Managing The Gap

In my last article on this subject, I pondered the necessity (or lack of it) for industry accommodations being offered to reviewers. The direct and indirect feedback from intra-industry colleagues was fairly active – and by active, I mean kicked-over-a-pile-of-red-ants active. Though to be fair, of those folks that I messaged with, emailed with, or had spoken with on the phone, the discourse was polite and actually kind of varied. Some were moderately in favor of the position, some not so much, a couple took extreme positions – but there wasn’t ever any kind of vitriol. Of course you’ve got no shortage of people lending their opinions in various and sundry forums, for whatever that is worth, but in general I found my interaction with those who bothered to reach out to me to be civil, interesting, and informative. Everyone that I heard from had their heart in the right place, and for that I can express nothing but gratitude and respect.

Many raised arguments in favor of the reviewer accommodation that didn’t really hold water. One suggestion was that the reviewer was doing the manufacturer a service by purchasing the review unit, as otherwise the manufacturer would be left with B-Stock that he’d have to sell off at a discount anyway. If this were so, then would it be incumbent upon the reviewer to buy *every* review unit in order that the manufacturer not have to bear the B-Stock burden? Of course not. Another argument suggested that, without the accommodation, audio reviewing would just be a rich-man’s game that would squeeze out people that might otherwise be more talented, interesting, or otherwise somehow more worthy but who don’t otherwise have the trust-fund required to participate beyond a certain level.

Countering that argument, I’d say that the used market is chock-full of reference gear that sells at 1/2 the price, so the accommodation is hardly the only option that the fledgling reviewer with a tight wallet has. Also, that same reviewer strapped for cash won’t be pulling the trigger on $50k loudspeakers if the offer is $25k, because that’s still quite a lot of money – not everyone has that kind of cash sitting around to dedicate to Hi Fi purchases. So there is an area of Hi Fi that will always be out of reach of some reviewers because price will remain a barrier even when the discount is 50%.

That said, some worthwhile arguments did come through and have gotten me to rethink the THFR position a little bit. One of them was simply that the readership often expect reviewers to have up-to-date gear, especially as it concerns digital and headphone gear – and these worlds seem to be in a state of constant change. Though it isn’t necessarily the only way to acquire gear, the industry-accommodation is probably the most efficient way to do it when it comes to newly emerging products. Another was even more practical: while the intention is good, the object of the intention is completely un-policeable and might cause some sour feelings. I can’t disagree with either of these sentiments. Some really good suggestions were made by people that I respect and admire :

  • One publisher won’t extend the privilege of accommodation to a writer who hasn’t earned his stripes by working in the field for at least one year at his publication or who otherwise doesn’t have a substantial publishing history backing them up.
  • Another simply suggested some “gatekeeping” – if a writer wants to use THFR’s bonifides to request an accommodation, it has first to be approved by management, and then management makes the request on their behalf.
  • Instituting a policy that requires the reviewer to own the piece of gear for at least 1 year – which is a standard demand from manufacturers, anyway – would bolster the notion that the accommo privilege isn’t supposed to be some kind of alternative revenue stream for the reviewer.

And one quote from an old friend sized things up fairly well:

And yes, manufacturers are guilty by association and playing along. If the real misfits in the press got starved out because nobody gave ‘em review gear, you’d be quickly left with only the credible gang. But that’s not gonna happen.

Finally, I had one colleague who rang me up one evening to let me know that my own credibility was being questioned on <EGAD!> Audio Asylum, and that he was worried for me. His heart was in the right place, and I really do appreciate his taking the time out to give me the heads-up, but AA (apt, that) is far from relevant to our aims at THFR, nor even our lives outside of THFR. A quick glimpse into the AA conversation showed me precisely what I expected … old dudes thinking in old ways about old issues and grinding old axes, settling old scores, etc. A Pompeiian philosopher’s-camp … calcified curmudgeoning.

In the meantime, I think we’ll just have a relatively ordinary accommodation policy for our reviewers – one that doesn’t get all Torquemada on them, but that provides some reasonable structure so that they can do their jobs well. Some experience under their belts before asking, having we editors make the request on their behalf, and agreeing to keep the gear for at least one year.

How’s that sound for fair and balanced?

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