One of the more interesting news tidbits I picked up these past few days is the move by some people to have organized labor unions for bloggers. While the idea seems to have come from political bloggers (probably a dime-a-dozen as the 2008 US presidential race gets underway), some notable bloggers are bringing up the question whether it’s also applicable to bloggers of all kinds, particularly those of us who blog for income.
AP cites (via Fox News) that proponents of unionization believe this will increase professionalism among those in the trade, and also set standards, such as with advertising rates and statistics measurement. Those who are against this move argue that it would be against the essence of blogging as a medium that is non-establishment (anarchistic, even).
Pay and Benefits
Yet the issue that hits closer to home here is how unionization is seen as a way to standardize the benefits schemes for probloggers. For sure, people who earn from blogging–particularly for the blog networks–would want to improve their earnings and get more benefits. True enough, blogging for income is not without its drawbacks. And this JOAB post summarizes all too well (in a light-hearted fashion) how network bloggers might be better off with more perks like set/limited working hours, free coffee, free hardware, and an expense account to boot, just like our counterparts in the corporate world.
Seems like a good idea.
However, the economist in me doesn’t exactly think so. More so, the blogger in me doesn’t think it’s such a good idea, too.
Is it viable?
For one, the question that looms is whether the having bloggers’ unions is viable at all. Unlike workers and employees working in a physical workplace, bloggers are not limited to a specific geographical region. Blog networks often hire writers around the globe. That means in terms of legal responsibilities, it would be very difficult for a union to do its job, given the differences in laws across different countries.
Not only that, it would also be difficult to justify similar benefits/compensation schemes across all would-be-members of a bloggers’ union. Just recently, the big news about blogging is how content creation has begun to move off-shore. Tony Hung thinks it’s going to be the most explosive blogging issue of 2008, and I tend to agree, being one of those people who writes for what is largely a western audience, but is located somewhere in the Orient.
Tony hit it right on the mark by saying that even if blogger pay in the more affluent countries might be considered small change, it most certainly is not small change from places where the cost (and standard, perhaps) of living is lower. In this regard, I think those of us in such places are at a comparative advantage over those in, say, the US or UK, since blogging dollars (or Euros, or whatever) certainly go a longer way. Think Big Mac Index, or purchasing power parity. Perhaps this might be reason to shun the idea of unionizing; it would effectively dilute the advantage we enjoy–that is, if the clamor is for a more standardized pay across the board.
Now another perspective would be from the blog network owners. And here, Jeremy Wright argues that a unionized blogging workforce would be too costly. The beauty of running a blog network, after all, is that you don’t have the burden of too much overhead, like when you run a more traditional business, with a physical office, and with regular employees. Most blog networks would rather focus on coming up with creative stuff, and fostering community. Yes, the money is important, too. But it’s a different business environment altogether!
Having to deal with all that overhead would just spoil it all.
In conclusion …
I’m only touching on the issue of unionizing in terms of banding together to have more negotiating power as–what bloggers would then effectively be–employees. Sure, it’s good to have solidarity, and to harness the power of numbers. However, I believe in the power of free markets (I’m an economist, after all, right?). And here, I feel it’s best not to mess with with the pro-blogging industry as it is. If we want solidarity, we can do it through other ways, like by setting up groups, communities, professional associations even, that foster solidarity without necessarily making it an us-against-them proposition.
Unionizing a blogging workforce is just too costly, and I don’t see any net benefit.