A Storm in a Teacup

I’m amazed that so many food bloggers (Fitzroyalty, Tomatom, Sarah Cooks, Confessions of a Food Nazi (2)) are outraged at the recent publication of Gram. People are crying foul. If you read the into the hysterics, not only has their copyright been infringed but they’ve been violated. It’s as though someone has come into their home, eaten the leftovers out of their fridge, left the toilet seat up and not cleaned up after themselves.

I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at what Gram is; what it isn’t; and exactly why everyone thinks it is such a bad thing.

First, let’s reduce Gram down to it’s first principles. It is 2 things, Advertising and a list of links to blogposts. Each of those links is manifested in the “real” world by a QR code and each link is supplied with a small quote. Clearly the links and quotes are used as what I like to think of as a “transfer medium” for the advertising. There’s no reason you would look at the ads without the content, the same way as you wouldn’t listen to the music without the CD.

I believe Gram creates value for it’s readers by curating the blogposts. They take each of the categories, finding some interesting blog posts, ad a photo and a reasonably nice design and distribute the list for all and sundry. That’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is something. Not only is it something, it is something no-one else in the community is doing. Brian @ Fitzroyalty goes the closest with his local aggregators. He doesn’t curate the actual content, just the list of blogs and I’m sure he prides himself in his open, “everything is welcome” policy.

Secondly, I think it’s important to talk about what Gram isn’t. Forget the hyperbole, there is every chance that Gram is not breaching copyright. I’m no lawyer but a quick perusal of the fair dealings legislation and the copyright obligations suggest that this particular is blurry and I would suggest that pursuing this in court would be a fools game.

So if it might not be illegal, the ethics are certainly worth examining. Are they acting ethically? Are they using a food bloggers work and profiting off it? (If you cast aside the fact they probably aren’t profiting just yet) Yes, they certainly intend to profit from it. Is it unethical? As with every discussion of ethics it isn’t black and white. Sure, they could have engaged bloggers more before quoting and linking to them, but they don’t really have to. I haven’t asked permission to do the same here and I wouldn’t remove a link even if you wanted me to.

In my eyes, the business model is almost identical to that of Google’s, albeit on a much smaller scale. The quotes are of similar length, the user is there looking for something of interest, and the advertising is reasonably separate from the content and both parties provide an opportunity to opt-out. Is Google’s business model wrong? Unethical? Are you willing to block Google from your website. It’s very easy.

Finally the arguments that it is a waste of paper have taken much different paths. The QR codes are stupid, noone will download the app. The quotes are crap. The writing is bad. The design is shit. It’s printed on dead trees.  Each of these may be true, but I think instead of poo-pooing the idea, it’s worth looking at it with an open mind.

Is it promoting the blogosphere? Is it validation that what what we as a community create is valuable? Done better, could it be awesome?

Personally, I think what Gram has created isn’t amazing but with a bit of a rethink, it could be great. More and more people will understand what a QR code is, more and more people will know who the featured bloggers are and more and more people might stop only reading the Epicure for their food news.

So, if I were to publish a zine. Would anyone volunteer any of their content? I’d reproduce it in full. I’d link to your blog. I’d write a good sized blurb about you as a writer. I’d use your photo and a photo of you. I’d sell advertising. If I could afford to, I’d pay you. Would you do it if I intended to make money? What if it was explicitly not-for-profit?

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72 Responses to “A Storm in a Teacup”

  1. Nola commented:

    If you were to publish a zine I’d probably offer to help you.

    And if you were doing it purely to make money (as I believe GRAM is) I’d be very surprised.

    It just gets me that they didn’t ask, they just assumed, that idea of ‘if it’s on the internet you can just take it’. Sure, it’s probably not illegial, but I think it’s wrong.

    I don’t like what they’re doing. Very few bloggers write to make money (in fact, it costs loads!) but I’m sure no one likes the idea of someone else making money off their work. If they only take a tiny bit from everyone it’s not stealing?

    But you’re right – it could be great. It’s a really cool concept actually – but they’re not doing it right.

  2. Kris Wood commented:

    I get that some bloggers are of the opinion that content they upload to the internet is theirs alone and no-one else can use it. If someone does do this they get pissed off and rightly so.
    BUT, if I understand this Gram concept correctly they are directly linking to the bloggers’ sites?
    Is this not great advertising and in-turn creates more traffic on ones particular blog?
    Is this not paying heed to bloggers efforts whilst placing them on a pedestal?

  3. Tweets that mention A Storm in a Teacup -- Topsy.com commented:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jeroxie, Nola James and Michael@MyAchingHead, Michael@MyAchingHead. Michael@MyAchingHead said: My thoughts on Gram. http://t.co/xzTd5BT […]

  4. Celeste @ Berrytravels commented:

    Personally I have nothing against them taking the content, rewording it slightly, peppering it with quotation marks and all that, because at the end of the day they did put a link in. As long as they didn’t say that they wrote it, then fine.

    They are getting ad money, perhaps. But being such a young publication, I really doubt the ad money they are getting is substantial. So that doesn’t bother me.

    What really gets me tho, is the double standards. They sent out emails to some bloggers and not to some. They sent out apology emails to some and again left some out. Perhaps if they really were sincere, they would actually put some research into getting emails of every blogger they have linked to and send them the same mass email. Their lack of research makes me think that that they couldn’t care less, which makes me really doubt their whole “we want to get involved with the food blogging scene” philosophy.

  5. Sarah commented:

    You raise some good points there.

    I can’t speak for other bloggers, but in my case my main issue was that they didn’t ask/inform me that they’d be using my content (albeit quoted and chopped up/rearranged) as the basis of an article. Especially as I’d read tweets from other bloggers saying they’d been approached by Gram months ago, and I’d never received any correspondence.

    I think Gram’s linking/quotations are very different from your linking to me/Ed/AOF in the above post, as you’ve linked to our blogs to illustrate your point, not make up the bulk of your post. I don’t have a problem with your linking in this way, and can’t see why you’d need to ask permission, or why anyone would ask you to remove the link, as you mentioned they might.

    The aims and ideas of Gram may be good, but the execution was very poor. As you wrote, they might not legally (or even ethically) be required to ask our permission or engage with us before publishing, but it simply shows a lack of courtesy and respect on their part, especially if they’re trying to become a part of the blogging community. I think the whole situation would have been very different if they’d had a clearer communication strategy.

    In your hypothetical example about a Zine, you ask ” Would anyone volunteer any of their content?” That for me is the crucial difference. You asked if people would choose to participate – anything after that is irrelevant, as you’ve given people the option not to be involved, if for whatever reason, they choose not to.

    xox Sarah

  6. another outspoken female commented:

    Most upsets in the blogworld ARE a storm in the teacup. Hence a little pisstaking at the beginning of my post. We really do take ourselves to seriously :)

    The whole incident falls under a massive PR blunder and that’s what got many of us offside before the first issue hit the street. The long wordy first email distilled down to a few sentences, essentially – ‘for your information we want to use your content as the entire basis of having a magazine. If you don’t want us to do so, you have to opt out.’ They have since apologized for their clumsy, mistake riddled email.

    The degree of content usage was ambiguous. Their premise for having the mag was that it would be full of “in-depth pieces”. What they didn’t make clear was it was only linking to in-depth pieces, ie blogposts.

    Where this got murkier was the idea of what consisted as a link. Bloggers link to each other, as well as a variety of external content but these days (oh we were all naive once weren’t we?) it tends to hypertext and a few words, not a string of “quoted” bits of someone’s restaurant review, or in my case the string of ingredients in the recipe I wrote.

    I had a volley of emails from the PD in response to my questions in November. This resulted in me saying a link (merely a link) to my post was ok, not taking or reworking of my original content unless they got specific permission with me each time. My second post originated because they didn’t get permission and they paraphrased a post rather than simple link.

    Your scenario is quite different. You’d be asking bloggers, people you know or have a community relationship to opt in (versus out) of content sharing. And we’d assume you’d link in the accepted way.

    And you know if you f*cked up you’d never be able to show your face on Twitter again :)

  7. Michael commented:

    So we all agree really. It’s a bit shit, and could be done better. With better communication, probably better quoting/paraphrasing and better engagement with the community.

    I find this all fascinating, we’ve basically gotten to the point where if the same thing is done by a nice guy, we’d love it. An asshole, we’d hate it.

    Do we think that GRAM is going to take any of this onboard and get Edition #3 right? Or is it going to be the same shit, different month?

  8. Fitzroyalty commented:

    I agree it’s not hugely important vs floods, Egypt, etc, but it is about principles. Gram is a product that sells advertising around poorly paraphrased content originally created by others.

    Gram doesn’t seem to understand how lame it is. Their verbose apology email was one long excuse and said nothing worth reading.

    We the Melbourne food blogging community don’t need them. They make us look bad. We write better than they do! Aggregating online content offline is lame too. By the time it comes out it will be so last month…

  9. Michael commented:

    Regarding the aggregation of online content, offline. I couldn’t disagree with you more. I believe that producing something tactile is a really positive step. It allows an audience that perhaps has no idea about blogging to learn that there is an alternative to old paper media.

    That’s the theory. In practice, GRAM isn’t really achieving that raising of the profile, nor do they appear to be trying to.

  10. Phil commented:

    I can’t really get my rant hat on for it – it looks like fair dealing from a copyright perspective, or at least, grey enough to not be worth pursuing. However, the relationship with food bloggers has been completely (and at this point, irreversably) botched. They certainly misread the relationship from the start. Not to mention that the overall content of the mag dived head first into the shallow end.

    As a print publication, it’s conceptually bad because it relies on a second device to read the full content. I’ve tested QR codes in ads and brochures a couple of times and they have never worked in Australia. I doubt MS tags (which Gram uses) will ever take off here – the main benefits are at the advertiser end (good analytics/less ugly tags) rather than the consumer end. It is well established that this sort of publication works well as a website, at least in America (e.g. Foodbuzz’s 750K venture capital funding on the back of scraped food blogger content).

    There probably is space in Melbourne for a similar, aggregating physical publication to compete with MX with shallow content, cheap print and about food – simply because it’s one of the few topics in physical print with a growing audience. Having recipes in it would mean that unlike MX, the audience might carry it home, which you could easily onsell to advertisers.

  11. Fitzroyalty commented:

    The implementation of the business model suggests that Gram’s publishers don’t understand bloggers at all. The arrogance of their emails to us is typical of over confident entrepreneurs. They think they can baffle us with PR waffle but the joke is on them.

  12. Sarah commented:

    Michael, in answer to your question – I doubt very highly that they’ll get edition 3 right.

    From the PD’s interactions with me, I think she actually wants to do something good in the blogging community, but she clearly has no idea how to go about it. She sent me an apology email, but never once asked if I’d like to be removed from (online) Gram. I’d have thought that would have been the first thing she should have asked!

    Whilst I believe she feels remorseful, she just doesn’t get how to do things better. Her mass apology email was sent to as many bloggers as she could find, with no thought for who should receive it. In the mass email, she also asked us to forward it on to anyone she might have missed. (How were recipients meant to know who she missed?) It would have been much better if she’d directly contacted each blogger “featured” in Gram to explain, and double check if they were happy with being included.

    The reactionary, emotional mass email also brought the situation to the attention of some people who hadn’t heard about it, (I saw tweets from some very confused bloggers that day!!!), but also missed out on bloggers like Celeste, above.

    Also, the fact that the PD still used AOF’s content inappropriately, despite a volley of emails, just shows how little insight the PD has into the whole venture.

    So I don’t think this all bodes well for the future of Gram.

  13. The storm in my coffee cup – GRAM Magazine commented:

    […] a phone call from Rob, the editor of GRAM Magazine wanting to discuss the publication of GRAM, my blogpost, and ongoing shitstorm. I had to feel for the guy. There publication had been dragged through the […]

  14. JP commented:

    Couldn’t agree more, storm in a teacup. I was surprised to find my blog review of Spice Temple was in the first issue and I was flattered it was deemed worthy of inclusion.
    While the execution may have been performed differently by the editors with hind site, if a blogger writes something and puts it in the public domain then it is fair game and Gram never tried to pass off the writing as their own and linked it appropriately and up front.
    What is next? Are some of these guys going to get angry at Google caching their blog?