KSJ Tracker September 10, 2012

Should Discover bloggers worry about changes in pay?

Last week, I posted on the future of Discover magazine's blogs and bloggers, and the reassuring news seemed to be that nothing would change. It was reassuring because Discover's blog network is widely thought to be among the best science blog networks anywhere.

"They set the standard for other bloggers," said David Dobbs, who blogs at Wired. "Anyone would like to move there, I think. They are one of the best supported logistically and financially, and it shows in the product."

My post last week addressed the quality of Discover's blog network. But since I posted it, several people have raised a different question: Will the compensation paid to Discover's bloggers change?

Kalmbach Publishing Co., Discover's owner, announced in August that it was moving the magazine from New York to Wisconsin, where its other magazines are located, and at last count, only one or two of the New York staffers were considering moving to Wisconsin. That means the magazine will appear with an entirely new staff around the first of the year. But that left the question of what will become of the bloggers--who can work from anywhere.

Few science bloggers earn much for their blogs. They do it for a variety of reasons, but earning money to pay the rent is not often one of them. Discover's bloggers are not getting rich either, but the Discover blog network is widely viewed as the most generous of the independent science blogging networks. Many bloggers get paid a flat monthly fee for their posts. I'm told that's the case at Wired, for example. Discover pays bloggers a fee, too, but that's not all. "Most of our freelance bloggers get paid traffic bonuses," says Amos Zeeberg, who runs the Discover network. That is, they get a bonus based on how many people look at their posts.

One blogger who has spoken with some of the Discover bloggers said they get flat fees in the "high hundreds" or perhaps a thousand dollars a month, and that with bonuses they might be able to earn $15,000 to $20,000 per year. The other networks "tend to run towards very modest flat fees," the blogger told me.

One Discover blogger who asked to be off the record told me that he makes a fifth of his income from his blog. "I'm not going to starve without it, but it helps to make the blogging more than just a fun activity, and also a profitable one."

If that changed, would the Discover bloggers flee, and would we see the network collapse? Zeeberg reiterated late last week what he had told me before--that Discover has said it does not plan to make any changes in the blog network. That sidesteps the question of compensation, however.

Discover's move to Wisconsin is clearly aimed at saving money, so it's reasonable to ask whether the publisher will try to cut expenses in the blog network. I asked Kevin Keefe, a vice-president and publisher at Kalmbach, how bloggers are compensated, whether that will change, and whether Kalmbach plans to reduce the number of bloggers.

In an email, he said, in full: "I appreciate your interest in Discover's blogging network. I agree with you, it's 'one of the best anywhere.' With all due respect, though, I'll decline to answer your questions. Our financial arrangements with our bloggers, not to mention our business strategy for the Discover website, are confidential."

-Paul Raeburn


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