So this is what music journalism has come to?
I was recently hit up in my Instagram DMs from “Anastasia” whose bio reads:
“Influencer Marketer ~GOOGLE NEWS PUBLISHER~ If you want to publish yourself on high rated Google news approved sites then please let me know 💯”
The message read:
We are doing a feature on LaWeekly.com of ‘Top 10 Singles by rising artists you have to listen to in 2021”
LaWeekly is a High Tier News Magazine. We’ll be charging every artist based on ranks. Payment will be upfront via PayPal (Recommended), Stripe, Payoneer and BTC.
These are the prices of each spot (Book your spot before someone else do):
1st spot for (Booked)
2nd spot for $600
3rd spot for $550
4th spot for $500
5th spot for $450
6th spot for $400
7th spot for $350
8th spot for $300
9th spot for (Booked)
10th spot for (Booked)”
Ok, instantly, I thought to myself. This is 100% a scam.
Scams like this go around Instagram all the time and I was about to Report it and block Anastasia, but then I thought, what the hell, let’s dig a little deeper to see what this is all about.
After I asked her for some assurances that this was not a scam or to email me from her @LAWeekly.com email address or to link me to some previous placements they’ve done with the LA Weekly. She included screenshots of DMs with another musician. Like, because you scammed another musician, that’s supposed to give you legitimacy?
She wrote back (now, I’m quoting her verbatim):
“Its confidential we dont share information of our respected clients but for the sake of trust sharing this
Don’t worry we never do scam”
Ok, so there’s some double speak there. She literally just shared one of her “respected clients.”
But moving on.
I pressed harder.
Then I finally got somewhere.
She explained that no, she does not technically work for the LA Weekly (surprise surprise).
But she works for a company called MyPRSolutions. Which apparently is a company out of the UK with no real internet presence.
She said she can also publish me in Vents Magazine and About Insider.
This is where it gets interesting. She said (again quoting verbatim):
“It’s a simple thing that webmaster of the magazine charge to my company I get my sales commission for them. Editors are never supposed to contact directly to the clients. You know its the matter of the standard of them magazine. This is how PR works and all celebrities work like this. Almost all celebrities pay for PR and being in lime light. There are companies for them it couldn’t be shown to people that magazines work like this.”
Alright, a lot to unpack here. Clearly she’s not a native English speaker. Fine. I don’t discriminate. But it is fishy when she’s trying to sell me a slot in the LA Weekly.
I responded asking who the writer was going to be for this top 10 list. And how could I guarantee inclusion. I even asked if the LA Weekly knows this is going on.
Finally I got some clarity. After she agreed to let me pay AFTER publication (ok, we’re getting somewhere), she sent me a previous post they had published on the LA Weekly.
If you click the author byline of “L.A. Weekly” it actually takes you to the author page of Seminal Media. They have published hundreds of advertorial articles.
Yes, every piece starts off with “*Brand Partner Content*” but it’s in such small font that it could be confused for real editorial.
Many companies highlighted here will feature on their websites that they have been “Mentioned in the LA Weekly” among many others.
Upon searching those other sites – like Rolling Stone – I see that those mentions also come with a disclaimer that the magazine is actually earning commissions from the links. Affiliate marketing anyone?
I also noticed that MyPRSolutions does have an author profile on Vents Magazine with dozens of articles seemingly all branded, advertorial. Oh, no disclosure on these either.
Brands hire SEO and marketing companies to boost their search rankings.
One of these tactics is “back linking.” If the LA Weekly and Rolling Stone – two highly trafficked sites which Google ranks favorably – links to your website, it gives your website validity in the eyes of Google and Google will rank you higher in search results. Like “Best Hangover Pills” – another “Seminal Media” article on the LA Weekly.
It broke earlier this year that ‘thought leaders’ could write for Rolling Stone magazine if they paid $2,000
Yeah, usually the money flows the other way. This really started a new conversation about journalism, ethics and PR. I hosted a Clubhouse conversation in March with publicists literally screaming at each other claiming they are correct on their position of pay for inclusion like this. And the ethics of charging artists an arm and a leg and not returning much of anything.
What is ethical anymore in journalism? Or PR?
Is it ethical that a publicist charges an independent musician $3,000/mo for a 4 month campaign and returns just a few low-tier write ups and podcast interviews?
Is that ethical? They’ll usually just shoot back “that’s just how PR works. You’re paying for our connections and time, not results.” Is that an acceptable response? I don’t think so.
Is it ethical that the writers of those articles (maybe on some well-respected) publications are making starvation wages to write?
Yeah, believe it or not, some writers at some very reputable publications make very little per article.
Forbes pays their contributing writers around $70/article. Forbes!
And that’s only if they meet their minimum monthly article threshold. If the writer falls short, that writer gets $0 for all the articles they contributed.
Earmilk pays nothing but lets their writers take submissions via SubmitHub where they can make a few bucks a submission without needing to write about it.
Sure, in the US, not revealing that something is advertorial, is illegal.
And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could fine the publication. But they aren’t actively going after all of these publications very often. And it’s quite hard to police. Including “*Brand Partner Content*” in tiny font is supposedly enough. And apparently Rolling Stone doesn’t even need to do that on their Hangover Pill article because the pill choices were “independently selected by our editorial team.” Huh?! Where’s the damn line here? FTC care to weigh in?
According to “Anastasia” this is just “how PR works” and “all celebrities do it.”
We live in a capitalist society. And publications have to make money to stay afloat. If they can’t get money from subscriptions (since the internet is supposed to be free, blech), then they have to find other ways to make revenue. Charging the subjects they write about seems to be one way. Charging artists for submission is another “acceptable” way, I guess. And now, charging the writers for the opportunity to publish on Rolling Stone is also a way to make some revenue.
Most of the population doesn’t realize this is happening. So being able to list on your press page “Rising artist you have to listen to in 2021” – LA Weekly could turn some heads. Maybe. But will it translate into fans? Streams? Tickets sold? No.
And with press inclusion able to be bought now, I ask again, what’s the point? Who cares?
At the end of the day, artists just want validation. They want someone to tell them they’re great. At whatever cost. And these companies are cashing in on their desperation.