Monday, January 14, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Vezeo.com Wants You...for Free

Vezeo.com, a recently-launched ezine/blog focusing on reviews of retaurants and hotels, describes itself thus:

Ve - ze - o (veh-zee-oh)
-noun
1. a passion for living well.
2. an online magazine focused on international dining and travel.

Based in beautiful San Francisco, Vezeo features articles about superior restaurants, hotels and resorts. Our readers know that if it’s on Vezeo, it’s worth visiting.


Vezeo touts itself as "a modern day Michelin" and claims to be planning an eventual transition to print as a "high-end, glossy magazine." It's also actively seeking contributors. Its press releases invite submissions, and it is advertising on Craigslist, promising compensation of $25-$100 for articles with a 500-word minimum.

Sound interesting? There's a catch. According to Vezeo's FAQ,

One of the primary goals of Vezeo is to give aspiring writers a place to start. Your work will be read by thousands of people, including key players in the publishing industry. Developing a byline is a very important part of the process and we want to reward you with one. Those who are accepted as contributing writers for Vezeo will receive extensive information about how to maximize this exceptional opportunity. You will not be paid for your initial interview article.

That's right. Your first article for Vezeo is a freebie.

The FAQ goes on to claim that writers who are chosen as regular Vezeo contributors will be paid "our freelance rate." Puzzlingly (or maybe not), there's nothing on the Vezeo website to indicate what that rate is. The Craigslist ads provide a clue--maybe. There are several comments at Deborah Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs blog from writers who say they were told they'd receive a portion of Vezeo's ad revenue. (The folks who write for Helium can provide some pointers on how well that works out.)

Either way, it's pretty poor compensation--especially given that Vezeo wants reviews of "high-end" restaurants and hotels, and doesn't cover expenses. Your fancy meal could wind up costing a good deal more than whatever you were paid for your review.

If, of course, Vezeo intends to pay at all. How's this for a lovely way to get free content? Advertise heavily for writers. Require them to submit an "interview" article for free, with the promise of pay if they're chosen as a contributor. Accept their audition article...and never contact them again.

A few interesting facts about Vezeo:

- Timothy White, whose title on the Vezeo website is Publisher, was trying to sell the domain name last June.

- Since June, according to his LinkedIn profile, Mason Hibbard, Vezeo's President, has been "owner at Vezeo." Did he buy the domain from White? Maybe, but...

- White and Hibbard have been partners in at least two other ventures--a pair of nonfunctional hotel review blogs.

- According to the Internet Archive, between April and December 2006, the Vezeo.com URL defaulted to a home listing search website. That website leads to Assured Marketing, a lead generating service. And...

- A second LinkedIn profile for Mason Hibbard indicates that he's a Sales Manager at Assured Marketing.

Whatever all of the above may mean, there doesn't appear to be an abundance of publishing experience at Vezeo. Inexperience might possibly explain the unorthodox "interview article" arrangement, as well as the emphasis on aspiring writers (professional publications tend to rely on professional writers). On the other hand...aspiring writers are less likely to recognize (or protest) an exploitive situation when they encounter one. There's nothing wrong with a magazine that provides writers with only a byline, as long as it's upfront about it--but enticing writers to write for free by dangling the promise of money is exploitive, in my opinion--even if Vezeo really does intend to pay some of them.

6 comments:

Chesya said...

I saw an add on Craigslist and followed the link. It sounded interesting, but I wondered about the test review. I found a writer in my area who had written for them and wrote her.

She replied: "Actually the review I wrote was supposed to be a test review and I haven't heard back from them about future reviews or payment, so I would not suggest wasting your time."

I took her advice.

Red Pooka said...

I write book reviews and articles for a living, and sometimes give advice on how to start writing for newspapers.

The first 3-5 pieces you write will probably be for free. - However - you want to make sure to write these for well-regarded weeklies, like NY Press. The blog Bookslut, which also doesn't pay, is also well regarded. Don't write your first pieces for some no-name scam-site.

If you write these 3-5 pieces as if your life depended on their quality, and they're published, you have the clips you need to start being paid.

The idea that you'll get paid off-the-bat is wrong. But start someplace good. You won't get money at first, but you will get advice, criticism, and ultimately, the name of an editor somewhere who will pay.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a similar gambit before. My Guru.com profile netted me what I thought at first was a legitimate offer of freelance work from a local ad agency (a real ad agency, by all appearances).

After canceling and not rescheduling our in-person meeting, they added me to a mailing list of probably 12-15 writers, and sent us all periodic requests that we compete with one another to do a rush job for them for free. The lucky winner would be paid for future jobs.

The first time they did this, I e-mailed back and said, very politely so as not to offend, that I don't do free work but to please contact me when they have a paying gig to offer. I received no response to that, and the borderline spam requests kept coming until I changed my e-mail address a year or so later.

Your post reminded me of them, and I did a quick Google to see what else they've been up to. Their Web site is now a static page, and some of the other top results I got were from Ripoff Report. Apparently, they've changed their name, but are still scamming not only freelancers, but clients, too.

Filthy Lucre said...

"How's this for a lovely way to get free content?"

Ugh - I hate to hear about people getting conned like that. Having worked as a PAID content editor for a web site that was recently purchased by CNET, I can tell you developing web content is something real publishers pay handsomely to get - as in a $33,000 annual salary and full benefits package!

DON'T LET SOME SLEAZE BALL CON YOU INTO GIVING IT AWAY!

Writing for small newspapers - I wrote for three years for a local weekly, and my experiences were exactly as red pooka described. I didn't get paid at first, but the editor worked with me hand in hand to help develop my writing skills for the medium. I used to ask the editor if all the time he put in with me was really worth a 400 word article every week :-)

As a legitimate journalist running a legitimate publication, the editor told me it was not only worth it, but part of his personal ethics. As the editor said, "If you don't get paid, you'd better be learning, or you're just wasting your time!"

I had a similar experience with a training materials publisher. I wrote manuals and worked with a Education PhD as my editor who pretty much put me through HELL. The pay was profoundly mediocre, but what I learned in the process was invaluable.

Try new things, stretch your strings and spread your wings but don't EVER do it for nothing - you're worth so much more!

Victoria Strauss said...

Interestingly, Vezeo has removed its FAQ, and no longer has writers' guidelines on its website.

A Write for Vezeo page still shows up on a Google search, but it just invites submissions--no mention of writing for free.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience. I replied to the Craigslist post with a review I rattled off, and "Tim" responded positively, posted the "audition review" I wrote, and I never heard back from them again.

It doesn't seem that malice or sleazy business practices were at work, or at least not the primary objective. I assume whoever is running the 'blog merely overestimated the profit they would make by creating such a domain.

I emailed back asking what was going on, and have yet to receive a reply. I guess that's what I get for literarily cruising on Craigslist.