What came first, the chicken or the egg? With writing and reading, the answer is easy. The written word can, happily or not, exist without anyone ever reading it (author excepted). However, readers without something to read aren’t possible. For that equation, clearly the writing came and still comes first. With luck and perseverance, the second happens as well.
But when it comes to audio reviewing, something still comes firster: the gear. Without it, our kind would have nothing to write about. Without procuring actual review loaners, all we’d write about would be news items, editorials and fluff pieces. From that follows that to keep working, reviewers depend entirely on the existence of those who fabricate the stuff they write about. The opposite isn’t true. If for example a COS Engineering from Taiwan were content to do purely local business, they only need make the regional dealer demo rounds to sign up retailers. Show attendance with prior invites to desired shop keepers and importers could enlarge their sphere of business, no press involvement required whatsoever.
This then becomes the perfect place and time to openly and sincerely thank all the many manufacturer who have opted to work with 6moons and DAR over the years; and who continue to supply us with grist for our two mills. Again, they aren’t obligated to in any way, shape or form. They could sidestep reviews categorically; or work exclusively with our competitors to freeze us out. Shipping loaners to and fro, bearing border crossing and possible VAT fees and, even if in perfect condition as they should, getting back B-stock that can’t be sold as new… those are all very real expenses they must bear. What’s their upshot?
If there was such a thing as review psychology, their practitioners would certainly point out that even a single criticism in an otherwise enthusiastic review—the retina-searing power light for example–can be the one thing readers end up remembering or homing in on. Entering the review process opens one up to not just this psychology. It also exposes one to potentially unfavourable comparisons; to unforeseen component interactions, setup and/or room issues; to rare failures which now are documented in full as though they were commonplace, not the exception. Then there’s the question of readership size and whether it equates to sufficient eye balls to be worth the trouble.
Given these risks plus the associated expenses, it’s not surprising how prevailing beliefs insist on a built-in quid pro quo. It just doesn’t seem sensible that manufacturers would enter this game under such adversarial conditions without certain guarantees in place. And indeed, there is such a quid pro quo. It’s called professional standards. For their investment of time, money and risk, the manufacturers have every right to expect timely, fair, comprehensive and attractively presented coverage. If true, the other kind of quid pro quo which cynics and conspiracy theorists love to invoke would quickly become counterproductive. Should a given brand enjoy coverage in a certain publication that’s invariably over the top, far too regular and seemingly to the exclusion of their toughest competitors, the thinking public would quickly conclude something untoward. This would soon discredit and hurt not only the publication but also the manufacturer who keeps working with it. Readers aren’t stupid after all. Nor are they silent, especially in today’s climate of instant social media and forums.
From the magazine’s side, the really best way to become an attractive information portal which manufacturers want to be associated with is consistency of quality. The simple case evidence of one’s body of work reduces the risk manufacturers face. If they pay attention and due diligence—which is nothing more or less than to actually read what a given writer and publication put out—they know exactly what to expect. They know a magazine’s style and approach, a writer’s exposure level, resident hardware, room and tastes. As long as consistency factors and the maker has no unrealistic/overinflated view on his product which the review punctures, expectations will be met. If puncture happens, it’s an opportunity to improve the product. At least to my thinking, that’s the quid pro quo upon which this enterprise hinges. It must be mutually beneficial. If the publication upholds professional and consistent standards, the maker is assured fair and attractive exposure across a certain readership whilst the publication continues to have something to write about.
To get chickeny and eggy once more, it’s also true that manufacturers could do without the formal press; or become their own press via blogs and newsletters à la PS Audio; or even a book like Schiit. That’s why it seems fitting to once more express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the many makers who, for 15 years with 6moons and going on 7 years with DAR I believe, have supported John Darko and I in doing what we love doing. Without them, we really couldn’t do it. So – thank you!