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KIH #15 – The lesser weevil

  • It’s dinner in the officer’s mess of the Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander. Capt’n Jack Aubrey asks his trusted doctor friend Stephen Maturin: “Do you see those two weevils, doctor?”

    “I do.”

    “Which would you choose?”

    “Neither. There is not a scrap of difference between them. They are the same species of Curculio.“

    “If you had to choose. If you were forced to make a choice. If there was no other response…”

    “Well then, if you are going to push me…I would choose the right hand weevil. It has – significant advantage in both length and breadth.”

    The captain thumps his fist on the table. “There, I have you! You’re completely dished! Do you not know that in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?” Hilarity ensues amongst the officers.

    Cut scene.

    With our mood properly set, let’s look at the necessary evil called advertising. It’s intrinsic to the going model of web/print publishing for hifi reviews. Going into this subject, we can agree. Nobody really likes ads. Readers would much prefer a magazine without them. So would manufacturers, actually. Disconnected from any sense of undue influence, such reviews would pull harder. They’d appear more independent, unbiased and objective.

    What’s more, reviews are free but double as adverts. Unless they’re complete stinkers which sink a product’s chances to ever sell again, reviews are effective advertising. Even if you don’t read them to merely glance over their headlines and photos, you’ve been reliably informed that said products exist. That might be more than you knew before. Talk about effective advertising. If the review is informative, it might include more data than the maker’s own website reveals. That’s another bonus. If the review is complimentary to boot? It’ll mean lots more to most readers now than if the maker had taken out an advert to himself proclaim “we’re the best”. It’s always better if someone else delivers praise of any sort.


    And reviews are free. Adverts are not. It explains why even manufacturers would prefer magazines without ads. Then why don’t we have them? Because they’d put the onus of covering a magazine’s operational expenses fully on the readers. Today’s print magazines tend to sell for a mere token fee. It barely covers the cost of print, paper and distribution. It’s just high enough to convince magazine stores to carry them and make a small profit. The burden on the reader is as low as possible. The ads do all the heavy commercial lifting. They’re necessary because readers in general are far too cheap to pay the rates which magazines would have to charge if they accepted no ads.

    And not to belabor the obvious but, magazines with just ads and no reviews wouldn’t sell at all. Even if they were free, readers wouldn’t read them. From this evidence one must conclude that reviews are good and ads bad. Or rather, that ads are the necessary evil which makes the reviews everyone wants possible.

    In a recent forum discussion on this subject, a manufacturer proposed a radical viewpoint. In its most condensed form, it said “we exist, hence we profit the press”. What he meant to say was that by their mere existence as active members in the hifi manufacturing sector, makers furnish the press with news and review opportunities. Without them the press would have nothing to talk about. Hence they’d have no basis upon which to sell their adverts. Hiding behind that rationale, a maker needn’t ever participate in the necessary evil of adverts to consider himself de facto profitable to our magazines and benefit from their reviews.

    If all manufacturers took that position, the system obviously wouldn’t work. In reality, magazines choose a ratio between reviews of ad sponsors and non-sponsors which works for them. In theory, all reviews are free. In practice, ad sponsors create a magazine’s revenue stream which enables reviews to be written and published. In a very concrete fashion, ad sponsors pay for reviews. They’re not really free. They’re subsidised by the advertisers.
    Here opinions diverge on what constitutes abuse of the system. A newcomer getting a review without paying into the ad machine seems nothing but fair. He’s just starting out. She needs all the help she can get. If that maker continues to benefit from the review system—either via the same magazine or by making the rounds—but never reciprocates in hard cash, it’s merely a matter of time until any reasonable person would call him a freeloader. Any system of mutual benefit relies on bi-directional support to stay operational.


    This particular system self-balances itself between ad-sponsored and non-sponsored reviews for obvious reasons. Ad-sponsored reviews alone not only limit variety and coverage breadth, they look bought. To fight this perception, magazines need a mix. If a magazine wishes to increase its non-sponsor review ratio, it has two obvious options. A/ increase the number of its advertisers to create the necessary headroom; B/ increase its ad pricing. Option ‘A’ has very practical limits. Those are dictated by a magazine’s layout and page count. More content pages increase ad placement opportunities but also increase production costs. Option ‘B’ eventually eliminates the participation of smaller manufacturers. The costlier ad pricing gets, the fewer the firms which can afford it. Now a magazine becomes unduly beholden to a smaller number of fat-cat supporters who each contribute a significant slice of the operation’s annual income. Reviews of their products are now accompanied by heightened suspicions of undue influence. That’s something neither the magazines nor the manufacturers like.

    If a magazine accepts more advertisers, it naturally follows that more of them will want reviews. And why shouldn’t they? If a certain percentage of competitors pay nothing to participate in the review process, those who directly underwrite the magazine’s bottom line also want their slot. That mechanism undermines the original tactic of publishing more reviews by non-sponsors.

    A magazine could opt for making its ads as affordable as possible. Since its operational expense remains unchanged, this requires a higher number of advertisers. Unless that magazine can create sufficient content, it won’t be able to physically accommodate the growing real-estate demand for adverts; and it too runs afoul of the side effect that now more makers who take out ads will also want reviews.

    The upshot of this strange system is an ongoing see-saw between content and ads; having ads cover operational expenses; and having their mere existence avoid impropriety. Here we remember that mere perception of impropriety—undue influence, collusion, corruption—is every bit as damaging to a magazine’s or writer’s reputation as are any actual faux pas. For all practical intents and purposes, there is no difference. Belief that someone is a liar and a thief has him treated accordingly regardless of whether he is or isn’t. Especially in reviewing, perception is everything.

    To get from theory to practice, let’s run some actual figures to illustrate reality for a small online start-up magazine. Say it began as a full-time single owner/operator venture. As with all self-employment, 40-hour work weeks especially at the onset aren’t realistic. 60 hours are more like what’s really required to get going. Let’s say our man needed to clear €4’000 before taxes each month to meet all of his normal financial obligations (rent, food, car, electricity, phone, health/car insurance) and work-related extras like trade-show attendance, the acquisition of hifi gear to serve as a growing inventory of comparator kit and the maintenance or replacement of basic work tools like computers, modems, cameras, special software, hosting, new music and such.

    Let’s say our entrepreneur can publish six full-length reviews a month to produce them at the level of quality and comprehensiveness he has set for himself. To augment that content, he additionally commits to 10 expanded news-related items which will exceed standard press-release blurbs; and assorted show coverage and related Editorials.

    Let’s propose that our man aimed for 10 ad sponsors a month to keep support to €400 per. If those sponsors only committed to a month each, he’d need 48 different supporters over his first year. Each time he couldn’t fill a vacated slot, he’d not make his monthly nut. He’d clearly be less stressed if those advertisers each signed up for a full year. Except now each sponsor would contribute €4’800 for their annual campaign. Don’t you think our man would have to feel rather beholden to each given that they contribute more than 10% of his annual needs? If just one dropped out, he’d lose a whole month of wages.

    No matter how hard he works at remaining unbiased, independent and unaffected – perception will surely sing a different song. That’s for a full-time job which pays our man €16.50 an hour; and comes without any health insurance, vacation or retirement benefits. Whenever he takes a vacation, site updates stop. Even if his purse could afford to, he can’t afford to be gone too long. For that, he’ll need the eventual co-contributors, partners or employees. Whilst he can update content remotely, it’s not much of a vacation if he really works half the time on a poolside laptop, is it?

    If our man didn’t take the risk of full-time self-employment because it felt too chancy and the upside too vague; and if he opted to keep a regular day job to cover his expenses – the amount of time he now can allocate to his reviewing venture is obviously limited to moonlighting and weekends. In fact you’d question just when he can do any serious and proper listening at all. Sooner or later our man would need contributors to augment his own content unless he were content to operate closer to a blog than a magazine.

    Let’s return to our necessary evil. Our industry consists of four members – makers; their sales agents (importers, distributors, dealers); the press; and the reader/buyer. The first three all share similar economic needs. If a manufacturer doesn’t sell, he closes shop. If dealers don’t sell, they do too. If the press don’t sell issues and ads, they vanish. The only one aloof from all of it is the reader/buyer. His economics remain entirely unaffected by whether he reads reviews or not; or buys a hifi or not. In fact, his economics are rather better off if he didn’t buy any hifi; ever.

    From that it is clear how the three serve and pursue the one. But it’s also true that neither the makers nor their sales agents absolutely need the press. They very much like reviews and often rely on ads for visibility and brand building. Yet crowd funding, direct sales, e-newsletters and owner reviews in manufacturer forums can circumvent much if perhaps not all of the functions the press has traditionally provided. The flip side isn’t true one bit. Without manufacturers, the hifi press wouldn’t exist, period. Of our four, the press is by far the neediest and most reliant on cooperation and support. Put different, the press needs the makers more than they need it.

    In any case, this situation remains one of interconnectedness and mutual needs and benefits. To create the reviews everyone wants (including the reader aka potential buyer who doesn’t need them but very much enjoys them), the content providers must be paid unless they operate as pure hobbyists. In the prevailing ad-based publishing model, reviews must be free. Their worth or value relies on the perception that they aren’t tied to commercial considerations. Ads are the economical engine which makes reviews possible. Nobody seems to really like them very much even if ad sponsors do freely use them for brand building. But in the end, manufacturers like reviews even better.

    Enter the Chinese wall which most of the ad-based model is based on. To ascertain the independence of reviewer opinion, the engine which pays for it can’t be connected. This disconnect is the separation of Church and State aka admin and Editorial. The way it works is simplicity itself. Paid writers either get a per-review fee or a monthly salary. In either case they submit review copy to Editorial which edits it for grammar, language and tech facts and publishes it. What they review may be assigned, self-picked or a mix thereof. Most reviewers are as disconnected from admin as standard employees of a large firm are from upper management. They only get hauled into a management meeting if productivity or performance decline; if there’s a pay cut; or if they’re about to get fired. Otherwise they merely do their work and someone else handles all the administrative duties.


    For our single owner/operator of course, there may not be any Chinese wall at all. Admin and Editorial could be one and the same guy. The majority or all of the content could be written by the same person who issues invoices and collects payment. But this isn’t an insurmountable hurdle. It simply requires extra diligence to toe the line. Regardless, perception begins to apply real pressure on even the ‘disconnected’ system because Editorial most certainly sees its own ads. Whilst Editorial really may not talk to its own ad department as the Chinese wall insists; writers and readers alike see who the biggest most regular sponsors are. Whilst neither may know the actual advert rates, everyone knows that a front/back or inside cover is costliest; that full-page ads cost more than half or quarter page equivalents; and that ads tucked into the classified section or lesser pages are cheapest. Web-based banners are no different.

    That’s all the fodder the conspiracy theorists need.

    “Look, Absolute Audio had Bangers Sound on their rear cover for 12 issues in a row. And they’ve run three 5-stars review for them this year. Clearly they’re all very cozy in bed together.”

    “You’re right, Chum. And Tiny Hifi whom we adore has never gotten a single review by these guys. And guess what – they’ve never advertised either.”

    Case closed. Or is it?

    It’s easy to see how such perception works. It’s in fact hard to blame and dismiss outright. But how do Chum and Chiseler believe this dirty business gets done? Does Johnny Keystroke, with his next assignment, get an email from his Editor to stipulate a 5-stars outcome? Does Johnny fear sufficiently for his review fee that he himself identifies Awesome Hifi as a key contributor whom he better make unreasonably happy to keep his job? Does Johnny play it cool as a cucumber by handing in a 3-stars review which now magically gets upgraded to a 5-stars version by Editorial’s secretive rewrite department on the 17th floor?

    Or is it all more subtle than that?

    “I bet you Bob Big Shot visited Tin Ear shortly after he received his loaner. I bet you that Big Shot just made a few disparaging remarks about the sound of that loaner in Tin Ear’s system. That took care of the assignment’s outcome as intended. Any notion Tin Ear entertained of waxing poetic was nipped in the bud.”

    “Naw, you’ve got it all wrong, Chiseler. The only stuff they ever give to Tin Ear is the stuff they don’t care about. They need some unpredictable reviews here and there to mix it up and look good. That’s Tin Ear’s job. He may know it or he may delude himself but all the serious stuff goes straight to the senior salaried writers. And their ilk doesn’t need to be told, man. They know which side their bread is buttered on.”

    Proof isn’t required. Perception can build seemingly solid things out of thin air.

    Then there’s the bad review. Or rather, the shortage thereof.

    “If these guys really were as honest as they claim, where the heck are their bad reviews? Everything is always good. That just can’t be, Chum.”

    “You’re right, Chiseler. The only bad review I can remember goes a few years back. And that was on some no-name Chinese brand. They simply used them as a sacrificial lamb to prove they’re impartial. Then they did a real hatchet job on it to end in bloody slaughter. It all stinks, Chum. But let’s go back to Absolute Audio and see what else we can grouse about. We love the smell of Napalm in the morning, don’t we?” Cut scene.


    Now we’re back with Master and Commander. Jack Aubrey confirms with a fidgety Maturin that, “well, Stephen… the bird’s flightless?” Which the good doctor confirms for the rare species he’s spotted on the Galapagos Islands. “So it’s not going anywhere.”

    Quite so. Maturin’s bird didn’t go anywhere. Neither is this line of argument. It’s persistent. It waddles in place. It’s what every reviewer struggles against as that unavoidable byproduct of the lesser weevil which becomes the necessary evil of ad-sponsored reviews. If readers of our imaginary magazine were willing to take out an annual subscription and cover our man’s €48’000/yr expense, it’d only take 50’000 subscribers to each pay a measly euro. Surely that would be child’s play?

    The only English-speaking reader-sponsored hifi mag I’m aware of is Hifi Critic whose circulation is said to be 500. The reader subscription model is a popular argument for the anti-ad brigade. Given all the case evidence to the contrary, it’s simply a mightily rare bird without wings. The vast majority of specialty publications believe that they couldn’t and wouldn’t survive on just reader support especially as long as there are plenty of competitors around who charge their readers nothing.

    Where the ad-based model particularly online backfires is when readers refuse to do their part. To make this very imperfect system work requires mutual cooperation. The lesser weevil needs feeding and with more than Capt’n Aubrey’s stale bread. To keep enjoying the benefits of free online magazines (whether they read them for all their reviews, for just those of a single writer, for just their photos or even for just their news page), readers shouldn’t circumvent ads or refuse to interact with banners. Banners enable content. Unlike in print where even very expensive full-page ads can’t be held accountable to prove their effectiveness save for basic sell-through numbers padded with comp and giveaway issues, even the smallest cheapest online ads are often asked to provide click-thru stats. This type of advertiser won’t renew if their stats fall short. No clicks, no advertiser joy, no content. It’s not quite as clear-cut but close enough.

    No matter how I slice it then, we’re left with the lesser evil to get at the thing readers, dealers and manufacturers alike want: informative easy-to-read unbiased reviews. Just how much one colors the other is where opinions diverge and fingers point in different directions. As DAR boss John Darko told me during our meet in Munich this year, he’d love nothing better than take DAR full-time [Yup – Ed] and quit his teaching day job. Against today’s feature, you’ll perhaps appreciate why he’s been with DAR for nearly four years already and still has not taken that plunge [Again, yup – Ed].


    It’s likely for the same reason that Art Dudley didn’t rejoin the self-employed ranks when Listener closed and he moved to Stereophile for a monthly column. Or why Ken Kessler didn’t launch his own publication when he lost his position at one magazine and instead moved to another. Even the legendary Harry Pearson’s HPSoundings solo venture tanked within one short year. It’s why many of the big-name reviewers with the requisite standing and reputation prefer to have someone else worry about economics. Artistically speaking, it is undeniably more liberating to just write and draw a salary or fee than double-team as a business manager.

    That’s always been the dream of the Baroque composer or Renaissance painter who pursued commissions from aristocrats. But then there always also exist those stubborn Stephen Maturin types. They don’t really know about the proper lesser weevil. It’s probably because they don’t really work in ‘the service’ of the standard system. They’re hobbyists turned pro whom reality forces to embrace the usual commercial aspects but who still do it in a way that’s more artistic than hard-nosed business. That makes them no better or worse than the more corporate guys.

    In the end it doesn’t matter which side of the bed you step out of. You must end up with both feet on the ground or you won’t make it. The world’s best content won’t pay for itself unless you make the necessary arrangements and keep managing them. Solid ad support itself doesn’t guarantee quality content which readers enjoy, trust and come back for. As with everything else in life, balance is key. With reviews, the evidence is out in the open for all to see. If a magazine can produce consistent reviews which square with the findings of readers, bloggers and other reviewers with competing magazines; then clearly the lesser weevil is nothing but a harmless bug. It may not look so pretty; it may be impossible to eradicate; but it otherwise doesn’t really conflict with delivering the desired goods.

    Cut scene.

    To end where we started, here’s our final quote from Russell Crowe’s movie.

    Doctor Stephen Maturin (who gets his wish to chase after the wingless bird): “Jack, I fear you have burdened me with a debt I can never fully repay.”

    Capt’n Jack Aubrey: “Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate.”

    Stephen Maturin: “A shrub? Nonsense! I shall name a new species of tortoise after you: Testudo Aubreii!”

    Further 6moons reading: A Broken Business Model

    Srajan Ebaen

    Written by Srajan Ebaen

    Srajan is the owner and publisher of 6moons. He used to play clarinet at the conservatory. Later he worked in audio retail, then marketing for three different hifi manufacturers. Writing about hifi and music came next, then launching his own mag. Today he lives with his wife Ivette and Nori and Chai the Bengal cats in a very small village on Ireland’s west coast, between the holy mountain Croagh Patrick and the Atlantic ocean of Clew Bay in County Mayo’s Westport area. Srajan derives his income from the ad revenues of 6moons but contributes to Darko.Audio pro bono.


    1. “Reviewing the reviewers” I like your writings but too many writers are whores and do very little to help the industry.I have read reviews for the past 50 years.I don’t think that the ads are all that bad;they just keep their products in the audience’s face.However of late,I have noticed that all most everything gets a favorable review.There is very little true criticism and thus very little objective evaluation.They all can’t be that good. Once and for all,cut the crap about the “Cables used”With very few exceptions most things will sound good as long as a reasonable cable is used,i.e.,not zip cord.
      What I would like to see more of is “Real World” useful products that are affordable and not just some screwball manufacturer creating the 300,000 amp.If he or she is that hard up,let the consumer buy tickets to a real,live performance and then go back and listen to the music. Dr. John Krause

    2. I like ads. I like reviews. I like websites. I like magazines. It all works for me. I still pay for magazines because they are good and because it’s less weird to take a magazine into the privy than a laptop. Never mind that half of the reviews in the magazine end up on the website for free.

      Keep it up!

    3. A friend of mine used to work as a columnist and reviewer for a yachting magazine. This arrangement of some years came to an end when he was given a yacht to review that was so badly built that he regarded it as a threat to life and limb. On submitting his review detailing the exact failings of the vessel, his copy was rejected by the editor who explained that he could not publish a negative review of an advertisers product. He no longer submits copy to that or any other magazine of a review nature but instead writes travelogues and how-to guides. There was a review published of the vessel with no mention of the dangerous elements of the yachts design and build.

      I have no faith in any published reviews supported by advertising in any publication either online or physical. Any other attitude is simply naive.

    4. I am curious. Does this mean that reviewers like Steve Guttenberg at CNET and the folks over at Digital Trends for example, are going to feel less pressure and can therefore afford to be more honest because they may have a different source of revenue altogether? I understand it’s a different reader base.

      • Possible, but even then, you can have an editor or boss telling them “lets not burn bridges” before publishing a negative review.

        It obviously depends on the type of publication and the kind of stuff you’re reviewing. Tech or automotive related publications are a very competitive field, so one negative review might result in your magazine not getting the next iThing or McLamborrari review unit on time (or at all), leaving your competitors to land quicker reviews, comparison-shootouts, benchmarks, etc and potentially more income in the process. Remember that famous car road-tester that once accused a famous Italian car manufacturer of sending ‘fettled’ versions of their cars to the press?

    5. “Which begs the question Nigel: what on earth are you doing *here*?”

      A fair point John although not everything on the website is a review – such as the piece I am commenting on now. I guess my point is that it I would never buy something based on a review – Car, HiFi, Movie, anything, and I would only trust my own experience. I would however agglomerate information from multiple reviews and the experiences of friends and aquaintances to form an opinion as to which stuff is worth initially considering.

      • You’ve hit on a key point there Nigel. Reviews in isolation might not represent a ‘definitive opinion’ but triangulate from several of one’s favoured sources and you might end up with a better handle on things.

    6. “Possible, but even then, you can have an editor or boss telling them “lets not burn bridges” before publishing a negative review. ”

      It’s a reasonable argument as far as it goes. And being able to cite just *one* example *anywhere* in the wider review press (i.e. including automotive, motorcycle, yacht etc.) would seem to lend credence to it. Hence the old preverb of it just taking one rotten apple to spoil an entire bunch.

      Except that when I wrote reviews for other magazines, I never once had my copy changed to subtly or grossly shift my opinion or findings; nor was I ever told in direct or indirect ways what to say, think or write (except to write better which isn’t about the what you say but how you say it).

      John Darko on this site didn’t change a single word of my Oppo PM1 review either but published it as submitted. Neither did he give me any upfront feedback on what to think. If he did or had, I’d simply stop writing for him -:)

      My writers on 6moons would tell you the same thing. Nobody is being rewritten to affect meaning or coerced in any way whatsoever on what to hear or write. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t go on. I’ve simply never encountered actual evidence of it in my own interactions.

      As usual for my KIH features, this was written to stimulate discussions, including on topics that don’t normally get a fair open shake in the press. As I’ve said elsewhere, judges, arbitrators, inspectors and referees are all examples of professions where being paid to render fair independent is the norm – and in their instance, direct remuneration, not indirect payment via ‘ads’.

      That certainly doesn’t prevent the existence of dirty judges; inspectors whose report clears a property which shouldn’t have cleared when they were paid some baksheesh under the table; or referees of a boxing match or soccer game who weren’t impartial but attempted to skew the outcome with faulty or unfair calls.

      That simply can’t condemn their professions point blank. Ditto hifi reviewing. The very imperfect ad-based revenue system to fund review magazines creates plenty of room for abuse. In the end readers vote with their eye balls (and issue sales if it’s print) even if it means that they take things with a grain or bucket of salt.

      As I said in this article, even if all you got out of a review was the knowledge that XYZ *exists* which you didn’t know before, you got something out of it. If it included lid-off pix whilst the manufacturer’s site had none of those, you learnt something else. And so forth.

      Where the shovel hits the rock is when it comes to who you think ought to pay for the creation of such content -:)

      • Fwiw, I wasn’t implying that you or anyone you know practiced that, Srajan. Just stated that it was a possibility.

        Oh, and it’s football, not “soccer”….and yes, I’d replace “soccer” with football every single time if I was your editor. =P

    7. Gan, I got that. But what I’m also getting is that this type of discussion often ends up in arguments for arguments’ sake -:)

      Quoting ‘possibilities’ whilst admitting that the people you’re talking to don’t fit them falls into that category, don’t you think?

      For John Darko for example, this particular discussion is most relevant. He must decide how to tackle this exact issue going forward if he’s to commit himself to DAR full time. Should he trust that his readers will foot the bill? Should he rely on just advertisers like most everyone else? Run a pledge drive to get going? Implement a pay wall, with some content free, other content only available by subscription?

      I made some direct references to John in the article yet none of his own readers has yet come forward to make any practical suggestions as to what he should do. Or not. Why do you think that is?

      • Hi Srajan. My 2 cents worth
        SE: He must decide how to tackle this exact issue going forward if he’s to commit himself to DAR full time.
        ashutoshp: My 2 cents worth…. do it. you’re great. From the little I understand, you’ve got the technical chops and a good grasp of the future direction this market is going in.
        SE: Should he trust that his readers will foot the bill?
        ashutoshp: No. like ‘soccer’ fans, readers are a fickle bunch.
        SE: Should he rely on just advertisers like most everyone else?
        ashutoshp: Yes, nothing’s perfect, just focus on what you want to talk about or say. you already know your good from bad so that’s all you need. Trust me, I am a scientist :). I for example routinely struggle with the necessary evil that is peer-review.
        For me, it always helps to put myself in the other guy’s shoes which in this case is the company. Considering the competition, they are going to have no option but to send out devices for review without expecting sugary shit.
        Run a pledge drive to get going?
        ashutoshp: very little experience but I am begging for funding all the time so why not?
        Implement a pay wall, with some content free, other content only available by subscription?
        ashutoshp: depends on readership i would’ve thought but I am not sure.
        Good luck.

      • The reason I (and possibly most others) didn’t say anything is because we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t in audiophile circles.

        Speaking for myself, I don’t really mind ads on websites, as long as they’re relevant to the subject matter (ie; no, I have no interest in popping viagra while reading about pre-amps) and aren’t placed in the middle of the page or something. If they’re brands/products I like or can relate to (ie; not Goldmund or Gryphon or whatever the dictators/oligarchs fancy), there’s a higher possibility I’ll actually click them to find out more. I’ve visited Redgum and Resonessence Labs multiple times via DAR, as a matter of fact.

        I make it a point to whitelist sites I like on AdBlock and click on the sponsor ads whenever I can. I realize the site owner gets basically peanuts (if he even gets anything at all) if ad payment works on a referrals/redirects basis, however.

        I am a Flattr account holder also;
        There are a few open source software project and a motorcycle publication I “flattr” on a regular basis (monthly). It’s not much, but most of them are built around “communities”, with active forums, newsletter circulations, etc, so the level of “flattry” is relatively decent despite the communities being small. Whether that’ll work for DAR, I cannot say.

    8. I fully understand, Gan. It’s a difficult subject all around. And it’s far more difficult to talk about such a subject in meaningful ways that to engage in idle quick banter that just regurgitates the usual opinions which merely reiterate the system’s flaws rather than suggest any possible solutions.

      At least from where I’m sitting, this post of yours now contains some useful information for John relative to the actual preferences and habits of one of his readers. And that, I think, is a brilliant way to exploit this type of forum and topic. Good going, Gan. I’m sure John would enjoy to hear from more readers on their preferences and habits -:)

      • Thanks guys. Please don’t mistake my silence for lack of interest. I just wanted to see what would emerge from the conversation without my input. (And thank you Gan for some useful pointers).

    9. Sorry if this makes me seem like a ranting sailor, but I just want to add;

      I’ve never thought of ads themselves as a necessary evil. Back in the days when I used to buy print magazines by the truckload (because I was young and didn’t have as many bills to pay), I actually loved a lot of the ads, particularly those found in motorcycle publications (mmmm, Öhlins suspension components). I’d go as far as saying that ads can sometimes be the single best thing in certain experiences. Anyone remember the epic Guinness Surfer commercial we used to get in cinemas from years back?

      Ad-sponsored reviews, on the other hand, will always be a bit of a slippery slope. Reviewing the ad-sponsored product in isolation would be the best compromise for reader and manufacturer. The review gets an idea of what the product is capable of, while the manufacturer gets some quotable stuff for his product marketing. Comparisons to other competing products can be done in a future shoot-out without any sponsorship, provided the manufacturer lets you hang on to the product long enough (easier said than done, I realize). If that’s not possible, I suppose comparison queries can be answered in the comments section (or forum, if available), though that’s not exactly neat in terms aesthetic value.

      The hardest part for the publication will always be that aesthetic-vs-info balance. Print magazines had it easier in some ways simply because things were separated by pages that you had to manually flip, so your focus was limited to the two pages was in view at any given time, so breaking up the “flow” with an ad every four or six pages wasn’t a problem. Website articles/reviews, on the other hand, can’t rely on that. Doing the page-by-page thing will require constant clicking, which can gets tiresome if spread over a dozen pages, even worse if a click leads you to an ad for something you have no interest in. Conversely, having everything on a single page can make it look messy and feel bloated. The mobile landscape could provide some respite if sites adopt a “Flipboard style” mag layout which will properly place written stuff with full-page ads on a page-by-page basis in the style of the old print mags, but that isn’t quite as feasible in regular desktop browser environments just yet.

      • Thanks Gan. In my mind, ads serve a dual purpose: they alert the reader to a brand or product (that much is obvious) but they also serve as a register of financial interests so that the reader is fully abreast of who is funding operational costs.

      • One point I’d like to single out here, Gan if I may: I don’t write reviews to provide quotable copy for the manufacturer at hand. In fact, I pride myself on a sober writing style that gives praise where it’s due without resorting to hyperbole.

        • Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.

          What I meant was;
          You know how some product pages have a “Press Reviews” section? You often see a couple of sentences lifted from online reviews from Stereophile, 6moons, SoundOnSound, DAR, etc. Sometimes even PDF copies scanned from print mags (with permission, I assume). I was referring to those.

          Admittedly, I don’t really know how that “system” works. I assume the manufacturers have to contact you to seek permission first, or at least inform you beforehand? Iirc, I’ve seen DAR quotes featured on some product pages, though I can’t recall which right now.

          • I know you didn’t Gan. 🙂

            Yes, manufacturers lift soundbites from reviews for their own self-promotion but rarely do I get an a priori notification.

    10. SE: For John Darko for example, this particular discussion is most relevant. He must decide how to tackle this exact issue going forward if he’s to commit himself to DAR full time.
      JD: I pride myself on a sober writing style that gives praise where it’s due without resorting to hyperbole.

      I don’t think the JD quote helps to answer SE question. This is so because he doesn’t say what kind of ‘praise’ is really at stake here. What is it that is being praised?
      I am also surprised that in his response to GS, Srajan uses comparisons with ‘judges, arbitrators, inspectors and referees’, having previously admitted to his ‘artistic’ preferences in evaluating equipment. So what if we use another comparison? With theatre critics, for instance. What is it that they praise?
      Well, that depends on the niche their outlets are occupying. There are magazines that merely inform you about the shows in town. There are those that advise you which ones are worth seeing. And there are those that proceed on the assumption that their readers already know the answers to the first two questions. So, first, they usually do not bother with performances not worthy of seeing. And with the ones they actually review they do not waste time on telling you what the plot is about. What they praise then is the character of the particular performance at hand, what makes it different from the various others the reader is assumed to be aware of. (Srajan’s review of FirstWatt F6 amp is a perfect example of this stance.) Such magazines are not selling the shows they are reviewing. They are selling themselves, as an integral part of a theatre sub-culture. And as we all know, for a ‘manufacturer’ within this sub-culture, to appear on the pages of such magazine is already a ‘praise’.
      So, I think, the answer to the question of the SE quote depends on the niche DAR wants to occupy. Personally, although I am not following DAR very closely, I think, its own main character-trait is ‘sober comparison’. It helps me to judge the products I haven’t heard by trusting John’s comparisons with the ones I have.

      • That’s right: comparisons are key to the DAR modus operandi. As is attempting to describe the qualitative traits of the component at hand.

        In essence I’m trying to describe sound. So yes, your independent arrival at ‘sober comparisons’ from only intermittent reading means you’re picking up on what I’m laying down.

        As for answering SE’s question about how I will move DAR forward, I’m still working that out. There’s a great deal of negotiation going on behind the scenes both with myself and my day job employer.

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