I got an upsetting email the other day from a fellow menswear blogger. He’d found himself a beta user of a social shopping site called StyleSeek. The premise of this site, as best as I can understand it (my membership hasn’t been approved), is to combine menswear advice with affiliate marketing – so you can read an article about penny loafers, then buy a pair of penny loafers from someone who’s paid the site to sell their penny loafers there.*
The email I got had a screenshot attached, and it was one that upset me very much. It featured an article I’d written, in full, on this completely-new-to-me website. It was, I was told, one of several. We had received no contact from StyleSeek of any kind, much less a request to publish our work. I was flabbergasted. This was content we’d worked hard on – and in the case of a piece by my collaborator Derek, content I’d paid Derek to write. It was being used, wholesale, by a for-profit site running on a model I wasn’t comfortable with, without permission or even an attempt to obtain permission.
I learned that StyleSeek is run in part by Ryan Plett, the photoblogger behind [you have broken the internet], a website I’ve enjoyed for some time now. I was completely gobsmacked – how could this guy I’d emailed with, whose work I’d enjoyed, think it was OK to steal my work?
I tweeted at StyleSeek, an account I learned was run by Ryan, writing, first “You do not have permission to reproduce Put This On content on your site, then ”Is @StyleSeek’s business model republishing other people’s content in full without even bothering to ask?“ Derek, from his Die, Workwear account, wrote, ”On StyleSeek. Picked my ‘style profile’ and the page is suddenly filled with my articles.“
I got the reply: ”Hey Jesse, all of your content was removed. Let us know if you would ever like to contribute. Thanks!“ The account has not tweeted since.
Ryan tweeted me from his personal account, asking that we continue the conversation on email, so I wrote this:
Ryan, you’ve been very kind in the past, and I appreciate that. But frankly, I’m completely flabbergasted at what you seem to be doing with Style Seek.
Did you really think it was appropriate to use our original content, in full, without even asking permission? That flies in the face of both the spirit and letter of IP law. And frankly, it’s immoral.
I don’t think that opt-out is the solution here. If you want to use other people’s content, you have to ask. I just can’t believe I’d have to have this conversation. You do not have license to use this content, created by other people, for commercial purposes.
I have yet to receive a response.
Derek wrote to Ryan as well, and did receive a response. Ryan said that blogging has benefited him in many ways, though he doesn’t make money directly from his blog. He mentioned that his photography rate has increased dramatically since he started blogging, thanks to the exposure. He also said that StyleSeek has more than 100 "contributor/interns” who will provide content for free. In fact, he asserted plainly, “content is the easy part, we have it, it’s free and we will only grow.” He also wrote that while he’d prefer to excerpt content and provide a link, “we tried it and it flopped so the choice was to add all text.” (I’ll gladly publish the full letter here if Ryan gives me permission. You’ve got my email.)
Let me make it plain: we don’t write Put This On to curry favor in the fashion industry, or to get marketing work. We do it to express something we’re passionate about, and to entertain and inform our readers. We’re proud to earn money writing Put This On, because it allows us to be independent, and to spend the time required to make a high-quality product.
All of this “content is free” stuff is great for Ryan, and his colleagues at StyleSeek. I’m sure they will enjoy their affiliate fees, and the free content from their “interns.” We will not play that game.
We have a simple, clear editorial policy. We are proud that we are not writing at Put This On in an attempt to curry favor with anyone but our audience. We don’t work in fashion sales or marketing, and we don’t plan to. We’re not perfect, but we work very hard to be honorable. It does not include reproducing other people’s articles for our own financial gain.
Our friend Giuseppe wrote a fiery public letter to StyleSeek earlier today. Like us, he wasn’t consulted about having his content republished in full on a commercial site. I don’t know who else’s content has been used on the site without being asked – I haven’t heard from anyone who was asked.
Look: I’m a proponent of free culture. Everything I make – from this blog to our videos to my public radio show – is available for free to anyone who wants to enjoy it. I make my money through the voluntary direct support of users, advertising, and whatever little side businesses I can come up with.
I love the idea of sharing my work with others. But come on… you’ve gotta ask first.
*(That’s not how we like to do things here at Put This On – we turn down many affiliate marketing offers, and the only affiliate programs we use are Amazon and eBay, stores that we feel are so broad in their offerings as to be “standard” or “generic.” We also only use affiliate links in contexts where we’d otherwise use the same link without affiliate code. We’d been running our eBay roundups for quite a long time before we even learned eBay had an affiliate program, for example. We built them in because hey, why not. We’ll occasionally link to Amazon for a book or a special deal we notice, but only if we’d have published that link anyway.
We prefer to keep our editorial choices and advertising income separate. We’re grateful to our advertisers, who help pay our bills, and even thank them twice a month in posts, but we won’t blur the lines between our content and outside money.)
*Edit, July 20: StyleSeek changes policy, offers full apology (PDF).