The Value of Free

September 2, 2010

During the 2010 International Food Blogger Conference Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy displayed a slide in her presentation on "The Art of Recipe Writing," where she declared to food bloggers: "DO NOT GIVE YOUR RECIPES AWAY FOR FREE." While I respect Amy greatly, I disagree. I saw the slide before the talk and welcomed the debate, but have been surprised by how strong and long-lasting it has been. Some of the best debate has happened on the blog of Dianne Jacobs, who was also on the panel.

Disclosure: I have a very strong feelings about this subject and a clear self-interest in my point of view. I am building a business,, based on the generosity of people giving their time, knowledge, and in some cases creative works. Still, there is a lot of power in giving and I fear many took away a message from the conference that will deprive them. So, I'm offering the following thoughts...

What is Free?

One problem with much of the conversation has been that it's been based on the notion that free = I give rights without receiving cash. In truth, people who give rights or licenses to their works often receive significant financial benefits in return. Similarly, it's not altruism that drives the multi-billion dollar coupon/product sample industry and Justin Bieber will tell you that posting his videos on Youtube for "free" has worked out pretty well financially. Here are some benefits that food bloggers may get from giving away blog posts:

  • More people to read your work and give you feedback
  • Build your brand/resume/portfolio
  • Have professional editors help improve your work
  • Connect with potential clients/publishers for related services/work
  • Receive a public stamp of approval from respected authorities

We recently announced the winners of "The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook," a competition where over 1,500 people submitted blog posts in the hopes of getting published in a printed book, but for no pay (they do get a book). For many, the above benefits are a great value exchange in return for a blog post. Similarly, if you use (Terms), (Terms), (Terms) and other blog platforms, you give them rights to your posts, including the right to sell advertising on your blog, in return for the service of hosting.

But What About Love?

Several attendees said they only blog because they love it, which I applaud. Others went so far as to be offended at the notion people would blog for money or care about traffic. However, I have a hard time reconciling that feeling with the paid advertising and popularity badges I found on their blogs.

Still, I agree that there can be great personal benefit to creating and giving away work for no money or promise of money, including:

  • Personal satisfaction of having your work seen
  • Social status
  • Advancement of your values/beliefs in society
  • Sending traffic to friends' blogs
  • Promotion of products and services you like and support

Of course, I also don't see a conflict in doing something both for money AND love!

What About Society?

Some went so far as to say that it's wrong to give away recipes because it hurts other people and that's it's wrong for companies to republish content they didn't pay cash for.  Again, I disagree and would use the free software movement as a comparison. Twenty-five years ago there was very little free software in use, today we are ALL using free software on the Web. Some of that software was created by companies in the pursuit of money, but much of it was written by individual programmers who contribute to projects for the simple love of doing the work...often anonymously! Without their efforts, we would all be much poorer (if this is making you feel guilty, you might want to consider donating to the Apache Foundation).

My big takeaway from this conversation is that there are many motivations for blogging about food and that they are all valid. Finally, I am thrilled that this conversation is happening! We are collectively exploring new territory and leading the way for future generations of food writers, bloggers, journalists, photographers, editors and READERS!



Jazel's picture

This is an interesting topic especially for the food blogging community. It's not like all the recipes you see on the internet are original. Most of them have been modified by bloggers from one recipe or another. I used to work in a restaurant and the owner & chef would sometimes look through different food blogs, try the recipes, and add it on the menu.

Christine's picture

Agree to Jason on the first comment and to Tuscan Foodie and Eric.

God gave us free will. And we have option to give away whatever we have for a cost or for free.
If you want to get paid for your recipes, you also have to work hard on it. To the point that you give it away for free.

Christine's picture

BTW, even the professional chefs, they post their recipes in their sites, and anybody can access it. =)

GFree_Miel's picture

I definitely blog for the sheer love of it. I'm only a senior in college and don't know what the future holds for me. Perhaps food writing will be something I do on a professional level eventually. Maybe not. But for now, I'm happy to share information and recipes. I don't think that will change.

A Tuscan Foodie in America's picture

Free by Chris Anderson is a fake though: when you read it, you realize that he is not advocating for "free", nor does he suggest that that's the real deal. He is proposing a system of "freemium", where you get certain stuff for free, but then you need to pay for more. For instance, you have access for free to certain articles of a magazine, but if you want to read more, you need to pay.

carrie @ gingerlemongirl's picture

Interesting post. I'm still not completely sold on the Foodista book. I realize it's a great way for food bloggers to get "free" publicity, but it bothers me that the contributors were not compensated financially for their recipes. Yes, I give away recipes for free on my blog. I choose to do that. I also allow certain types of advertising on my blog, in exchange for compensation. Yet, to have a personal recipe republished by another (whether it be a company, a newspaper, another blogger) I want to be compensated financially for my work. I understand that all of these bloggers gave their permission to do this, and that is wonderful, but I agree with Amy from the conference that by doing that, it devalues our incredibly hard work as food bloggers. I avidly support fellow food bloggers by purchasing their personal cookbooks, but I would have an incredibly hard time purchasing this book knowing that the contributors were not (and will not be) paid financially for their work.