expect me to work for ‘exposure’ now. Great, well researched post!

  5. This article is perfect – I blog about health and fitness and can assure you that ALL of the issues you’ve raised happen in my part of the blogging world too!

    I think I’ll just copy this link and paste it to any PR company who expects to use my expertise or audience for free.

    Oh, I also hope PR’s who try these tactics are reading this article and now understand how frustrating it is to bloggers.

    1. Yeah same. I guess it’s just the industry, both sides circling the other to see what they can negotiate for free. I like the analogy. As soon as you replace ‘blog post’ or ‘blogger’ with something from another industry you realise how ridiculous the request sounds. I love the video above because it just highlights the fact. Yep, feel free to send out the link, I’m doing the same!

  6. Vicky, What an interesting insight into the world of magazines v blogs. Such an honest post and I found myself nodding in agreement. It’s reality and it hits us hard.

    As long as bloggers are ready to work free for exposures, it will be a challenge to change the scenario. I am from India, here blogging is still evolving and almost everybody is okay to work for free. One reason is, most of them have a day job so even if they get a small gift, a free app or a goodie bag, it’s a bonus for them.

    I am going to send it to people who ask me to work for free. Thanks again.

    1. Nisha, that’s what I was like when I started too. I’d do anything for a freebie because I didn’t realise the repercussions. Again it depends on what kind of a blogger you are. I’ve had my blog for almost four years but didn’t start taking it seriously until two years ago, before that I was happy with a freebie. Things have changed!

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. This is such a useful post! I’ve got a relatively small blog and in a different genre (family lifestyle) but I get a fair few of these emails too. I appreciate that there are budgets and all, but like you said, if they don’t have a budget for buying an ad when they essentially want one, they are doing pretty poorly themselves. Anyway, I shall share this post and now off to check circulations in the parenting/family magazines for comparison 🙂

  8. My site is relatively new and I have started receiving emails like this. I have absolutely no idea what to do. I don’t need the money but should I take such free work if it is a good site?

    1. Hi Soumya, it’s totally up to you! It depends if you’re happy with your blog as it is or you think that doing this will get you more readers or followers. Weigh up what’s in it for you and whether you actually want that and then decide.

  9. YES, YES, YES. Love this post. You just expressed the exact thoughts I couldn’t initially put into words (not as well as this anyway). Fantastic post Vicky. Thank you.


  10. Very interesting post – can be applied to pretty much an niche of blogging. Another perspective which is not usually mentioned is that if you are writing for free, it may mean someone else is losing out on a paid job which they might desperately need. Why should you care? Because one day it could be your job! Also, I would really not want to be in a world without writers, artists, designers and so on.

    1. Very, very good point there. There are so many internship opportunities out there now, basically to get someone in on very little or no pay to fill the gap they don’t want to pay for. Sure it happens in every industry now. We’ve got to get together against it!

    1. Difficult!

      I’d say vowing to not work for free, supporting each other in that decision and knowing your worth – to keep it short and sweet!

      What do you think?

  11. Vicky,
    Your article is spot on. I was at TBDI with Sam Dunhan and the others, when Melvin from Travel dudes gave a speech on the same topic. Sadly not one individual showed from the “industry” to share thoughts. Only bloggers were present.

    As I commented in the breakout, we have to figure out a way to show our value, if we are ever going to to get compensated accordingly. Melvin had a lengthy, but thorough system that does this and I am contemplating going through the process.

    I loved the video on “spec” inquiries. As an industry we need to keep talking about this and become more united in our actions. As long as new bloggers keep trying to gain presence and take anything for exposure, it will remain a challenge. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront again!

    1. Yes it’s difficult because obviously bloggers want to be paid but the market is so saturated there’s always another blogger waiting in the wings to do the work for free. It comes down to the fact that if I don’t make some cash somewhere I can’t do the job I am so I have to set some standards for my business. If people want to work with me for free I don’t want to work with them anyway!

      Yes I’ve seen Melvin’s calculations in a presentation before, I should have a look back over them but I know he wouldn’t do anything for free.

      Glad you enjoyed the post Mike – thanks for your thoughts!

  12. I keep seeing these emails but one way to stop them is to reply with your rates. That’s what I do. I pride myself on the quality of content that goes on my blog so that means I have to start charging for the work that goes into producing the content for sponsored posts. I have a specific rate if they are supplying the images and another if I have to use my pictures. Then I tell them if they and their client are willing to work with that then we can have further discussions.

    Most want a freebie so they don’t reply soon after that…hence the only way I have found to stop further time wasting.

    1. I do reply, and then they reply with either a $30 offering or asking for a freebie, which is pretty much the same thing. I’ve started to get a bit tougher and delete them, and block. Could be shooting myself in the foot along the line but I need the time and money now!

      Sounds like you’ve got a pretty slick operation there. Nice work!

  13. So beautifully written, I think a lot of bloggers have been feeling this way for such a long time that it became the ‘norm’, time it’ll become a crazy notion to work for free.
    I’m in the same weird genre of blogging that doesn’t get a lot of coverage, I get comments from readers and companies saying how much they love my work, but no paid offers to produce content or give ad space. Guess noones got any money? Hmm!
    Thanks Victoria! 🙂

  14. Great post. My page views are a fifth of yours, and I get so many of these every day. I used to reply politely to every one. Now I delete the vast majority and move on – even I am bored of spending 3 hours trying to get ‘we don’t have budget’ to something that’ll cover more than half a bag of chips each.
    You didn’t mention the amazing ‘infographic’ – that thing which will magically increase a blog’s page views purely by it’s own existence, and which used up the budget to make. Of course I would be delighted to host such a prestigious and expensive item on my blog – if it were still 1996. It isn’t, my 5 year old can make an infographic, and probably so can my Gran. It might be about Minecraft or Fruit Sponge, but it’ll be more informative and interesting to my readers than anything I have had from my inbox this last 6 months.

    1. Yes, I’ll have to admit I’ve started to delete as well. There are just too many to go through. I think so many companies are starting to jump on the ‘let’s work with bloggers’ bandwagon, but they’re not putting aside a budget. You wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street and ask them to promote you for free, so why ask someone who has a blog?!

      And yes, the infamous infographic! How could I have not mentioned that? I like to imagine the office: “how can we get bloggers to link us?” “Let’s create the best infographic they’ve ever seen about something irrelevant – they’ll love it!”

      And thus, another infographic is born, and dies miserably a few freebie fishing emails later.

  15. Great post, must have take time and energy to put together, it really needs exploring – well done and thank you. I was preparing for my talk at World Travel Market last week and digging into stats about bloggers working with brands, and my own stats, and it really made me think how much we can offer stats wise, on top of the huge personal endorsement factor which you don’t get with a straight ad. I’d really like to see more open discussions about how campaigns work for bloggers and brands.

    1. Me too but I guess bloggers like to keep their cards played close to their chest when it comes to anything to do with money. I was inspired my Monica, Julie and Micheal at WTM who were very honest and insightful about how their businesses work and how much they demand. It’s just a minefield out there and all these insightful comments have made writing the post worth it!

  16. A good and insightful read; a lot of these “get paid” posts I read don’t structure the argument anywhere nearly as clearly as you have! Personally I always think if there is “no budget” the agency has done one of three things:

    1) pitched too low for the work- they can get their fee but have limited/no money left over to do the outreach/blogger interaction side of it;
    2) been greedy and assumed that they can keep the whole fee they’ve quoted by getting some schmucks to do it for nothing;
    3) failed to properly understand how this social media and blogger thing works

  17. Vicky, this awesome! Thank you so much for writing this and all the research.

    I watched the no to free spec video as well and was about to write something very similar on the Blognix website. I think there is a huge amount of work to raise awareness amongst bloggers about this.

    I’m going to share this with the UK blogger group. And if it’s ok, can I use a snippet from this to share on Blognix and send them this way. This is most useful!

  18. It finally seems like bloggers are beginning to realise that we can command more than a ‘freebie’ for our time which is fantastic. After recently attending WTM in London and listening to a talk by Keith Jenkins and the team at iambassador I believe that there are more brands out there willing to seriously comepnsate us for our time. Of course, there will always be people that will take the free exposure and don’t get me wrong if National Geo ever come knocking on my door I will not say no but we do need to consider the impact doing ‘freebies’ has on our industry as a whole.

    1. Agreed Tamason. It’s all about weighing up the offer against your goals and how much price you want to put on the discrepancy. I know it’s difficult for everyone involved but you need to know your worth!

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