This is me, now: A chronic case of guilt, circumstantial distraction and an ever-increasing (and guilt-inducing) backlog of Things That Must Absopositively Be Reviewed Yesterday. Surely, some not entirely benign occult, alchemical sleight-of-hand is involved in the way the samples in my sample box seem to generate ever-larger amounts of liquid and libidinous progeny every time I blink? And yet another force – also morally ambiguous – colludes with my compulsion to write anything that isn’t a perfume review?
As of today, I have not one, not two, but four different book projects all coming to a boil. Two novels, a sequel and a historical novel, one prequel novella and last but never least, another book, but that one is a secret for now.
So if you’ve found the Genie rather lacking in updates these days, this is why. Mea culpa. Alas, my leaden guilt trip suitcase does not have wheels, but I’m hoping to upgrade…
Yet in the last two weeks, several events conspired to rattle me out of my brain-in-the-clouds mode and land me onto Planet Perfume with a loud and odiferous thud.
The first of these was an incisive blog post by one of my longest-running blog idols; Gaia of the Non Blonde. Whether reviewing eyeliner pencils or perfumes, her concise yet precise reviews have never, ever steered me wrong, even if our opinions – or our mileages – vary, as they sometimes do.
The blog post was intriguingly titled The Problem With Blogging – 2014 edition. Go read it. I’ll wait – and get back to that in a moment.
The second was even more shocking, and with all my experience in social media, you’d think I’d be far past surprising by now.
Lo and behold, into my inbox ticked a TAG comment in need of approval, and I quote verbatim:
i see you put a lot of work
in your website, i know how to make your blogging easier,
do you know that you can copy any article from any website, make it 100% unique and pass copyscape test? For more details , just search in google – rewriter creates an unique article in a minute
Yes, it was a definite spam comment, and as such did not get approved. More to the point in this morally relativistic, anything-goes-in-the-blogosphere decade was my utter, old-school blood-curdling horror in realizing that somewhere out there, people are stealing blog content lock, stock and barrel (this has happened to at least four bloggers I know) and also reworking existing blog content to fly under the radar of Copyscape (who monitors for such things) as well as Google search algorithms for your blog, thus ranking you lower in the Great Google Relevance Page Rank. Or to put it in everyday terms: stealing not just your content but the influence and reach you have personally (and hopefully, organically) acquired by years of blogging to the virtual page, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and everywhere else a readership is made.
The rock-bottom line is this one: why even bother to write a blog post, maintain it at some cost to both your personal life (presuming you have one) and your purse if you can just steal it and hog someone else’s credit – not to mention, ruin their credibility?
Dear readers, I almost gave up the ghost right them and there. Note the qualifying almost. Because if I had, a) you would not be reading this post and b) that would mean those §!”#€%&/?§! (insert your own epithet here) thieves had won.
Over my dead, decaying Diors!
The problems with bloggers
It’s no secret that certain sectors of the luxury blogosphere have undermined all semblance of reliability and honest opinion by their practices of kickbacks and paid (and therefore dishonest) reviews. I’m calling it as I see it to say that fashion and beauty blogs are especially ripe for suspicion. That thin line between paid advertorial content and blogging is becoming ever thinner and harder to dissemble, as Gaia rightly pointed out.
There’s a difference in both style, angle and audience between fashion, beauty and perfume blogs, which each have their own considerations. I’d also like to add I have no issues with monetized blogs, meaning blogs that carry relevant advertising links and banners. If you can make even a modest penny from clicks to other websites, then more power to you.
Yet one pink elephant in the room is this one: bloggers matter, even in our sweetly scented corner of the world, no matter what perfume houses or (certain) perfumers might argue to the contrary.
People read those posts, watch vlogs on YouTube and discuss reviews and perspectives on the many fragrance-related groups on Facebook. Ordinary (or not so ordinary!) people and perfume consumers sometimes even let reviews influence the size and scope of their lemmings.
While this might not have an effect on a given perfume house’s bottom line to any substantial degree, the opinions of perfume bloggers have indeed greatly increased – and in some cases built – a brand’s reputation.
In this day and age of instant access to anyone anywhere, when the six degrees of separation rule shrinks by the minute, reputation is where the bottom line starts and sometimes ends. And like it or not, agree or not as you please, in an age of ever-present social media, reach and instantaneous interaction, reputation isn’t everything – it’s quite literally the only thing.
A Free Lunch
US bloggers are obligated by law to provide a disclaimer on their blog posts stating whether or not they’ve received their samples for consideration and review. Bloggers elsewhere – which would include yours truly in the EU – are under no such obligations. Or are we?
Since I began that ill-advised writing exercise I call perfume writing in 2010, the perfume blogging landscape has changed entirely, as indeed has the perfume industry itself, and I rather suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet. In all that time, I’ve specifically asked for samples precisely twice. The first time nearly killed me, I was so mortified, mortified for a very human reason: who doesn’t love free stuff? Located in a niche-less part of the world, mostly too impecunious to afford to order even sample packs of things I’d like to try, my future as a perfume writer was a chancy thing in 2010.
Yet if not for an enterprising part-time perfumer who took a chance on a voice in the Void and sent her a generous sample pack or generous friends and fellow bloggers, I never would have.. a) written about perfume to the extent I have b) acquired the international network I thank my chosen deities for every day I live and last but never least c) made and forged some of the most important, fulfilling and cherished friendships of my entire life. All from that fabled ‘free lunch’ of free samples.
But are they really? Most of the brands I review are either niche or indie perfumers in Europe and the US who are their own entire marketing and PR teams, and we all know it: there’s no such thing as bad PR.
For that matter, there’s no such thing as ‘free’ samples, either, if my own massive guilt trip is any indication. When I’m contacted by PR companies or perfume houses asking if there’s anything of theirs I’d like to try, I always make a point of stating that I can’t guarantee when anything will be reviewed (or not), just as I’m unable to guarantee a 100% positive review.
And yet… I’ve encountered not a few perfumes and not a few famous ones that I’ve loathed no end. Which is an opinion, not a fact proclaiming the perfume in question as inherently horrible (although I’ve encountered a few of those as well). So even if I’ve fallen at the fence of personal taste and inclination, I can at least have the decency to pay my verbose respects to the concept, at least. In so doing, I’ve realized a few stunning truths: that certain brands’ overall aesthetic preoccupations always – or nearly – allies with my own, meaning I at least like most of them, and also there are other, likewise lionized brands I can’t even stand in the same room.
But here’s the rub: between butterflies and blooms, or perfume houses and perfume bloggers, gratitude is a two-way street.
Even so, some of them seem to think the traffic is only allowed in one direction: it’s all about them. We blasted, wretched, irrelevant, opinionated bloggers are simply the vehicle that will (so they hope?) propel them to the stratosphere of perfumista superstardom and infinite black-inked bottom lines and massive worldwide distribution deals.
I’ve written raves of perfumes that have been blithely ignored by the companies who created them, in spite of tags and utterly blatant, shameless self-promotion. And I’ve written the occasional chilly-to-tepid review that has been plastered all over social media.
As a semi-famous relative and DK writer said to me this past year, the one thing you as a writer or blogger can’t control is how your words are received. You never know.
Or not, for in this dog-eat-dog world I’ve also been privately lambasted by people for having ‘insider access’ to new brand releases which questions both the brand who sends them (because they appreciate my opinion?) and my integrity as a blogger. (WTF?)
It gets worse. Much, much worse.
Sometimes – not at all often – it has happened I’ve written a review – a good one, and some time later, received a full bottle (or a large decant) of the perfume in question from a grateful indie perfumer or perfume house. It would be hard to describe just how grateful I’ve been for those extravagant and likely sincere tokens of appreciation, or how happy they’ve made me every time I’ve opened the red IKEA cabinet of doom and seen them glittering in the light, and every time I’ve cherished wearing them as a reminder of the person behind the perfume.
Yet it seems to have become a burgeoning – and despicable – practice among some bloggers to either sell these bottles (some of them very rare) or decant them on at a profit to interested parties. Which is not only an insult of the first order, it’s also a defiant slap in the face to those of us who dearly love those treasures in our cabinets because they were given in good faith and given as personal. It’s something that gives all of us a deserved checkered reputation for questionable ethics, and something I consider the lowest of low blows in human endeavor.
This blog – The Alembicated Genie – is a proud and l-o-u-d independent blog. Meaning I will never monetize it, since I’m old school and unfashionable and don’t give a flying who knows it – and also precisely… independent. If I rave about something, you can bet your vintage Nombre Noir it’s because I think the perfume in question is that great and good. As the saying goes: your mileage may vary. I have never, I do declare on one super-rare, exquisite and costly perfume I own and adore, received any kind of compensation for any kind of review and I never will.
Having said that, the alter ego of this blog has also written and prepared press releases and copy for a few select people in the industry – for money. In such instances, the Genie as you know her is nowhere in sight, because she has no part of it at all.
The writer that I am is for sale, as all artists are to differing degrees.
The perfume writer and blogger, on the other hand, never will be.
Now, you know.
Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, those thieves who choose to profiteer off the backs of those of us who do what we do for love on our own time and initiative will find they’re not only reported to several relevant authorities for daring to suggest that stealing is a ethically feasible alternative to creating content of your own as well as the radical proposition that blogging should be easy (the very idea! :-O), they’ll also find my content has been bullet-proofed to the best of my abilities.
Because in this day and age of blogvertising, I’m more than a little proud of belonging to the one percent of social media who creates the content my readers will (hopefully) enjoy. From scratch, from the heart, con amore.
Call me the Content Diva. As soon as I get the next harrowing deadline out of the way.
With grateful thanks to Gaia, the Non Blonde, for making me think.