July 1, 2010

Exploding Two Myths, Confirming Two Suspicions

Thereís no shortage of opinions in the world -- opinions about everything. And with the Internet literally everywhere, thereís no shortage of platforms through which to disseminate them. Lately, Iíve read online debates on a number of subjects related to high-end audio publishing, and Iíd like to put in my own two cents, based on my experience in the biz. 

Confirmed: Long-term loans affect reviewer recommendations. How can they not? If a reviewer has a component on long-term loan, then he or she obviously likes the component. You could argue that the fact that the reviewer likes it enough to use it is itself a kind of endorsement. But does the reviewer like it enough to buy it outright, with her or his own money? Is accepting the free use of a product proof that the reviewer would choose that same product if it had to be paid for? Not to me, but weíll never know. That oft-used argument against living together before marriage applies here: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Iíve said in the past that long-term loans are advertisements for the manufacturer, not necessarily endorsements by the reviewer. 

Exploded (IMHO!): User reviews are more valuable than professional reviews. This is where I start getting inflammatory e-mail. But it amounts to simple bias: If you buy the product, then write a review of it, that review will in most cases be as much about validating your purchase as anything else. Itís like being completely objective about your kids -- it can happen, but it rarely does. And yes, there certainly are exceptions, just as there are many "professional" reviews that arenít worth the paper or pixels theyíre printed on. But, by and large, the process of professional audio reviewing usually helps ensure more reliable results. And Iíve read some reviews by amateur audiophiles who would make great professional reviewers. (Please apply by e-mail.) 

Confirmed: Product giveaways do happen. In my reviewing career, Iíve been given products by two manufacturers. The first instance involved three power cords that retailed for $99 each, and would have cost almost as much to ship back as they did to make. The second was a long run of expensive speaker cables that were installed under my house and inside my walls as part of a home-theater review. Some other SoundStage! Network writers have been given cables and various tweaks over the years. In other cases, larger products such as loudspeakers were left permanently with writers after the review period because the companies had gone out of business. These few instances, however, are very different from something I witnessed at a crowded dinner in Munich, Germany. A representative from a speaker manufacturer said to a well-known British reviewer, "Weíd like to know what color youíd like your new [fill in blank] in." The reviewer was genuinely surprised -- delighted, in fact -- and it was obvious that he hadnít purchased the product. Draw your own conclusions as to the implications.

Exploded: Advertising affects what gets reviewed and what doesnít. This one just doesnít make sense, and doesnít hold water when put to the test. As of June 1, 59 product reviews had been published on the SoundStage! Network in 2010. Of those products, 47% were made or sold by advertisers. Clearly, the majority of our reviews are not of products from advertisers. Perhaps more interesting: With roughly 50 SS!N advertisers at any given moment, you can also conclude that, of the products reviewed this year, at least half of our advertisers received no reviews at all. Statistics aside, it only makes sense to review products that readers actually want to read about, regardless of their makersí relationships with the publication. The logic is simple and unavoidable: Interesting content drives traffic, and traffic drives ad sales. To review only the products of advertisers is to buy a one-way ticket on the express to business failure. 

As with anything, do your own research and see what you can find out. The opinions stated here have been formed during my many years in this industry, and gleaned from my day-to-day management of almost 30 reviewers here at the SoundStage! Network. If you agree or disagree with what Iíve written, let me know. If there are other subjects youíd like me to weigh in on, shoot me an e-mail. And, as always, thanks for reading. 

. . . Jeff Fritz


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