Warning: Random thoughts on fashun blogging (Click to show)
Sorry it took me a few days to catch up to the discussion a few days ago about the present and future of blogging. Anyway I will try to add my $0.02, though even at that price you should probably wait for further markdowns.
There are a few difficulties that I see with the move towards more brand-driven content. The main one is that, especially in the 'Classic Menswear' world, brand-focused writing is the most difficult to make interesting. I've done quite a few of these types of articles for Styleforum and the No Man Walks Alone blog, and even by my own self-serving reckoning, they are of varying interest. I pretty much never do them for my own blog, because they just aren't as much fun. They can work when the writer has an individual or an experience to latch onto, through which they can give you some insight into the brand. The best of this genre that I remember reading is this writeup of Roubi L'Roubi of Huntsman:
I did an article on Huntsman for Styleforum and had an interview scheduled with L'Roubi, but unfortunately at the last minute he was pulled out of town on some project. @RJman's pieces on various brands for A Suitable Wardrobe are also interesting because he has such exhaustive knowledge of each brand's corporate history, and because he builds up credibility by simultaneously undercutting the brand's PR and unearthing what's genuinely unique and valuable about the brand.
But the typical brand writeup is not nearly this good, for a few reasons:
1) Generally the writer can only talk to the company's PR people, who know the "party line" but probably represent a dozen other brands too, so they can't really be associated with the company the way somebody like L'Roubi can. If you write a piece about how some PR rep comes off over email, nobody will particularly care.
2) All these PR people say the same things. You could go to 20 brand reps in the Pitti main pavilion and every spiel will sound pretty much the same except for when the company was founded and what part of Italy their things are made in. It's like there's a Pitti Mad Libs somewhere they all follow. If you read brand descriptions or 'About Us' pages on retailer sites then you know how it goes. Every single one of them will tell you about how much handwork goes into each jacket, how their company is really well known for soft construction and unique fabrics, etc etc etc.. It's hard to write something interesting about 20 brands that are each telling you the same thing. But at the same time:
3) You have very little information beyond what the company tells you. Again, absent a revealing interaction with someone high up in the company, pretty much all you have to go on is what you see from the clothes, and what the rep tells you. And what he tells you is just what he heard from the company itself, which is again is the same boilerplate from everybody. So you've got your own impression to go on. It takes a really large amount of knowledge to try on a couple of jackets (if you're at Pitti, you must be a size 50 to do this and get much from it) and understand enough about the differences between these jackets and the quite similar ones at the other stands to write about it credibly, much less compellingly. Blogs like @jefferyd's are awesome because Jeffery is hugely knowledgable and spends hours dissecting a jacket, photographing its innards, and telling us what we're seeing.
I've tried various experiments to make these things more interesting, but it's hard. Getting interviews with people really involved with the brand helps. Focusing on individual pieces (even if, in CM, there's a good chance this piece will never be in a store and the design choices involved represent little more than the designer choosing a swatch and having it made up in one of their standard cuts) can work. But sometimes no matter how hard you try not to, you sit down and start writing, and you end up with something that sounds a lot like the company's PR, even if you genuinely like the brand's products and are trying to express your personal reasons for why.
Maybe it's easier in street wear with the brands being more differentiated, but I don't really have enough direct experience to say.
Then there is the issue that started this discussion, which is that brands pay for content. This is a problem not just for the articles that are actually bought and paid for. It's a problem for all brand-centric articles, because the reader can't be sure that the writer hasn't been bribed by the brand. So the article that comes out in PR-ese, even if written by a writer that hasn't been paid by the brand, is suspicious. Also, as I said, you get most of your information from the brands themselves. This means, even if you're not getting free stuff: 1) You have to play at least somewhat nice if you want to keep getting information 2) You build up personal relationships with people at these brands, and even if they're not serious blood brotherhoods, you feel surly fighting against the brand's story too much.
Finally, and perhaps least importantly but most interestingly, as a culture we have an uncertain relationship with authorial intent. People seem unsure whether or not a creator should have full control of the interpretation and use of his creation or not, and, in an age of reblogging and "reinterpreting" and "appropriating", what creation even entails. Most of the designers I've talked to are actually completely happy to release their jawnz into the wild and have people use them however they want. But there's a tendency, when a designer tells you something is meant one way, and you see it another way, to just convey the designer's interpretation instead of injecting your own, since after all you had nothing to do with its creation so how can you know what it means.
So doing this type of article well takes a really large amount of research from someone who is already pretty knowledgable in the general area and confident in his own voice. The typical blogger ain't got time for that. And why should he? Blogging doesn't pay very well. Any labor is of love. There are a few people doing that, but they are drown out by a large number of people reblogging brand PR, and those people generally have better pictures and web design, which is what seems to drive traffic anyway.
Which leads me to my last point, which is that in the end it's the traffic that matters. Most people don't have the time or inclination to read an in depth piece on some random brand. Like Derek said, most people just want to find some cool stuff to wear sometimes, and maybe occasionally look at some nice pictures for some eye candy. They aren't bothered by copy that's just "check out this brand, it's great!" And brands are more than happy to pump that kind of stuff into any blogger that asks for it. This is nothing against PR people...that's they're job. But they don't really care if your post is well-written or gives a unique and interesting angle on the brand's history or products. They don't really know much about the brand beyond the four paragraphs in the brand's marketing materials. As long as you post something with the brand's name and some decent pictures, they're good with it. In fact, great with it!
EDIT: After posting I realized how long and rambling this post is. I am spoilering so as not to bother the tl;dr crowd.
Thank you. Sometime around 3pm today, I will probably be in the bathroom for a long time because of the very grainy cereal I will eat for breakfast. I will read this long manuscript then.