Getting Paid for Reviews?
About a month ago, I read a piece on another audiophile website complaining about the fact that the reviewer was pissed off that he hadn’t been compensated by the manufacturer for having written a positive review on a pricey set of speakers they make. Really?!? The author — also the operator of the site — believed that he was due a commission or finder’s fee or at least a new ad buy for having driven a few new customers to the manufacturer. He justified his position by arguing that he had spent a considerable amount of time in securing the speakers, setting them up, evaluating the fidelity, packing them up, shipping them back, and writing his review — all part of the gig in being a journalist for an audiophile website. None-the-less, he was surprised that the speaker manufacturer didn’t feel obligated to compensate him.
Apparently, the operator of the website (also the author) has been struggling to survive in the audiophile publishing business. He’s not alone. Setting up and running a successful, profit-oriented website in any field requires a major commitment of time, resources, compelling content, supportive advertisers, and plenty of luck. And it’s becoming harder and harder as manufacturers find alternative ways to get their message out through direct advertising and social media. And consumers expect online magazines and news outlets to be free. They don’t believe they should have to pay for content or music. I have paid subscriptions to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and more. I believe if I want to read what they write — and count on the fact that the editorial content is fair, honest, and balanced, I should be willing to pay to help keep them in business. So I do.
When I started RealHD-Audio.com seven years ago, I wrote a 500-word article almost everyday on topics that I thought would be of interest to audiophiles and which I felt uniquely equipped to address. I never had intentions to profit from the site. I wanted to contribute accurate information to the world of audio engineering and audiophiles. Although there are some banner ads on this site, I provide those banners free of charge in support of products that I endorse AND because the owners of those companies have supported me at trade shows and other events. I will freely admit that the Benchmark DAC 3 B that sits on my desk in front of me was provided by John Siau, the principal at the company. It was an upgrade from the original DAC 1 that I purchased for my mastering business many years ago.
During the first few months, it was exciting to see the daily visitor count increase from a few dozen to several hundred to now over 5000 daily readers. I started the blog in 2013. It has never made any money. But it does support my publishing efforts (see the announcement of the launch of my second Kickstarter campaign for my second book below) and helps to sell recordings from my AIX Records catalog.
Any entrepreneur hoping to make money with an online audio magazine has only two possible ways to fund his or her site. The traditional magazine model demands that you sell advertising to support your site, pay your writers, other operating expenses, and hopefully produce a fair return on your investment. Every month, I get the media kit from several online audio magazine hoping I will sign up for a recurring charge of $100-400 per month for a banner ad. They brag about the number of page views and readers they get. I don’t pay for advertising because I don’t count on AIX Records or this website to generate much money. Sure, it would be great to see a huge upside after all of the time I’ve spent writing thousands of articles and developing a bunch of website sites, but it’s not going to happen. I’m in the fortunate position that because I’ve worked very hard in business and taught for decades at the university, I have amassed enough resources to be quite comfortable as a senior citizen. Believe I am very grateful that things worked out pretty well especially when I have close musician friends that are driving Uber for hours everyday.
But by accepting paid advertising, there is a very real chance that the editorial content of a publication will be compromised to some degree — maybe to a very large degree. If company XQ spends $15,000 per month on ads with your publication, does anyone really think any of the writers would author a review highly critical of the company’s $1000 HDMI cables or $4000 power cords. I’ve seen it happen and been part of it. I’ve spoken to audiophile writers — many of whom I know and am friendly with — and they freely admit that their editors mandate they find a way to say only kind things when doing reviews for paying advertisers. I was once told flat out by the publisher/editor of a major magazine that AIX Records would get a review in their magazine only when I committed to 6-months of paid advertising. Talk about a quid pro quo! I declined and I never saw a review in the pages of that publication.
The audio reviewer that regularly posts poorly produced video reviews of this or that expensive audiophile piece or tweak, is a clearly only a shill for the companies. He lost all shred of credibility — if he ever had any — after pitching a $20,000 power cord from a familiar audiophile cable company on his site. Yet he continues to promote crazy expensive cables, RF destroyers, harmonic enhancement accessories, or whatever the paying snake oil salesmen are pitching at the time. If a small website operator is promoting any pricey audiophile product, there is high likelihood that there is an exchange of money involved. It’s sad but true. There is no journalistic integrity. It’s really hard to find a trustworthy site.
The Dutch gentleman on Youtube that sits in front of a fancy piece of test audio gear and claims MQA and high-resolution offer dramatic “sonic improvements” should not be trusted IMHO. I’ve forced myself to view a few of his videos. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about but he gets tens of thousands of views.
The other way to fund an online magazine is to set up a pay wall and charge a small monthly subscription fee. For example, I think I pay $4 per month for the NY Times and I believe I get my money’s worth. Adopting this financial model improves the chances that advertiser money doesn’t influence the editorial content — at least to the same degree.
There are a number of successful audio websites that spew the marketing nonsense provided by cable manufacturers and other snake oil products. There don’t seem to be any BS filters at 6 Moons or PFO, for example. Maybe they subscribe to the model that Fox News’ Tucker Carlson uses. A defamation lawsuit against Tucker and Fox News was recently thrown out because the judge wrote that everyone expects that anything he says is BS. These sites can say anything and get away with it because nothing they say is accurate. It’s all for entertainment purposes — and to generate money.
I think we can do better. At least I hope so.
A User Guide to Streaming, Downloads & Personal Audio is Live
As mentioned in my last post, I launched the Kickstarter campaign for my second book on September 30 at 8 am PDT. In less than 24 hours, we pushed through 10% of the $10,000 goal. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, have enjoyed the AIX Records that I have produced, or appreciated my first book, I would love to get your support for the new book. Please visit A User Guide to Streaming, Downloads, and Personal Audio.
8 thoughts on “Getting Paid for Reviews?”
I agree with everything in your commentary except the inaccurate information at the end about the Carlson defamation suit ruling.
You state that the suit was tossed because the judge ruled that everyone expects that everything Carlson says is BS. I haven’t read the ruling, but I’d think that if the judge actually wrote that — or something close to it — it would have found its way into news articles on the ruling.
But here’s how the AP described the judge’s ruling: The judge called the on-air remarks “rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and as such, are not actionable as defamation.”
In other words, defamation law treats news reporting differently than opinion making like the commentary on Carlson’s show.
In fact the judge’s email to AP explicitly states that defamation would have occurred if Carlson were a reporter deliberately lying — or as you put it, engaging in BS — about the woman’s extortion attempt:
“In an email to The Associated Press, McDougal zeroed in on the part of the ruling that found [the woman’s] claim didn’t meet the legal standard showing there was malice by Carlson. “I believe reporting something you know is a lie as ‘news’ or ‘undisputed facts’ is the very definition of malicious,” she wrote.”
So, Mark, it weakens your otherwise excellent commentary about the importance of conveying accurate information about audio products when you conclude it by inaccurately conveying information about a court ruling.
Link to the article: https://www.chron.com/news/article/Judge-dismisses-suit-against-Fox-over-Trump-15594909.php
Thanks Dave. But I think the point I made remains. By categorizing the spew that Tucker Carlson delivers on his show as “rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and as such, are not actionable as defamation,” the judge is saying that viewers of his show should know that he’s not delivering news — that his “content” should not be taken as fact. In other words, it’s BS.
“Under FTC endorsement guidelines, social media users must disclose when there is some kind of relationship, often monetary, between the endorsement-maker and an advertiser. ”
Really the ethics and morals are clear. The person you mention is a moron. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking
There are lots of “so-called” experts online and in print that don’t know the first thing about audio, yet they receive thousands of views or likes. It would be great if the FTC took action against the snake oil salesmen and the companies that sell idiotic products…but they won’t.
Hey Mark, wondering if something’s wrong with the message system? I see that there are reader comments but I can’t read them. Also I notice the visit counter has not been working on the last few posts and currently says “No visits yet”.
Did the webmaster change a few things recently!?
I noticed the counter thing as well. I’ll have to sort it out. It might have something to do with the theme being old. Stay well.
Hi Mark, this is a very interesting topic (not the specific gentleman, but the topic of funding a business in general). There’s a reason there is only one Consumer Reports. The business model is impossible for everyone except CR. With respect to paywalls, I hate them but I do pay for content worthy of being paid for. I just get frustrated when I want a single article from the WSJ and I can’t get it without a subscription. So be it, that’s the WSJ business model and I can live with it.
At Audiophile Style we offer subscriptions that remove all advertising for paying subscribers. Not a paywall, but an ad-free approach of sorts. I’ve often said that I’d drop advertising in a heartbeat if I could fund the site via paid subscribers. It would be fantastic for everyone. The behind the scenes business of obtaining advertisers, getting renewals, etc… takes away from doing what I love, listening to music and writing about it.
This is a topic I constantly research to find better solutions or tweaks to current models.
I feel very fortunate that I do not have to depend on this site or my books to fund my life. My university teaching, post production studios, and record company have been enough. Keeping everyone happy is impossible. But advertisers are demanding and money talks…I get it.